Ziad Rahbani / Houdou Nisbi / Wewantsounds – By Cal Gibson

Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.

DJ, record collector and all-round fount of esoteric musical knowledge, Ernesto Chahoud, introduces this rather wonderful excavation of Ziad Rahbani’s 1985 classic underground album, Houdou Nisbi. If, like this listener, you’re new to Rahbani’s work then prepare to be thoroughly charmed, for this is an absolute cross-cultural peach of a collection. Slathered in superbly relaxed funky musicianship, it’s a soulful stew of jazz, funk, soul, and boogie influences, all given a lovely Lebanese twist. The mix and match of cultures perfectly judged and brilliantly executed. Eleven tracks in all, each one right in the pocket and ready-rolled for maximum groove. Rhou Khabbir is typical: mid-tempo, laid back, horns and guitars layered over sweet keys and even sweeter vocals – perfect for warming up or winding down the dance-floor.

Bisaraha works similar ground: a boogie-down bass-line bolstered, again, by horns and strings, vocals, lyrically, loosely over the top. Sunshine feels, afternoons at the beach, Lebanese style. Lovely stuff indeed. The title cut – which translates as Relative Calm – drops the vocals for a languorous melody, traditional instrumentation bolstered by electric bass and keys – swapping riffs and phrases, placing ancient and modern, very cleverly, cheek to cheek. 

Ma Tfel ups the tempo: strings swooning, easy-listening cocktail vibes spliced into the mix. Beirut by night, lights twinkling, hearts racing – shades of Alan Hawkshaw perhaps in the thematic construction. Joe Sample was on board and you can hear his influence too. This is cosmopolitan music-making, crossing boundaries with ease.

There’s really not a weak track on the album. 5 to 7 PM contains hints of Steely Dan – the same uber-cool session player vibes, jazz repackaged and reframed for a funkier excursion, an early evening glimpse of the night’s later, darker pleasures.

Check Monica Asly’s pillow-soft vocal on the lovely Khalas, augmented with a trumpet solo, honky-tonk keys, lazy, lazy drums. It`s music to glide to, liquid dreams – polished but still retaining that all important soulfulness. It’s a brilliant way to lighten the winter load: exceptionally fine in fact. Ernesto and the Wewantsounds crew take a bow: Ziad Rahbani is well worth rediscovering.

Ziad Rahbani`s Houdou Nisbi is out now, on Wewantsounds.

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