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Rock band Habibi perfectly blends music and identity at the Pinhook

<p>A downtown Durham staple, the Pinhook is an intimate live music venue host to both local and national acts.</p>

A downtown Durham staple, the Pinhook is an intimate live music venue host to both local and national acts.

Confidently sauntering on stage, each with a unique jumpsuit and head full of hair, the members of Habibi gracefully transformed the Pinhook into a blend of cultural identities and diverse backgrounds Thursday night. Within seconds, I was hooked, admiring not only their distinctive sound — a mix of psychedelic rock, classic ‘60s sounds and Middle Eastern melodies — but their powerful stage presence.

Habibi, which means “my love” in Arabic, is an American rock band from Brooklyn. They were formed in 2011 after band member Lenaya Lynch and lead singer Rahill Jamalifard discovered their shared music taste. Habibi joined a weeklong residency for Duke Performances’ three-year Building Bridges: Muslims in America” project. Prior to their performance, the band took part in a public conversation at the Pinhook about identity and culture within the music industry, aspects, they believe, that only added richness to their music.  

Opening for Habibi was Stevie, another all-girls band that is brand-new in the Durham music scene. Entertaining the audience with tales of the band’s formation and the drummer’s wild experience breaking one of Stevie Nicks’s heels, Stevie made for an unexpected but perfect start to the night. Their journey in different bands and with different styles was certainly reflected in their music — a kind of garage music with what the band calls a “lo-fi femme” twist. They are expected to record their first EP as a band in June.

While watching Stevie perform, I looked over to see the bassist from Habibi dancing next to me. At every concert I have been to, there has been a clear divide between the performer and the audience. Before Habibi had even performed, that line had been broken and the performer and the audience were blended together. 

And when the time came for Habibi to enter the stage, the Pinhook’s intimate environment suddenly felt much more crowded. Their audience reflected the diversity of the band itself, from young kids to married couples, from punk rockers to suits and ties. And just as the music mixed these influences to create each song, the diverse audience blended into a single crowd. 

Habibi took me back to my childhood, jamming to powerful all-girls bands like the Bangles while seemingly effortlessly mixing musical styles and sounds. They reminded me of influential singers like Janis Joplin and Carole King in their fashion sense, their musical abilities and their memorable lyrics. Jamalifard fused these Western styles with her own culture, often switching between English and Farsi, even within a single song. 

I consider myself a concert regular, attending as many musical performances as I can. Yet what stood out for me at this concert, particularly in relation to the ones I have seen before, was not just their confidence, but their uncompromising attitude towards their diverse and often unrepresented identities. 

Seeing a group of women perform together was empowering. And it was the first time I had ever seen all-girls band, making it all the more special. 

Even their music seemed to capture the complex character of this band, like the song “Detroit Baby,” a psychedelic version of something I would expect from the Supremes. And every song told this unique yet complicated story, particularly as a culturally diverse all-girls band. 

One of the most memorable moments of the night was when the audience was transformed into a mosh pit right at the beginning of Habibi’s most well known song, “I Got the Moves.” The Pinhook once again filled to the brim with energy and dancing as audience members pushed closer to the stage. Still, my favorite songs of the night remain “Sweetest Talk” and “Tomboy,” both remiscient of their ‘60s influence and my own childhood love of music. 

After just as effortlessly exiting the stage, Habibi was forced to return at the crowd’s insistence for an encore. And they finished just as strong as they started, with their iconic yet scandalous “Siin.” And just as perfectly as it started, the concert ended, leaving me with reminders of childhood favorite songs with new twists and styles.  


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