THE FATHER OF LIBYAN REGGAE
Hesnawi crafts restless grooves with evident buttressing from a reggae foundation. Highlighted across the LP is how Hesnawi essentially pioneered such an effortless synthesis between traditional Libyan music and Jamaican reggae stylings, plus the endlessly disparate funk, jazz, and disco accents which firmly situate Hesnawi in a league of his own.
In many countries, reggae was a widespread fad before its popularity gradually subsided. In Libya, however, the genre remained popular since its initial introduction in the late 1970s. Reggae’s thematic throughlines like references to Pan-Africanism, liberation, and the end of oppression and exploitation resonated—and continues to resonate—forcefully amongst a Libyan audience. To this day, you will find countless bands playing variations of the genre as are there Facebook groups with predominantly Libyan members sharing old and new reggae tracks with ten-thousands of members. And no matter who you ask, chances are high that the genre’s popularity in Libya will be largely attributed to one man: Ibrahim Hesnawi.
Born and raised in Tripolis, the capital of Libya, Hesnawi initially was not interested in music, however he credits Bob Marley as foundational to changing his life after having listened to his music in a electronics shop a friend of his was working at.
Reggae is instantly recognizable from the counterpoint between the bass and drum downbeat and the offbeat rhythm section. This very particular rhythm is part of the story of why the genre became so popular in Libya as Hesnawi explains:
"The Libyans are inclined to Reggae for a reason, I think due to our traditional musical rhythm known as Darbuka “Libyan Drum” or Kaska, its rhythm is very similar to the one of Reggae therefore the society got closer to this music and the the nation loved the reggae style and embraced it“
There is a handful songs Ibrahim Hesnawi sings in English but the 95% of his output is sung in Libyan Arabic. A conscious choice as this is not only the language that came natural to him but also it allowed him to convey the message of his songs that is so close to his heart in the best way to the young generations of Libya listening to his music.