Playlist #27: Libyan Tunes | Curated by Alham Libiyya

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube.

What images does Libya conjure in your mind and what sounds do you associate with this veiled land? Following a unique project that aimed to highlight the musical riches of this country still shrouded in war and civil strife, Alhan Libiyya shed light on the diverse and enchanting melodies of Libya, both past and present. Hosted by the Berlin-based Candid  foundation, the digitally-led endeavor caused a stir within the  international community and fueled a new curiosity to learn more about Libya’s musical heritage and contemporary sounds. This playlist has been put together with the great input and passion of Nahla Al-Ageli and DJ Karim who were part of the Alhan Libiyya project. 

The Alhan Libiyya project launched at the end of 2020 involving the participation of 25 Libyan youth who worked with a worldwide team of Libyan creative experts, including musical advisor Imed Alibi and producer Big Seno. The creative efforts culminated in an eight track album.  This playlist is in the spirit of a wider homage to Libya’s best known and celebrated old and new musical personalities; including the eight Alhan Libiyya tracks but exploring much more than that. From the traditional folkloric tunes of malouf sheikhs like Sheik Mohamend Quneis to more global beats, this MARSM collection gives an unparalleled insight into Libya’s musical heritage for listeners to truly enjoy and familiarize themselves with. 

From the Alhan Libiyya multi-track compilation album, one is offered a range of musical accomplishments, from the purely contemporary blending western musical elements in “Suspended”, to smooth and soft lyrics of Dada and Samar Kand, incorporating traditional instruments like the qanoon with electronic and percussive beats from tabla to drums and jazzy piano riffs in “Colourful Mind”. “Skeb Sal” also stands out with its melancholic, soulful and folkloric beats and melodies. The masterful adaptation of this old Amazigh song has incorporated different dialects and languages from Libya, reflecting on the diversity previously veiled in unity. In “Ya Hal Tara” one can hear the sound of the Zokra, a double reed instrument traditional to Libya but also found in the Levant heritage creating a sharp trumpet like sound, maintaining the folk elements of Libyan music. 

A decade after the Arab revolution, the lyrics of “Sawfa Nabqa Huna” still resonate and inspire emotions within the Arabic speaking world. Originally written as a poem by Adel Lemshiti reflecting on the 2006 Gaza bombings, the song went viral across the Arab countries with the high tide of revolutions in 2010 and 2011. A decade later, it has been polished for the ears of the new  generation while preserving the ecstatic emotions that it evokes. 

Arguably one of Libya’s most renowned artists, Ahmed Fakroun’s brilliant 1970s sounds were masterfully updated for the 21st century through the rearrangements of Moezart and Mohammed Ghenewwa for the Alhan Libiyya project. Fakroun’s “Hareb Felayali” was remade into “Sometimes Ya Hareb”  while “Ya Bladi Hobbek Mwally” is a modern adaptation of Fakroun’s timeless “Ya Bladi”. The 1970s/1980s version of “Ya Bladi” and then its contemporary version can be heard to reflect the development of musical taste in Libya in the last half century. 

Abdel Majid Haqiq is an unmissable and visionary composer and artist whose works stemmed from the wealth of Libyan folklore and was considered one of the propellers of the Libyan artistic nahda (or renaissance) in the 1950s and 1960s. He is represented by “Yalli Tloum” one of his most famous works performed amidst an intimate gathering of music lovers. 

 To sample music of the 1950s and 1960s, there is a rare recording of Libyan Malouf by Sheikh Mohammad Qunneis, who was one of the most revered sheikhs of the North African musical form of Malouf, introduced to the Arabic West by Andalusian refugees. Salam Qadri’s 1960s unforgettable lyrics of love and yearning through his spectacular poetry can be heard in “Wa ‘Yuni Sahara وعيوني سهارى”. Qadri’s musical and lyrical expertise stems from singing religious ‘tawashish/hymns’ with his mother and uncles. He became a professional musician and joined the first national Libyan radio station established in 1957.

 From the contemporary era we have the distinguished Libyan producer, DJ and beatmaker Big Seno who is the founder of Big Seno Records, a Tripoli-based production company, which has released several albums by various Libyan musicians, including White Crows and The Introduction. His masterful skills helped thread the Alhan Libiyya project together. Omran’s modern tunes and heartfelt lyrics reflect his deep listening to music from his native heritage. Here he adapts parts of Tunisian singer Thekra’s songs into ‘Kef Nder’ mixing them with local rhythms.

Asma Salim is a Libyan singer whose musical journey started at a tender age and saw her perform at some of the Arab world’s most prestigious festivals like Carthage Festival.  She cemented her musical position upon returning back to Libya at the start of the Libyan revolution and singing with her people calling for freedom. Her song ‘Nibbihalah’ showcases the wealth and diversity of sounds embedded in her music. Worth a listen are also the contemporary pieces of Nadine Shinnib who returns to the Magharbi (Western) influences of music, bringing in the guembri alongside Amazigh lyrics. 

From folk rhythms preserved through generations of families passing them on, to a more global village interconnection with innovative western rhythms and electronic beats, Libya’s music holds within it the history of influences passing through its lands and people. Its beats, rhythms and innovation remain rich, heroic and exquisite.

You can explore the full project HERE.

What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s bi-weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the music scene in the Arabic-speaking countries. Each playlist focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.