Based in Berlin, the label Habibi Funk took its name from an online comment about one of its mixes. "Habibi" is actually the Arabic word for "darling," which seems fitting for a company intent on sharing the love. Their stated aim is to reissue mostly North African musical treasures from the 1970s and '80s, ranging from Sudanese Jazz to Tunisian disco. Habibi's album covers often draw upon old photos from private family collections, thus avoiding culturally stereotyped images.
Among the label's many gems is this edition of recordings by Rogér Fakhr
, a singer-songwriter who grew up in Lebanon. The graceful and sensual smooch of his voice has shades of Boz Scaggs
and Donald Fagen
, whilst his achingly sweet guitar work nods to the ilk of Larry Carlton
, Tim Buckley and Lee Ritenour
. Fine Anyway
is an album of cerebral cool, bursting with movement, melody and mystic imagination. It might easily have been unearthed from the vaults of Asylum Records, or even Black Fire. For once, the "lost classic" tag is more than merited.
Fakhr has described the Lebanon of his childhood as like paradise on earth in the 1960s. He went on to win two song contests before social unrest brought about civil war. During brief respites from the violence he performed with a band, then managed to record a bunch of songs in one day, with two hours for mixing and mastering. Someone's flute got sat on and was rendered untunable, though they still used it. Cassettes were pressed up but went astray after the bombing and shooting restarted.
Habibi Funk's founder, Jannis Stürtz, kept hearing Fakhr's name from musicians in Beirut. Fakhr initially declined Stürtz's reissue offer, then after a fatal 2020 dockside explosion in Beirut, Fakhr came on board for a benefit compilation and thus to this release. Ironically, opening cut "The Wizard" offers a portrait of war-torn Lebanon over crisp acoustic guitar and Afro-Cuban percussion: "The streets were non-existent/And the holes were filled with mud," he sings with quiet fervour. "Had To Come Back Wet" then thrives on pure energy and sticky funk, like a dance-floor filler from Oneness of Juju
We also get folksy meditations such as "Lady Rain" and "My Baby, She Is As Down As I Am" bringing lulling flute and sweet soul backing vocals. The beatnik jazz of Bert Jansch comes to mind on the title track and "Dancer On the Ceiling," Latin rumblings pervade "Everything You Want" and "Gone Away Again," whilst "Insomnia Blue" has the swinging gypsy chords of Django Reinhardt
. Fakhr also adds haunting Andalucian tints to "Sitting In The Sun," flamenco and woodwind on "Waiting For It Every Day," before "(Such A) Trip Through Time" rides a blissful journey with stoned electric piano.
Touchingly, tellingly, the closing number "Keep Going" drowns its Alice Coltrane
-like mantra in a storm of sirens and gunfire. Thankfully, the carnage that destroyed Fakhr's first pressings of this album has not managed to silence him forever.
The Wizard; Had To Come Back Wet; Lady Rain; Insomnia Blue; Fine Anyway; Express Line; My
Baby, She Is As Down As I Am; Everything You Want; Waiting For It Everyday; Dancer On The
Ceiling; Sad Sad Songs; Little Woman By My Side; Everybody’s Going Home; Sitting In The Sun;
(Such A) Trip Thru Time; Gone Away Again; Keep Going.