Close your eyes and think back to your Record Store Day 2019 for a moment. What did you do? What did you buy? What was your favorite discovery of the day? I hate to be the one to tell you this, but if the answer to at least one of these questions wasn’t Lebanese disco, you didn’t do Record Store Day 2019 as well as you could have.
For Record Store Day this year, Wewantsounds did a deep dive and came up with gold – in the form of ultra-rare 1978 Ziad Rahbani 12-inch single “Abu Ali”, the original of which is up for sale on Discogs for $650 at the very lowest. Fortunately, the curators over at Wewantsounds saw fit to remaster the album and reissue it for the first time, original artwork and all. The track clocks in at a whopping 13 minutes, plenty of time to seamlessly integrate all the hallmarks of a perfect disco track: strings, horns, and drama.
“Abu Ali” begins with a few seconds of delicate cinematic embellishment – and then the bass slaps down, soulful and driven by a simmering beat. The mix gradually grows more and more symphonic, a bold regiment of brass alternating with sinuous violin lines and electronics: guitar, bass, and keys. The percussion moves steadily, with subtle changes throughout the piece. Jazz keys add glitter. A ney flute and hand drums, along with melismatic calls from Joseph Saqr, lend more clearly Levantine influences that emerge organically from the more traditional disco soundscape.
From start to finish, “Abu Ali” is a voluptuous, exciting piece with a wordless story arc to tell. Passion, action, and intrigue are all present, somehow, in the only disco single to be found in the repertoire of legendary composer Rahbani.
No less beguiling is the more laid-back b-side, “Prelude (Theme from Mais El Rim)”. Mais El Rim, a play by Ziad’s father and uncle that originally starred Ziad’s mother, renowned Lebanese singer Fairuz, is based on classic premises: love, family, and trouble. All play a role in inspiring this overture, simpler than “Abu Ali” but no less careful in its arrangement. Here, Rahbani crosses from the cinematic into the theatrical but refrains from losing control over his composition at any time. Never is it bombastic; instead, it sounds like the beginning of a production worth sitting through, neither too light to be engaging nor too far into melodrama to entertain.
Classical composer, playwright, and political commentator, Ziad Rahbani is known much more for opera, jazz, and political and romantic aspects of his personal life than for this single disco gem. Its rich remastering and fortuitous rerelease, though, make this deviance from Rahbani’s usual style accessible again at last. This is the kind of material that should be every Record Store Day participant’s goal: unearthing the all-but-lost, taking great music from vintage obscurity into the contemporary spotlight it deserves. “Abu Ali” is a fantastic piece to rediscover some 40 years after its original release, and the orange vinyl is a must for vintage collectors of all kinds.