Way back in 2014, Habibi (Arabic for “my love”) introduced themselves as one of New York’s most exciting bands. On their self-titled debut album, they meshed bright psych flashes with ‘60s girl-group pop, Middle Eastern musical traditions and more, all while spooling out reflective, personal stories.
Five years later, and with just a split release with La Luz and last year’s excellent ‘Cardamom Garden’ EP in between, the band are back to remind the world why they’re still one of the city’s best home-grown groups. They’ll release their second album ‘Anywhere But Here’ next year, and today (November 14) the band have shared the first track to be taken from it. ‘Come My Habibi’ is a promising start: a hypnotic first taste of the record that grinds on a revolving bass groove and a half-English, half-Farsi chant, before the band let loose on a Middle Eastern-inspired breakdown.
You can listen to ‘Come My Habibi’ below, and read on as Habibi’s lead singer Rahill Jamalifard and guitarist/singer Lenny Lynch give us the lowdown on the track, what they’re trying to escape from on ‘Anywhere But Here’, and reflections on their 2019.
It’s been five years since your debut album. How would you say Habibi have grown and changed in that time?
Rahill Jamalifard: “We’ve grown so much. Lenny and I both started separate music projects during our break. Personally, I feel my taste has evolved and broadened so much since the beginning. I’ve also gained confidence and trust with my ideas, and I think the songs on this record have benefitted from that. I think we’ve both been through a lot during these in-between years and that emotional/spiritual growth has greatly informed the music, lyrically for me.”
Lenny Lynch: “A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same… we’re still women trying to work as creatives in a stupidly expensive city and we’re still best friends who want to write songs together. What has changed — besides the world getting colder around us — is our writing relationship has grown stronger and, with our sophomore album, we were able to undertake things we’ve never tried before in an incredible studio [XL] and with producer Alex Epton. As we get older and wiser — hopefully, haha — the direction of where we want to go becomes more clear.”
‘Come My Habibi’ continues to celebrate Rahill’s Iranian heritage, as your previous releases have done in the past. Can you tell us what the Farsi lyrics on the track mean?
RJ: “The Farsi on the record is: ‘Ashk az cheshmam bordi/Yadet shod roya‘, which translates to: ‘You took away my tears/Now your memories become a dream.’ There are also ululations and declarative words sung in Arabic by our friend Mina Al Chokeil during the breakdown. Ululations are tongue trilling sounds usually done by women at weddings and celebratory functions, heard in both Arab and Iranian cultures.”
Tell us about ‘Come My Habibi’ – how did the song come about? What was the inspiration for it?
RJ: “This was the first song Lenny and I wrote together in my bedroom in 2012. It was where she got the idea to name our band. Kinda wild [that] we kept it bookmarked in the song Rolodex till now.”
LL: “This is the first song of me and Rahill’s and what started the name of the band. I had the guitar line and I had a line in the music called ‘Come My Habibi.’ We ended up taking the Habibi part and naming the band that. I didn’t think it fit with the first album and was going to throw it away, but Rahill mentioned it for this album and wanted to finish it. We took it to the studio and it was magic! Yahya Alkhansa really helped flesh it out with tombak as well.”
What’s the idea behind the album title ‘Anywhere But Here’? What or where are you trying to escape from?
RJ: “In the past couple of years there’s been a lot of political turbulence in our country. It’s hard not to be affected by the state of things, it all seems like something out of a dystopian novel. And whether we admit it or not, it impacts our day to day, infiltrating our personal lives. So we are speaking to that discontent and unrest that we feel, we’d rather be anywhere but here.”
LL: “Escape from New York! Haha, I’m kidding — sort of — but it’s been a trying couple of years: political woes, personal heartbreaks, money stress, life stress… I think there’s a lot of people right now who can relate to the idea of escaping to somewhere simpler. There’s also a lot of worlds you can escape to on this album. We take you to the desert, the mountains, the city, ancient Egypt, the past, the future…”
Tell us your juiciest secret about the album.
RJ: “I’m so lame and can’t think of anything juicy, but if we wanna talk spicy, all recording sessions were fuelled by shug, a Yemeni hot sauce that is a staple condiment at most Middle Eastern restaurants in the city.”
What’s something new that you’ve discovered that’s had an influence on this album, and how did it affect it?
RJ: “I started watching a series with Joseph Campbell about the power of the myth and it heavily inspired me. It affirmed everything I’ve always thought about and written about lyrically. He explains things so eloquent and informatively, with archive footage and historic evidence, so I thought a lot about that.
“Vibraphone: not something I newly discovered per se, but I’ve always loved Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Ayers so on this album, I played vibes on a few of the tracks inspired by the jazz greats. Also, I was gifted Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal a few years ago and I really felt a connection to his quest for spiritual dexterity through the pursuit of evil.”
We’re almost at the end of 2019. So what’s been your best moment of the year and what are you most looking forward to in 2020?
RJ: “The best moments of the year for me have been opening for W.I.T.C.H. and ESG and doing our residency at Duke University, talking to young students about the importance and influence of my culture and heritage in my music.”
LL: “2019 was very stressful, but the highlights were playing with ESG, with W.I.T.C.H. and going to Duke University for their Middle East program and working with Girls Rock! Next year, I can’t wait for this album to come out and for people to hear what’s inside.”
Habibi’s second album ‘Anywhere But Here’ will be released on Muddguts Records on February 14, 2020 and is available to pre-order here now
. Catch the band playing at New York’s The Dance with Public Practice and Gustaf tonight (November 14) or on the following US dates next spring:
24 – Lunchbox, Phoenix, AZ
25 – Soda Bar, San Diego, CA
27 – Wayfarer, Costa Mesa, CA
28 – Moroccan Lounge, Los Angeles, CA
29 – Bottom Of The Hill (Noise Pop Fest), Oakland, CA
1 – Starlet Room, Sacramento, CA
2 – Goat Tavern, Arcata, CA
4 – Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR
5 – Billsville West, Walla Walla, WA
6 – Barboza, Seattle, WA
7 – Fox Cabaret, Vancouver, BC