How Arab Funk Is Going Global
BY ARMANI SYED
In London’s Jazz Cafe, the sound of Egyptian legend Umm Kulthum’s song Alf Leila Wleila is reverberating around an atmosphere of anticipation. Fragments of light are reflecting off the Camden venue’s rotating disco ball—lighting up the faces of an intimate crowd who are waiting, drinks in hand, for Berlin record label Habibi Funk’s first live music show to start.
It’s late August and this diverse group of music lovers doesn’t seem entirely sure what they’re in for. But when Lebanese musician Charif Megarbane and his band takes the stage, the crowd loosens up. Tall and floppy-haired, Megarbane delights audience members with multi-instrumental songs from his new album Marzipan, which was released in July by Habibi Funk. “Hopefully you appreciate it all and thank you again for coming,” Megarbane says, to cheers, as he warms up the crowd.
In recent years, global interest in Arabic music has surged. TikTok and Instagram have helped a new wave of Arab talent such as Saint Levant, Issam Alnajjar, and Wegz reach tens of millions of people. Parties such as Beirut Groove Collective, Laylit, and DJ Nooriyah’s Middle of Nowhere frequently sell out in London, New York, and other Western metropolises. All of this has even prompted the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the global body for recorded music, to launch in November the first ever regional MENA music chart.