Ahmed Ben Ali / SUBHANA
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Libyan Reggae at its peak grooves courtesy of Benghazi-born Ahmed Ben Ali. After working with Ahmed on the 12” hit “Subhana” (Habibi012), Habibi Funk is back with a full-length release focusing on Ahmed’s releases from the mid 2000’s. The tracks on the LP represent a blisteringly deep collection of heavy reggae rhythms and synthesized grooves from a singular creative force, inspired as much from Jamaican sonics as from Libyan folkloric styles, as Ahmed says, “it’s the Libyan style, not some bullshit.”
Our first and major contact with Libyan music began five-or-so years ago, when we were invited to visit an abandoned tape factory in Tunisia. We have talked about this influential visit more at length for the Free Music release (Habibi021), if you’re interested. Anyhow, the place was astonishing. It had a room full of unused – but already printed – inlay cards for tapes and three large rooms spreading over two floors of unsold stock. A rough guess would be more than 100,000 copies already dubbed with music, many of which were produced for the Libyan market. On top of this the owner, Hechmi, also told us of another 200,000 blank tapes held in a separate unit. Much of the music we found there was clearly influenced by Jamaican music, and we soon realized how popular Reggae music had been in Libya since the 1970’s.
Reggae in Libya has dominated the charts since its arrival in the 1970’s and flourished with some of the pioneers of Libyan reggae such as Ibrahim Hesnawi, Najib Alhoush and The White Birds Band. Composers like Ahmed Fakroun and Nasser Mizdawi also played around with the genre, although they did not dedicate their sound to it. When we started researching into more contemporary recordings, we quickly came upon Ahmed Ben Ali. Ben Ali is a Libyan singer and producer, whose YouTube channel at the time contained four songs (we later learned they had been uploaded more than ten years prior). Despite the fact that these songs seem to be pretty popular, the channel became inactive a few months after its launch. In the comment section you could read appreciative feedback, not only from Libyans but also people from all over the world who seem to share a common passion for Ben Ali’s sound.
Generally speaking, there is not really a blueprint on how to find the musicians with whom we would like to re-release music. In this case, we did consider visiting Libya, but in the end, it turned out not to be possible for a number of reasons. We focused our efforts on online research, and eventually we were able to connect with Ahmed by phone.
Contextualizing his own style, Ben Ali points out that, “The Libyan folkloric rhythm is very similar to the reggae rhythm. So, if Libyan people listen to reggae, it’s easy for them to relate because it sounds familiar. This is the main reason why reggae became so popular here. […] We played the reggae Libyan style, it’s not the same as in Jamaica. We added our oriental notes to it and if you mix both it becomes something great.” With a bit of laughter, he adds that “…to me it’s still original reggae, it’s the Libyan style, not some bullshit.”
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