Habibi Funk is a German-based record label that has been dedicated to releasing an eclectic range of high-quality unknown or neglected music from the Arab world since 2015. Their latest excellent release marks a departure for Habibi Funk as the acts they featured previously experimented with soul or funk for a couple of tracks before reverting to a more traditional sound whereas The Free Music continually infused their songs with disco, soul and funk to create a uniformly blistering sound.

The Free Music were formed by Libyan composer / producer Najib Alhoush and released ten albums between 1972 and 1989. He will be familiar to long-term Habibi Funk fans from ‘Ya Aen Daly’, his excellent reworking of ‘Staying Alive’ from his later solo career, which appeared on their second compilation. The tracks that form ‘The Free Music (Vol 1)’ come from their third and fourth albums which were originally released in 1976, the only two of their albums that were available as small edition vinyl pressings.  Copies of the vinyl were taken for the audio transfer as it was of a higher standard than the master tapes.

During his career Alhoush encountered the sort of challenges that would have silenced lesser mortals. After early difficulties self-financing his cassettes, he later fell foul of the Ghaddafi regime and was imprisoned for two years for failure to sing his praises. As part of the conditions of his release from jail, he later made an album championing Ghaddafi. Subsequently, he endured an enforced retirement from music as a precondition for remaining in Libya before finally settling in Egypt and beginning a solo career.

Alhoush’s band which additionally consists of Fakhreddin, Salim Jibreel, Abdulrazzak ‘Kit-Kat’, Mukhtar Wanis and Mohameed Al Rakibi are an impeccable musical unit, masters of the groove. All nine tracks on Vol 1 are wonderful examples of the joyful, euphoric rush that music can provide, a total mood enhancer. ‘Mathasebnish’ is the most appetising opener imaginable fizzing along like an instant classic from the disco era with its blend of choppy funk guitar, an ascending keyboard melody, blazing horns, Alhoush’s emotive vocals and a weaving flute line. The relentless pace continues with ‘Hawelt Nensa Ghalaak’ which starts with a rhythmic and melodic nod to the Doobie Brothers’ ‘Without Love’, throws in glorious horn sweeps and stabs, all underpinned by an infectious groove. ‘Law Yom Saalak Had’ maintains the choppy rhythm guitar groove, basslines that are the definition of funky, horns, beguiling flute and high-pitched synth washes. 

The horn rush of instrumental track ‘Free Music 1’ feels like discovering the inspiration for The Go Team. A second instrumental track, aptly titled ‘Free Music 2’, maintains the quality featuring impeccable wah-wah guitar, especially busy percussion and those wonderfully ubiquitous horns. 

‘Ana Qalbi Ehtar’ foregrounds Alhoush’s yearning vocals before allowing space for a guitar solo which like the others on the album never outstays its welcome. ‘Men Awel Marra’ is a perfect encapsulation of how their songs leap in, instantly grab attention and refuse to let go as frantic horns and flute douse the tune with dancing powder. Closing track ‘Al Qalb Mrayef’ represents a change of mood having more of a Libyan folk feel, a gentler flute and smooth synth wash given prominence while the funk guitar has a well-earned rest. 

Each track weighs in at the four-to-five-minute mark which is their perfect length, sufficient to maintain a constant energy-giving groove without time to lapse into lengthy, indulgent solos. The tag line ‘all killer no filler’ has rarely felt more justified. There are plans for a second volume consisting of tracks taken from their cassette releases and I can hardly wait for it.

The Free Music: The Free Music Vol 1 – Out 17th March 2023 (Habibi Funk Records)

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.