‘Better Late Than Never’: How Brian Eno and David Byrne Finally Put a Musical Phantom to Rest | Pop and rock music

IIn the early 1970s in Lebanon, a young singer from a mountain town north of Beirut was on the rise. Before the 1975 civil war, the capital was a thriving artistic center in the Arab world, where folk dance traditions reached new heights. There, Donia Younes was a rising star, appearing in musicals and collaborating with Lebanese music columns such as Zaki Nassif And the Wadih El Safi. You can still hear her special song where are you neighbour – About having morning coffee with your neighbor – on Lebanese Radio today.

Younes later became known outside of the Middle East – or at least her voice became known after being used on one of the most influential demo albums of the 1980s. But to her fans, she was known as the “Lebanese Mountain Singer”. And she had no idea about it.

In the late 1970s, British producer Brian Eno walked into a record store in London and took a copy Music in the world of Islam 1, the human voice, which is the first compilation in the 1976 series by musicians Jean Jenkins and Paul Rufsing Olsen. And included the path of Abu Zalf for the band “Dunia Younes”. Eno, stunned, brought the LP back to New York, and it became a benchmark for My life in the ghost bushwhich he and David Byrne released of Talking Heads in 1981 on the Eno label, EG Records.

Donia Younes in the seventies
Donia Younes in the seventies when she recorded the song Abu Zalf. Image: public relations

The album is a technological feat of hypnotic duct tape — made before the samples were widely used — that inspired everyone from Public Enemy and Kate Bush to Moby and Burial. There was no lead vocals: over a thick forest of dancing canyons, the voice of American preachers and politicians scattered from talk radio uttered evocative Arabic performances of music in the world of Islam.

This was before The problematic term “world music” coined up. At the time, the rhythmic funk music of Eno, Byrne, Afrobeat and Electronica was leading, if flawed. The complex subplot of appropriation, copyright and moral ambiguity behind the “world of Islam” would lead to a highly specialized ethnographic episode of Poirot. The song Abu Zalf was used on two tracks: Al-Fuj and Al-Naqil. The liner notes contained a slight whiff of exoticism: “Dunia Yusin [sic]Lebanese mountain singer.

No one knows where this exact repetition came from, says Inoue, although musicologists credit Younes in the music’s original cover as “a girl from a northern mountain village.” Eno and Byrne were unaware that she was a well-known singer. “I assumed it was someone who had just wandered into a studio by chance one day and been back in the mountains and never seen again,” Inoue says. Despite all they knew she was dead, she had never heard of what they had done.

But, 41 years later, Younes is still very much alive and on a group video call with her daughter, Rayan Assaf, from Kfarhbab, north of Beirut. Shown in other windows are Eno, in Norfolk, and Berne, in Denver. It is, says Inoue, “rather surreal.”

“An uncommon story,” agrees Assaf, who translates for her mother. “Better late than never.”

Assaf, who holds a PhD in international law, was researching her mother’s archive, but one recording eluded her. Yunus’ artistic career ended in 1972 with a session held by the famous Iraqi oud player Munir Bashir, where she was auditioning for a festival in Europe. according to Paul Rufsing Olsen’s MemoirsAl-Bashir invited him and allowed him to register. In the end, Younes was selected for the festival but never went. She fell in love with an army officer and started a family instead.

Her songs found their way, via Olsen, to Music in the World of Islam, released by Tangent – owner Mike Stein. died in 1999 – – And then my life is in the ghost bush. Eno and Byrne made sure to scan all the samples they used, even as hip-hop began setting a new paradigm for acoustic theft and other white artists, such as Malcolm McLaren, were distributing songs from the African continent. for themselves.

Donia Younes
Donia Younes today… “It’s not like we did. It’s something else. Image: public relations

“It wasn’t easy,” Byrne says. They were banned from using the voice one missionary Performing an exorcism, delaying the release of the album. Byrne says her estate has “taken a moral objection to the use of her voice in this context”. Following Bush’s ghost outing, they also removed the Qur’an track, following a complaint of blasphemy from the Islamic Council of Great Britain.

Inoue says they cleared Abu Zulf with Tangent and thought he was above the board. “We paid them some money too, actually – £100! Not much, but we had to insist. They [Tangent] We were pleased to just mention their album on our album. We assumed that somehow this would be passed on to Dunya – if anyone knew where she was.”

Olsen may have died, but he died in 1982. As it turns out, neither he nor Stein made a deal with Younes for their records or even informed her of their release. “We were told that all of these permits had been granted, and we later found out that she had not,” Byrne says.

a Scientific article published in 2006 try to find out the reason, But it only concluded that there are “interlocking collusions” at play. She also alleged that Inoue sent a message to a Danish radio station in 1987, asking after Yunus’ recordings: The announcer replied stating that Tangent had made a “very bad deal”. But Inoue does not remember the correspondence.

Inoue insists that the couple realized that their due diligence had only recently been done. In 2017, the writer Bernard Batrouni Younes tracked down through mutual family friends. Yunus had never heard of Berne and Eno. I listened to both albums in disbelief. “What a shock to hear your voice and I have no idea how this happened,” Byrne says.

She nodded, “It was.”

Assaf agrees, saying, “No one took her permission.” “She made this decision to end her music career and her voice continued its way without her permission.”

A family representative called Eno and Bayern a year later and the musicians immediately wrote a letter of apology, they say. They’ve taken Regiment and The Carrier off streaming platforms—complicated in their own right, as Bush of Ghosts has, over the years, launched on six labels. Eventually they reached a mutual understanding out of court, says Assaf, who acknowledged her mother’s contribution, and the songs were returned.

Brian Eno and David Byrne in 2022
Eno and Bern in 2022… “Culture always absorbs ideas from other places,” says Eno. Compound: PR / Shervin Lainez

Everyone agrees that it remained friendly, and Younes is “happy” because through the experiences of Eno and Bayern, “her voice spread Lebanese culture.”

“It is rare to hear a mixture of Arab-Lebanese music and Western music,” Assaf continues. “My mother told me that it feels like a new kind of music, that you don’t just listen to a composer who puts two parts together.”

Did you like our country more? Inoue asks, hoping.

Apparently not: “She said to me, ‘It’s not like what we did, it’s something else. I do not like this! “

However, Jonah understands the soul. There is the legal side to this story, Assaf says, but also the “artistic dimension” was “decisive” to her mother. “She thinks Brian and David are real artists.”

Would they taste similar music the same way now?

“Maybe I’ll make some phone calls and find out where the material actually came from,” Inoue laughs.

He may be joking, but even 41 years ago, rolling rockJohn Bareilles of The Bush of Ghosts noted “asking stubborn questions about context, manipulation, and cultural imperialism,” questions that still resonate to this day. What do they think of such criticism?

Inoue is still confused. “I find this very difficult. Culture is always about absorbing ideas from other places. It really depends, I think, on respect and how willing you are to admit that you took this thing from somewhere else, and that it wasn’t your idea alone. We had great respect. If you You want to be fundamentalist about cultural imperialism, [I] It would be confined to eleventh-century English folk music as my source.”

“In many parts of the world, Western music tends to dominate,” says Byrne, who founded his own brand Luaka Bop, which deals largely with non-Western versions, in 1988. “I remember the first time I went to Brazil, I was shocked to find that I could not hear samba anywhere. This, to me, is cultural imperialism.”

Back to this unfamiliar story. It’s a brilliant ending to a four-decade-and-bitter-sweet mystery that, in some ways, has continued Yunus’ promising career in some ways.

“It’s true that her voice went too far, but it was in good hands,” Assaf says.

“We’re very fortunate,” Byrne says. “It could have been completely different.”

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