Vinyl | World | 29 Nov 2019
Vinyl | World | 29 Nov 2019
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Issam Hajali might be most known for being the singer and main composer of the Lebanese band Ferkat Al Ard. While they recorded 3 albums only their classic "Oghneya" release saw a vinyl release and is probably the most in demand record in the Lebanese record collector scene (A copy changed hands in Beirut this year for 5000$).
Before the band came together Issam recorded a debut album under his own name called "Mouasalat Ila Jacad El Ard" in 1977 in exile in Paris. It was originally released in a run of less than 100 copies. I do not really remember when exactly I heard the music of Issam Hajali and Ferkat Al Ard for the first time. What I do remember is that I had seen the cover of one of their albums somewhere online and since then it was high up on the list of records I really wanted to hear.
The cover of their most widely known second album "Oghneya" which was released on Zida record label shows a man walking in the streets of Beirut. Only later I found out that it's actually Issam Hajali, the singer of the band, himself on the cover. A couple of months after, I came across a photo of the record somewhere and I finally received a folder of the corresponding MP3s from a friend. I was electrified right away. It was a totally unique blend between traditional Arabic elements, jazz, Brazilian patterns and folk, going hand in hand with poetic yet politically engaged lyrics. I learned that the band was active in the left-wing movement of Lebanon of the time and that they communicated their political ideas through songwriting candidly.
To this day I don't own a vinyl copy of "Oghneya" but ever since I heard the music, I felt the desire to meet the band and to learn more about them. Unfortunately, like many musicians of the 1970s there were not too many traces on the internet and most of my friends in Lebanon did remember their music but had no direct idea how to get in touch with them. In late 2016 I was in Beirut and tried to search for information about the band again and eventually found a recently published interview on a very small blog with Issam Hajali, the band's singer.
The only clue that article gave on the lookout was to mention as a sidenote that Issam would have a shop on Mar Elias Street, Beirut. This sounded to me like a great and precise piece of info, but it became less illuminatingafter I realized that this street is more than one kilometer long and is nothing but small shops. Nevertheless, I went there on a Thursday in early December and started asking people whether they knew where to find Issam Hajali. I ended up having an hour of nice, yet unsuccessful conversations until a tea vendor pointed me to the right place.
Meeting Issam was great. He was happy that someone from Germany was very aware of his music and interested to learn more. We spent a long afternoon in his shop where he sells silver jewelry, mostly from his favorite travel destination Nepal. Music and jewelry seem to have both important role in his life, though music always had the upper hand. He told me a lot about how he got into music, the complicated situation in Lebanon at the time and about his musical, cultural and political influences and ideas. He showed me his collection of old photos and press clippings of the band. Most of them were punched with small holes.
I asked him what happened, and he told me that one day during the war he had come home to his apartment and when he entered, he saw a reflection of the rifle scope of a sniper. He ducked down, the sniper started shooting at him but luckily the bullets went over his head hitting the shelf behind him and leaving little holes in all of his old photos and press clippings. Issam's debut album "Mouasalat Ila Jacad El Ard" was recorded in 1977 in Paris, most likely in May or June. Issam Hajali had to leave Lebanon after the Syrian intervention for political reasons and spent one year in exile in France. Within that period of time there he struggled to make ends meet, playing guitar in the subway.
He could only afford one studio day to record the whole project together with a band compromised of some musicians from France, one from Algeria, one from Iran and a friend from Beirut called Roger Fahr, whom had left Lebanon around the same time. While you can hear the musical roots of what later became Ferkat Al Ard in "Mouasalat Ila Jacad El Ard", the album also differs from Issam's later recordings. "It's more of just me, whereas the sound of the band was more of a group effort", he recalls. Melancholic stripped-down, guitar-based folk is followed by jazz-fused breaks and every here and there that unique sound of the santour glistening through. While the music is very accessible, some song structures are rather atypical neglecting the common patterns of verse, hook, verse, hook.
The lyrics mostly trace back to the poetic work of Palestinian author Samih El Kasem with one song also written by Issam, who composed the music for all of them. In late 1977 Issam could return to Beirut and took the not yet released album back with him. He could only afford to spend a short time in the studio, just to add little bits and pieces like percussion to finish an album that still felt unfinished to him.
Even back in Beirut his economic situation was complicated, and it was impossible to find a label which was still operating under the circumstances of war. So, he started dubbing the tapes himself and producing black and white copies at the corner store. Most of the copies of the album were sold or given to friends. One record shop had them on the shelves on a commission basis. But as the shop owner was no fan of the music, she did little to sell them, hiding the tapes behind other releases. Eventually one of those tapes fell into the hands of Ziad Rahbani, Fairuz's son and a Lebanese musical institution in his own right. Ziad liked the music a lot and used to play on most of Ferkat Al Ard's releases. And Issam also played on some of Ziad's recordings and sessions. Nevertheless, the album was never known outside a very small scene of like-minded individuals and musicians of late 1970s Beirut.
Issam is fairly certain that less than 100 copies of the tape were made back then in total and he only managed to hang onto one copy himself, from which this recording was made.
Title: Mouasalat Ila Jacad El Ard
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019
Artist: Issam Hajali
Catalogue No: LHABIBI010
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