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Have You Heard Tunisian Disco? '70s Band Carthago Will Show You

Tunisia's Carthago created their sound by incorporating disco elements into their 1970s Arabic versions of soul & funk. Habibi Funk is re-releasing their recordings.

Carthago was formed in 1970s Tunisia out of the ashes of two other popular groups of the time, the funk-infused Dalton and the Marhaba Band.


Like the two older groups, Carthago gained a strong following playing clubs and hotels across the cities of Tunis and Sousse.

The band created their sound by incorporating disco elements into their Arabic versions of soul & rock 'n' roll tunes.

Carthago's single "Alech," in particular, had a lot of success on national radio, which led the band to play big shows like the International Festival of Carthage for thousands of people.

"The band’s concerts were a mixture of their own compositions as well as cover versions of the hits of the time from Stevie Wonder to Chicago," mentions Jannis Stürtz, owner of Habibi Funk, the label re-releasing Carthago's recordings.

Carthago live in Sousse.

It was Stürtz who tracked down Tunisian composer Fawzi Chekili, a member of both Carthago and Dalton, and acquired copies of their original recordings for this very rare release, Alech.

"When it comes to our in influences it was mainly rock ’n’ roll when I was playing with Dalton," Chekili mentions in the liner notes of Alech. "As the quality of our music was improving, we followed what was going on in the international music scene. One time we were hearing Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago, so we hired a trombone player to come over, and we played songs by Chicago with the horns. We also all fell very much in love with Billy Cobham’s jazz- rock, at the time he was all over the scene."

"Our musical influences back then were all Western," Chekily adds. "But of course there is also the oriental part, it was just in our DNA as we grew up listening to traditional Tunisian music! When I wrote 'Alech,' for example, it was very Tunisian, rhythmically and melodically, but as we were very interested in Western music, we said let’s add some chords, and some horn riffs."

Alech is available now in digital form and as a vinyl edition, which comes with an 8-page 12" sized booklet, from Habibi Funk Records.

Music
Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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