The first release in Ernesto Chahoud’s ‘Middle Eastern Heavens’ reissue series for BBE Music, is Lebanese maestro Ihsan Al-Munzer’s 1979 album Belly Dance Disco. In late 70s and early 80s Beirut, Lebanese organist, composer and arranger Ihsan Al-Munzer made a series of pioneering synth-driven fusion albums that reimagined Middle Eastern music. The records came at a pivotal time in Lebanon’s musical history of avant garde experimentation that was blossoming, just as the country’s 15-year civil war took hold. Ihsan Al-Munzer’s first release as a solo artist, Belly Dance Disco aimed to fuse ‘Western’ modern music and bellydance to make it more accessible to the local audience in the late 1970s. “I wanted to put a mixture of European beat with Arabic percussion, but I made the European rhythm and harmony very easy to listen to for the Arabic ear – soft and understandable” says Al- Munzer. Today, the composer’s music has made the return journey back to the West; with tracks on the album featured by hip hop artists such as Mos Def, who sampled Al-Munzer’s composition Joy of Lina on his 2009 song The Embassy.
The 10-track album was released in 1979 on the legendary Voix De L’Orient label, which was also home to pioneering Lebanese composers The Rahbani Brothers. One of the earliest artists to introduce the synthesizer to Middle Eastern music, Al-Munzer leads the band, playing the main melody lines on the Kawai Organ and Solina String Synthesizer. Three of his original compositions feature on the album, alongside creative re-imaginings of Turkish and Arabic folklore and modern classics, pushing the boundaries of bellydance music to chime with the international scene. Al-Munzer’s five titles from the 1970s and 1980s are part of BBE’s ‘Middle Eastern Heavens’ reissue series, a collection of groundbreaking productions from Lebanon, curated by Lebanese DJ, compiler and music researcher Ernesto Chahoud.