Cultural identity is always a powerful force in any creative endeavor, and for Habibi, that energy is ready to explode. The Brooklyn-based five-piece surf rock jangle masters are very much aware of the current political climate, a time when artistic expression can not only facilitate change but also spread understanding and acceptance through song. “As the air gets thicker with intolerance and anti-Iranian sentiment, it’s a good time to emphasize the beauty of the Persian culture, music and language.”
Formed in 2011 by Rahill Jamalifard and Lenny Lynch, with Erin Campbell, Karen Isabel, and Leah Fishman joining along the way, Habibi – Arabic for “my love” – grew to encapsulate a psych rock swagger rich with sixties girl group harmonies and infectious pop rhythms. Burger Records released their self-titled debut in 2014, but since then the band has kept busy with other projects while fans patiently awaited their return. “We thought it was only going to be a year hiatus.” In the “time warp that is New York,” sometimes a year can easily bleed into four. And what a better year to resurface than now.
Habibi’s upcoming EP “Cardamom Garden” drops March 2nd via Modern Sky Records, and it’s their first ever record to have lyrics in Farsi – an intrinsic aspect of lead singer Rahill’s existence and a “natural progression” of their sound. With four killer tracks, including an incredible Farsi cover of the 60’s garage classic “Green Fuz,” the mini album was mastered by Egyptian goddess Heba Kadry (who’s worked with Björk, Slowdive, and Future Islands to name a few), and features Tehran-born Yahya Alkhansa on tonbak, a Persian goblet drum that has no equal in beat.
Listen to their lead single “Nedayeh Bahar” (see above), a soothing psych swirl laced with percussions and gliding surf licks that’ll make your shoulders sway. And read our interview with Rahill and Lenny below. These babes play Monday January 29th at the Moroccan Lounge in Los Angeles, so if you dig what you hear, see them live. Remember that exploding energy I mentioned? They’ll bathe you in it, satisfaction guaranteed. –Maya Eslami
WHAT YOUTH: This is your first album with lyrics recorded in Farsi. Why now?
LENNY LYNCH: This was always something we talked about doing since the beginning. We didn’t get a chance to put a Farsi song on the first album but looking back on that, it wouldn’t have fit at that time. We were playing songs in our set even back in 2013 where Rah would sing in Farsi, so it definitely seemed like an organic step in our growth as a band but also, as the air gets thicker with intolerance and anti Iranian sentiment, it’s a good time to emphasize the beauty of the Persian culture, music and language.
RAHILL JAMALIFARD: There isn’t really a ’Now’ reason. It was the direction we have always been heading. It’s the natural progression of our sound. Our debut album had songs referencing my culture and heritage. The song ‘Persepolis’ is homage to my father’s city and a tribute to my grandfather, ’Sweetest Talk’ is reference to nomadic woman, inspired by the Qaushqaui tribal women I’ve been blessed to meet in my travels to Iran. All of the artwork has always been directly influenced by my cultural identity. So yeah, it has always been there, and naturally its being pushed further.
Rahill, specifically for you – being an Iranian-American, how do you think that influences your approach to music?
RJ: Its always bled through any creative endeavor, for better of for worse. It is an omnipresent theme in my life, and very fortunately, my community has always supported and encouraged that.
It’s also your first album in over four years. Why the wait? And what can we expect on the new EP?
LL: We had different projects we wanted to work on (Rah on Roya, and me, Karen and Leah on Pms and the Moodswings) and we thought it was only going to be a year hiatus. However, in the time warp that is New York, it took a bit longer than expected! The new EP has songs that we’ve been playing for a long time as well, but as we put them together for the EP, the vision of it all came together. More mystic, more magic and some fun with a Farsi cover of ‘Green Fuz’, a psych garage classic.
How did you link up with Heba Kadry to master?
RJ: I knew of Heba, was familiar with her work and we have many mutual friends, Jay, our dear friend who has always recorded us being one of them. So when mastering came about I vouched for her. I thought as an Egyptian female engineer she would really get the sound we were going for and be a solid choice for mastering.
What was it like working with Yahya on tonbak? Was this the first time you’ve worked with Middle Eastern percussions?
RJ: It was actually incredible, pretty sure I cried. Jay, who I mentioned records us, and I sat there awe struck as he just went in, kinda free style on our tracks. He didn’t need to take more than 2 takes on any song, he one hundred percent understood our vision as soon as he heard the songs, it was a dream. This was our first time working with middle eastern percussions.
Any amazing Middle Eastern psych bands we should know about?
LL: The Flowers, Googoosh, The Indian Rebels and we love Koroush Yaghmaie for Persian psych. Edip Akbayram, Erkin Koray and Esmeray for Turkish psych and the best show I saw all last year was A-wa, which is three Yemenite sisters singing, dancing and chanting and it blew my mind!
RJ: Kuroush Yaghmaie, Habib, Selda, Takkhalha, Zia, Baris Manco, Erin Koray, Zangoleah, The Rebels.
What’s next for Habibi?
LL: We’re working on a new full length album out early next year! We’re going to be uniting some dark psychedelia with some fun Habibi rock n’ roll classics.
RJ: EP, second full length, and tooooour!