2023, 12″ compilation LP, Habibi Funk.
In many countries, reggae was a widespread fad before its popularity gradually subsided. In Libya, however, the genre remained popular since its initial introduction in the late 1970s. Reggae’s thematic throughlines like references to Pan-Africanism, liberation, and the end of oppression and exploitation resonated—and continues to resonate—forcefully amongst a Libyan audience. To this day, you will find countless bands playing variations of the genre as there are Facebook groups with predominantly Libyan members sharing old and new reggae tracks with ten-thousands of members. And no matter who you ask, chances are high that the genre’s popularity in Libya will be largely attributed to one man: Ibrahim Hesnawi. Born and raised in Tripolis, the capital of Libya, Hesnawi was not initially interested in music. However, he credits Bob Marley, the universal face of the reggae genre, with changing his mind. Bob Marley was the artist that brought Reggae to Libya. And the two disparate musical cultures—Jamaican and Libyan—weren’t so far apart. On the contrary: local musicians intertwined these influences quite fluidly. Libyan reggae borrows elements from its own culture, and is usually accompanied by a steady marching tempo, a significant hallmark of wedding chants. An effortless synthesis of Jamaican reggae and traditional Libyan sonics is featured throughout Hesnawi’s catalogue. What better example of this audio amalgam than the LP’s powerhouse lead single “Never Understand” which brings a roots and dancehall flavor into conversation with North African and Middle Eastern musical rhythms and Jamaican stylings. With warm keys, a thick, bouncing bass, and English lyrics to boot, the track sounds like a missing Bob Marley cut. Focus track “Only World” grounds the LP, placing an emphasis on its anthemic lyricism and subtle, yet slick guitar licks and synth runs that make Libya seem like the “only world” where Reggae continues to stand strong.