The Habibiyya - If Man But Knew (1972)
Album: The Habibiyya - If Man But Knew (Remastered Expanded Edition)
Released: 1972 (2007)
Label: Sunbeam Records - SBRCD5043
Genre: Psychedelic; Progressive; Experimental
Habibiyya's sole album stands as one of the earliest and most beautiful pieces of world music ever recorded in Britain. The musicians involved (including three members of UK underground legends Mighty Baby) had been profoundly affected, both musically and spiritually, by visiting Morocco in 1971, and became adherents of the Sufi faith. Upon their return to London they made If Man But Knew, featuring exotic instruments such as koto, shakuhachi and mandola alongside guitar, organ and drums, conjuring a hypnotic, otherworldly ambience in the process. It makes its long-awaited CD debut here, accompanied by detailed liner notes, previously-unseen photographs, five rare bonus tracks and an introduction by the group's leader, Ian Whiteman.
Eastern-influenced hypnotic psychedelic music -" The Tapestry Of Delights"
The Habibiyya "If Man but Knew" Inspired by a trip to Morocco and a religious conversion to Sufi Islam, the Habiyya (a group that included members of Mighty Baby and the Action) created these beautiful spiritual devotionals, utilizing an array of unusual instruments and gorgeous collective singing - OTHER MUSIC
Folksy, atmospheric work with plenty of Mid-Eastern touches -- the only album ever issued by The Habibiyya, and one of the oddest sets ever from early 70s Island Records! The album's got a very spare, dream-like sound -- one that was inspired by the group's visit to Morocco before the record, and carried off here in a blend of percussion, piano, organ, and flutes - plus more exotic instrumentation like koto, shakuhachi, and mandola. The sound is often quite spacious -- stretching out on its own, almost organic accord -- and when vocals are included, they're often very low in the mix, echoing the sufi roots that inspired the group.
The Habibiyya’s sole album stands as one of the earliest and most beautiful pieces of world music ever recorded in Britain. The musicians involved (including three members of UK underground legends Mighty Baby) had been profoundly affected, both musically and spiritually, by visiting Morocco in 1971, and became adherents of the sufi faith. Upon their return to London they made If Man But Knew, featuring exotic instruments such as koto, shakuhachi and mandola alongside guitar, organ and drums, conjuring a hypnotic, other-worldly ambience in the process. It makes its long-awaited CD debut here, accompanied by detailed liner notes, previously-unseen photographs, five rare bonus tracks and an introduction by the group’s leader, Ian Whiteman. - Sunbeam
Some would say If Man But Knew was ahead of its time. It was put together after one journey to Morocco by the group and was a mixture of influences of arabic sufi singing briefly heard there and a hangover from the western rock and jazz influences of the English group Mighty Baby from whence Mike Evans, Roger Powell and Ian Whiteman came. Conrad and Zahara Archuletta brought with them Kotos, Shakuhachis and the spirit of the West Coast.
In retrospect the album was quite naive as it does no justice to Moroccan Andalusi music but is nonetheless a unique cultural bridge for anyone that wants to cross it. It was mostly extemporised after sometimes hours of meditations and sufic invocations. The album found its way into record collections both sides of the Atlantic at the time and is now available from Sunbeam Records on CD and Vinyl with 5 bonus tracks of previously unreleased material recorded at the the time. - Ian Whiteman
This is a reissue of the debut (and only) album from the Habibiya, which was originally released by Island in 1972. The group was formed by three members of the underground outfit Mighty Baby, who made an extensive journey to Morocco in 1970 which profoundly influenced them, both spiritually and musically. After returning to London, they joined forces with two additional, like-minded, multi-instrumentalists from Northern California to complete their group dedicated to creating flowing, organic, Middle-Eastern influenced music.
The set starts a bit slowly, with the first two pieces being fairly minimal and only using spare instrumentation. Beginning with the third and, perhaps, the disc’s best track “The Eye-Witness”, they apply their full sonic arsenal, combining the common instruments of modern, Western music (acoustic guitar, flute, piano, organ, viola, and so on) with more exotic instrumentation (such as bina organ, mandola, nay flute, shakuhachi, zither, and all manner of percussion) and mesmerizing vocal stylings to craft beautiful and hypnotic psychedelic ragas of the highest caliber. This CD also contains five tracks of bonus material which was intended for a second, never released LP. They are similar in nature, although they are, obviously, less fully developed and also tend to lean slightly towards the more modern, Western spectrum of sound. Still, “Another Ode” is another very authentic sounding psych raga and “Bird in God's Garden”, while clearly exemplifying more modern, Western forms, is simply too damn cool, with its droning keyboard washes and primal percussion (which reminded this listener of underground legends the Silver Apples!), to overlook. Although “raga rock” reissues are quite in vogue of late, “If Man But Knew” by the Habibiyya is clearly one of the most authentic sounding and best of the class! - ProgNews
David Biasotti's notes capture well the strange flavour of the time when If Man But Knew was recorded and released, circa 1971-72, and how we, the musicians, were essentially dabbling in something no-one really understood. Nonetheless we were fascinated as to where it would take us. After Mighty Baby hit the buffers mid-1971, Roger Powell and myself were offered a contract by Chris Blackwell of Island Records to make an album of whatever we wanted. This coincided with our first visits to Morocco and exposure to the music and singing of the sufi muslims of Fez and Meknes. This singing was spiritual in that it was about the Divine, love of the Divine and the Prophet of the Divine and much else - except it wasn't tinged with the ideas of religiosity that we had grown up with.
This music had migrated to Morocco from Andalusian Spain many centuries before and was ancient, beautiful and sparkled unlike anything we had ever heard, it had originally been formulated in Cordoba, Spain, a thousand years ago by a musical genius named Ziryab. Roughly half of it has stayed intact to this day, which is why it sounded in a way western, not eastern, and familiar to anyone acquainted with Flamenco music (which is of course its distant, if degenerated, cousin). To musicians who had become pretty jaded by the end of the 1960s it was a welcome shot in the arm, even though it was complex and sung in a foreign tongue.
What you hear on the album is really what we could understand of it after only one visit to Morocco, in early 1972. In fact it does no justice to real Moroccan Andalusi singing at all, but does give a flavour of how we experienced it. It represents a bridge we were crossing at that time, warts and all. In some ways it is more accessible to the general public than real classical Moroccan Andalusi singing, which for some would be too arcane. As we were all from western cultures we naturally brought our own instruments into the recordings, which were not the ouds and rebabs of Morocco, but zithers, pianos, shakuhachis, banjos, oboes and kotos, making it a world music fusion many years before anyone in the music business invented the category.
As David's notes explain, the recordings were extemporisations, after long periods of invocation and meditation for which I don't think there was a precedent in music recording history. The theory was that the meditation would get the egos out of the way, so the music could become truly spontaneous. Not easy, and it didn't always work - but the album has persisted these 35 years, and has even become a valued hip-hop cult artifact. Many will welcome this re-release, carefully put together by Sunbeam, which now includes some interesting new material which wasn't included on the original album. - Ian Whiteman, October 2007
"It is music used for travel purposes..."
Upon its release in October 1972, If Man But Knew must have seemed very mysterious. There was the curious group name, for a start. Anyone familiar with mod heroes the Action or their West Coast-inspired offspring, Mighty Baby, would have recognised the names, if not the faces, of three of the bearded and turbaned young men pictured - Ian Whiteman, Michael Evans, and Roger Powell. They wouldn't have known who Conrad and Susan Archuletta were, though, or that Susan Archuletta and Susan Graubard, Pat Kilroy's musical partner in the New Age (Californian world-folk pioneers), were one and the same. There was Peter Sanders' beautiful and evocative front cover photograph, to be sure, but there were also some rather portentous liner notes, written by one lan Dallas. Even in 1972's heady climate of spiritual experimentation, all the references to the writings of this Shaykh or that Imam might have seemed a bit much. One would learn, though, that the Habibiyya took their name from the Moroccan Sufi spiritual teacher Muhammad ibn al-Habib, who at the time was well over a hundred years old. Be that as it may, were you more interested in the music than the doctrine, you might well have been struck by Dallas' description of the actual sounds to be heard on the album: "This is a record of 'Sama' in the language of the Sufis. It means literally 'hearing.' It is music used for travel purposes."
Over the decades. If Man But Knew has served precisely that purpose for those who've made its acquaintance. The ascetically-inclined find the album conducive to meditation, while the more secular listener can simply dig it as sublime, chill-out trance music. The exotic panoply of instruments employed
- zither, shakuhachi, koto, mandola, ney flute, Bina organ, banjo and hand drums
- would be attractive to any fancier of "world music" as well. However one comes to If Man But Knew, the power of this music, by turns contemplative and ecstatic, is undeniable.
For Susan Graubard Archuletta, the Habibiyya was a natural progression on the musical path she'd followed from the raga-folk, if you will, of Pat Kilroy and the New Age, along with her study of Japanese and Indian classical music. That it was also a logical next step for the ex-members of Mighty Baby might not seem so obvious, but that band's keyboards and flute player, Ian Whiteman, certainly, sees it that way. "Both Mighty Baby and the Habibiyya strangely, in essence, were very similar," he says. "Whatever Mighty Baby was aiming at, the Habibiyya briefly became it. It was as if we were seeking some kind of Holy Grail of music - the unattainable."
Although he would not play a note on the Habibiyya album, you could make the case that the group would never have come into being were it not for Mighty Baby guitarist Martin Stone, and his fascination with all things esoteric, occult, and mystical. Indeed, you could say the seeds were sown the day Martin joined the Action in late 1968. According to lan Whiteman, the band was already veering away from its Motown roots, and transforming into something different. "Maybe drugs or whatever had opened them up and they realized there was a lot more to existence than what they had previously imagined." he says. "When Martin came in, he brought with him the / Ching, Aleister Crowley, and Gurdjieff - particularly Gurdjieff - and much more. We'd go out to gigs with piles of books in the back. Other groups were going out with six-packs and massive stashes of dope, and we were all reading books!"
Towards the end of 1968, they changed their name to Mighty Baby, and would over the next couple of years continue to move away from the show, and deeper into the music. By the spring of 1971 they were rehearsing for their second album, A Jug of Love. During this time Martin fell into conversation with an unusual guy named Ian Dallas at the vegetarian restaurant Crank, in London's West End. Dallas spoke of a remarkable man he'd come upon in Morocco, Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib. After years of seeking the Truth, Dallas said he'd finally found it. A Sufic order was forming in London, he said, and they were going to Morocco. To a longtime truth-seeker such as Martin, this all must have sounded very attractive. Certainly he was interested enough to visit the group's meeting place, the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park, where he'd find about a dozen fellow Brits gathered. Soon enough, there would be these three people from California as well.
All were from the San Francisco Bay Area. Berkeley poet Daniel Moore, who'd first made his mark with the publication in 1964 of Dawn Visions for Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books, had in 1967 started the legendary Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company. Using only Coleman lanterns for illumination, and no amplification whatsoever, the group staged performances of Moore's ritual dramas The Walls are Running Blood and Bliss Apocalypse at night, in Berkeley's John Hinkel Park. (They'd also perforin smaller pieces from time to time at venues including the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West.) Conrad and Susan Archuletta, the two other Californians, had both been associated with the company at one time - Conrad as an actor and set designer, Susan as a member ofl the orchestra, when her musical performance [ calendar permitted.
It was the Floating Lotus that, in the serendipitous manner of the times, would bring the Californians and Mighty Baby together, for Ian Dallas had heard about this intriguing theatrical company. As Susan remembers it: "He's somewhere in Morocco, picks up a copy of Rolling Stone and reads about the Floating Lotus. Whatever it said was enough for him to go, 'Oh, these people are looking for the truth, and I've got the TruthV He had actually met someone who knew us all, and gave him Daniel Moore's address on Woolsey St. in Berkeley." At his hotel in Tangiers were airline tickets for California, as he was due to come over to Hollywood for a meeting about a screenplay. Dallas took this as a sign that he must look up these Floating Lotus people.
When his telegram arrived at the house on Woolsey St., Conrad and Susan were living in Mendocino. Following the sad and untimely death of Pat Kilroy in December 1967, Susan had continued her study of Indian music on the viola with Ali Akbar Khan at the American Society for Eastern Arts. In the months ahead she'd also worked with electronic music pioneer Don Buchla and performed with soundscape artist Christopher Tree. While on a New England tour playing in churches on a grant from the National Council of Churches, Christopher and Susan were invited to perform at the upcoming Woodstock Festival. It was a sweet deal: arriving three weeks before the festival, they were given both accommodation and living expenses. "I had a lot of time to experience Utopia," says Susan. Shortly before this, she'd
ooked up with Conrad, who came out to Woodstock to work in the art department, making t-shirts, signs and other things for the festival. As for Christopher and Susan's performance, it never happened - the acoustic stage on Hog Farm Hill got rained out.
"Conrad and I stayed in New York another six months after the festival," says Susan. "He started making flutes, and I was crocheting hats and selling them and bartering them. We bought an old school bus, a nine-seater. We had a pretty vast collection of instruments, and we did some casual music around. I was sort of training him to play a little." In 1970 they returned to California, married, and began living in Mendocino. Susan and Conrad would occasionally drive down to Berkeley and hang out with the Woolsey St. people, and were at the house the day the telegram from lan Dallas arrived. It caused quite a stir - there was this writer coming to visit, and apparently he was a specialist in Rumi, a poet much-loved in hippie circles. Susan recalls Dallas' arrival vividly: "Daniel goes and picks him up at the airport, and brings back this man in a green linen suit, who was so charismatic, so charming, and told such good stories. He was obviously very perceptive about human nature, and was also very witty."
Dallas, who'd taken the Muslim name Abdalqadir upon his conversion to Islam, had seemingly been everywhere, done everything, and knew everyone. In addition to his playwriting and television script work, he'd done a bit of acting, making invariably weird cameo appearances here and there. According to Ian Whiteman, who would himself make Dallas' acquaintance soon enough: "in The Magic Christian there's this scene in a railway carriage where this strange character appears through the carriage wall -the only few seconds of Dallas in the entire movie. He was also in a film on BBC TV with Bob Dylan [a never-aired 1963 drama called The Madhouse in Castle Street], playing a vicar." Dallas could also claim to have inspired Eric Clapton's love note in song to Patti Boyd, 'Layla', for it was he who turned Clapton on to The Story of Layla and Ma/nun by the Persian poet Nizami. For all his showbiz doings, though, the one that most strikes a chord with those who knew Dallas then is his appearance as Maurice the Mind Reader in Fellini's 8 1/2. Certainly, they all see more than a little foreshadowing of things to come in this performance. "He was charismatic, " Susan in says Ian Whiteman of Dallas. "Magician-like."
Having a string quartet to play, and antsy to get home in any case, Susan took the Greyhound bus back to Mendocino (their truck had broken down in Berkeley). After a week with no sign of Conrad, she called the Woolsey St. house from a pay-phone. Conrad told her that something wonderful had happened, but she'd have to come back to Berkeley to find out what. On her return, Susan learned that both Conrad and Daniel Moore had converted to Islam. While not at all happy about not being consulted about any of this, Susan did her best to come to terms with the new situation. The game plan was that the three of them would earn enough money to go to London and meet the rest of the order, and then go down to Morocco. To this end they formed the Fossil Fuel Puppet Show. "I became the orchestra," says Susan. "Daniel and Conrad did the puppetry and set design, and we went out on the road. Our first script was called 'Out of the Sludge Slides the Slug.'" Once they had the money together for tickets on Icelandic Airlines, off they went to London.
After meeting the other members of the order, the group, which now included Martin Stoneand RogerPowell, made their way to Tangiers and then on to Meknes for the Mendocino annual Moussem (gathering) of the followers of Shaykh al-Habib, who travelled from all parts of Morocco and Algeria for the event. "We were all very new, very green," says Susan, "and got our jalabas and clothes in the souks of the medina." As Conrad recalls: "At that time Morocco was like going back into medieval times - and all these people singing qasidas. Qasidas are rhyming couplets, a poem made from rhyming couplets. The Sufis, when they're really on, will even do the couplets I spontaneously, composing the rhymes as they sing to the melody. Morocco means 'the west' in Arabic, so it's got a western element to it. The Moroccans claim that all music came from that tradition. They'd tell us, 'Give me a melody of any I kind,' and they'd give you the Moroccan version of it! It's a style where they're constantly singing these ecstatic love songs." There was also, for the westerners, the matter of adapting to Islamic custom. "One thing it involved was having the men and women separated from each other," says Susan. "We slept in separate rooms, we ate separately." There was all that, but there was all this music as well. "We women would go on the roof to listen to them sing. There was a cupola, and we would climb up the stairs and stand on the roof and look down at this room full of bearded men, and listen to this sublime chanting. It was so beautiful."
While the rest would stay in Meknes for six weeks, Martin and Roger headed back to the UK at the end of their second week there. "Martin came back completely changed," says Ian, recalling a Mighty Baby gig after his bandmates' return from Morocco. "Martin appeared in a jalaba, with a turban and kohl in his eyes. So, he was like this extraordinary robed figure playing his Les Paul loudly on stage - but playing beautifully. The rest of us were like, 'Whoa, what's going on here?' Of the spiritual angle to all of this, Ian says: "I didn't understand what was happening at the time and what they were talking about, but when Roger and Martin came back from Morocco, something had happened to them. The only thing I did understand was that they were suddenly playing better music."
On their own return to London, the three Californians, along with another American member of the order, rented a flat in Kilburn, and Susan found a job at Clare's Chocolates on Regent Street. Soon, of
course, they'd meet Roger and Martin's bandmates. For a band as California-besotted as Mighty Baby, it was no
doubt quite an experience mrad to hang out with three genuine specimens of Sixties West Coast counterculture. There was also, to be sure, Susan's background in eastern music. "We didn't have that influence," says Ian, "which is why when California suddenly came to London, it was a breath of fresh air - it really was." Conrad and Susan would actually guest on A Jug of Love's second track, 'The Happiest Man in the Carnival', but, as they're credited by their Muslim names, you'd never know it. Susan (Zahara) and Conrad (Ab'dal Kabir) contribute, respectively, flute and baby's rattle to the song's atmospheric opening. There was another group trip to Morocco that October for the holy season of Ramadan, and this time Ian Whiteman and bassist Michael Evans would be along for the ride (guitarist Alan King wasn't so interested). "It was an eye opener and pretty amazing," says Ian, "but it was extremely difficult as well -it was like being cooked alive, like lentils in a saucepan! It was kind of ecstatic and agonising at the same time, both physically and spiritually. I had not been a religious person at all, but this was deep spiritual treatment. My parents were Quakers, and I was a kind of benign, dilettante hedonist! But it all made sense, nonetheless. The singing and the music alone carried me along. It was having such a profound effect on me, although much of what was talked about was above my head."
The members of Mighty Baby had to cut their stay a bit short, as there was a tour to do. "For the final two weeks [of Ramadan] we had to do a tour of Holland, so you can imagine that, with this energy of Morocco and fasting, it was extremely intense. We were making great music, but you could see that it just couldn't last, and, in fact, at the end of those two weeks we ended up breaking up. It wasn't formalised in any way; it just never got going again."
Considering his lack of interest in the spiritual trip his bandmates were on, it's no surprise that Alan King would leave the Mighty Baby fold, eventually joining the chart-topping Ace. That Martin Stone also drifted off is perhaps more surprising, considering that he had gotten the ball rolling in the first plac?. He wound up in Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. Ian and Roger, meanwhile, had been playing a number of folk or folk-rock recording sessions, including Shirley Collins and the Albion Band's No Roses, Sandy Denny's The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, and John Martyn's Bless the Weather. This resulted in the offer of a recording contract with Island, the eventual outcome of which would be If Man But Knew.
"I liked them all, but the ones I liked best were the musicians," Susan says of the Sufi order itself. "We stayed for a while with Ian and his then-wife Christine. I just felt instant rapport with them, and that I could just hang out with them and forget about the rest of the people! And then when Ian and I started playing music, it was like, 'This is the music partner I was longing for.' We just immediately clicked. I loved playing with Ian, it was just so wonderful. We could pick up any two instruments and just start making music. And Roger is a really good drummer. I really liked Michael, too. I just liked hanging out and playing with them."
In preparation for the album sessions, they had to augment their little arsenal of instruments. "We had a small advance from Island -very small - but at that time it was enough to keep us alive for a bit, and buy some instruments and things," says lan. "We went and bought this mandola for Mike. It looks vaguely like an oud. We just used whatever was around or what we could afford. We had this Bina organ, this thing Qawwali groups use an Indian hand organ. It was just something we found in a shop - you could only buy these organs then in Indian grocery shops in Bradford or Leeds. Conrad and Susan brought zithers from California. They came over with zithers and shakuhachis and funny drums - how they brought them to England I can't imagine! Perhaps they found them in London they were good at finding things. We just threw whatever we had into the mix."
By Ian's reckoning, there were six or seven sessions for If Man But Knew, Considering
the recording methods the Habibiyya adopted, it's anyone's guess what engineer Tony Piatt must have made of it all. "We fasted for three days before we recorded," says Susan. "We did our prayers and chanted. We organised the recording space so that there were no chairs, and we got in a carpet. We sat in a circle the way we practised together - cross-legged on the floor. When we picked up our instruments, that was their cue to start recording." "The whole way we produced the album," says Ian, "was to spend nights at Island, which was a very expensive studio at the time, and spend an initial hour or so just kdoing meditation, or invocation, if you like. At the end of that we would just play, as if we were instruments being played, not the players. There weren't any overdubs at all. The idea was to capture the moment, and not package it too much to capture the atmosphere. I think that was really the idea. The preparation of chanting was to try and get the egos out of the way as much as possible."
A number of tracks recorded during the sessions wouldn't make it to the LP, some of which can now be heard as bonus tracks here. "We'd take away the recordings and listen to them, and see if there was anything we could use," says Ian. "It was a bit like doing gold panning - you sift through it until you find a nugget or two. By that point, there were other people, besides the people who were playing, who were kind of impinging on it. Ian Dallas was getting more involved, whether we liked it or not, and other people were expressing opinions." Of Dallas' influence on the eventual track selection, Susan says: "He somehow inserted himself into the project, and seemed to have the right of first refusal. I was really upset when 1 heard that certain things were not on the album because he said they weren't to go on. They were some of the things I thought were really good." Indeed, listening to some of the outtakes included here, like 'Peregrinations', you can imagine all sorts of directions the Habibiyya might have pursued had they ever made a second album.
In the event, there wouldn't be a second album. Chris Blackwell, certainly, was enthusiastic about If Man But Knew, and the British contingent of the Habibiyya was sent over to the West Coast to support its US release on A&M. There they'd reunite in Berkeley with Conrad and Susan, who had returned to California sometime after the completion of the album. "We used to put on little concerts," says Ian. "Being Berkeley, it had to be free People would come, and they'd be given food, and we'd play this music. It had a kind of religious tinge to it, but it was really just to promote the album." By this time, though, the line that separated the Habibiyya musical group from the Sufi order that went by the same name had blurred beyond recognition. Speaking of the musical group, Ian says: "It became kind of subsumed into the greater group. It wasn't the music or the album we had recorded which had ended up driving things. The musical group got taken over actually, and buried, suffocated. Which was tragic."
An adequate account of the following years is well beyond the scope of what this project, and the stuff of memoirs yet to be written (the later entrance into the Sufic order of Richard and Linda Thompson is a book in itself.) Suffice it to say that, eventually, everyone mentioned in this story would leave Ian Dallas' orbit. Whatever each of the members took with them or later rejected from those times in Morocco, London, and elsewhere, they know that something about the music their shared experience generated in 1972 was very special. "We could play and mix together whatever instruments and melodies were in our own conscious and subconscious," says Susan, "whatever melodies and rhythms were on our personal palettes, in the library of our minds" "It was a miraculous period," adds Conrad. "The music that we did with the Habibiyya was a tiny piece of that." "There was this chemistry," says Ian, "but no one knew what was going to happen. It just did!" - David Biasotti, November 2007
1. Two Shakuhachis
2. Koto Piece
3. The Eye-Witness
4. Mandola Listen
5. If Man But Knew
7. Procession of the God Intoxicated [*]
8. Peregrinations [*]
9. Peregrinations Continued [*]
10. Another Ode [*]
11. Bird in God's Garden [*]