In a time fraught with political turbulence and cultural unease, having a voice has never felt so important. For Habibi this comes at a crucial moment. The quintet released ‘Cardamom Garden’ on March 2, 2018 which was their first EP in over four years; significantly, the first one with lyrics recorded in Farsi. This new direction has been a long time coming for the band who are acutely aware of music as both a natural part of their heritage and a representation of their own identity: “Middle Eastern culture is very heavily influenced by the arts,” shares Iranian-American lead singer Rahill Jamalifard. The EP combines her culture’s flair with a finely tuned vocabulary of widely appealing tracks structured in a new pop approach: engaging and highly danceable while eschewing typical formulas.
Featuring three original songs, and a Farsi cover of 60s classic “Green Fuz,” ‘Cardamom Garden’ was recorded in Brooklyn and mastered by Heba Kadry (Björk, Slowdive, Future Islands). Bringing their sound even closer to its middle-eastern roots is Tehran-born Yahya Alkhansa, who contributed tonbak percussions.
Both Jamalifard and Habibi guitarist Lenny Lynch originate from Detroit, although neither met until both were living and playing shows in the local Brooklyn scene, where they intuitively fostered a shared connection over their love of Middle Eastern psych music. The two recruited Erin Campbell (guitar/bass) and Karen Isabel (drums), fellow musicians who were also friendly through the same DIY music hub, though both also had roots as far away as Puerto Rico before all landing in the common ground of New York City. They were quick to receive critical accolades, with their self-titled 2013 full-length debut heralded by The New Yorker as “stunning.”
“I see you walkin’, walkin’ down Woodward / tryin’ to catch a ride,” Jamalifard sings in live favorite “Detroit Baby,” a reference to an avenue in the Detroit of their youth that could similarly apply to the place in Ridgewood, New York where she currently resides, or any other street in America or across the globe. Habibi have proven to be capable of showcasing authentically crafted music that is both uniquely its own yet able to traverse borders in its overarching appeal. This ethos is clear even in the band’s chosen name: “Habibi” translated to English means “my love”-a universal language that makes them easy to embrace.