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Gnarly in Farsi: Habibi brings Middle Eastern surf rock to Bric

Eclectic vibes: The surf rock five-piece Habibi, playing at Bric on April 11, fuse 1960s girl group harmonies with lyrics written in English and Farsi.
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They’re making waves!

A surf rock girl group will bring its ’60s-style harmonies and Middle Eastern themes to the Bric House in Fort Greene on April 11. The band Habibi, a name that means “my love” in Arabic, formed in New York City in 2011, but the shared Detroit background of singer Rahill Jamalifard and guitarist Lenaya “Lenny” Lynch — and their mutual passion for the Motor City’s rich musical history and its large Middle Eastern community — was the linchpin for the band, according to the lead singer.

“Lenny grew up with loving the Stooges, Suzi Quatro, a lot of that rock ’n’ roll stuff and also Motown,” said Jamalifard. “And also there’s a huge Arab community there. I was also raised with Iranian, Arabic, and Turkish music.”

The band, which is now a five-piece, released its self-titled debut in 2013, which combined Lynch’s jangling guitar with back-and-forth vocals reminiscent of classic 1960s girl groups such as the Ronettes. But rather than singing about boys, the lyrics drew from the rich Iranian poetic tradition and folklore that Jamalifard’s father passed down to her, filtered through her own experience.

For example, the song “Sweetest Talk” is about an empowered Middle Eastern heroine moving smoothly through the Western world — which is part of the band’s identity, according to the musician.

“She’s a representation of me or a personification of the band, a strong female character who is in the Western world but also of the Eastern world,” Jamalifard said. “It was a way to navigate my personal relationship in society or how I feel within it.”

Lynch’s riffs echo the late godfather of surf rock Dick Dale, who has his own connection to the Middle East, since his grandparents emigrated from Lebanon.

After a brief hiatus, the group returned in 2018 with the short album “Cardamom Garden,” which had a much stronger Iranian focus, with songs written in Farsi, including a Persian-language cover of the 1960s garage rock song “Green Fuz” — for which Jamalifard had to enlist her father to help with some of the translation.

“It’s already an abstract song, but my dad helped me with that,” she said.

The Williamsburg band is currently working on its second full-length album, due out by the end of this year, according to Jamalifard.

This record will be darker and more mature, she said, and will include influences from Jamalifard’s post-punk side project, as well as her recently acquired skill on the vibraphone.

“It does sound like Habibi, but it’s with a lot more age and knowledge,” she said.

The new record will include songs in English, in Farsi, and possibly more languages, according to the singer.

Brooklynites can hear some of the band’s new material at its upcoming session, when Habibi opens for Portland indie-folk act Y La Bamba.

Habibi at the Bric House Ballroom [647 Fulton St. at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 683–5600, www.bricartsmedia.org]. April 11 at 8 pm. $18 ($15 in advance).

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Posted 12:10 am, April 2, 2019
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