Page last updated at 05:41 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 06:41 UK

World music pioneer in web revival

By Robert Plummer
Business reporter, BBC News

In today's globalised, digitised music industry, record companies may be on the run, but the enterprising individual artist has never had it so good.

Ahmed Fakroun (pic from official website)
Ahmed Fakroun's career shows the effect of the web on the music industry

While downloads may pose a threat to the time-honoured business model of the major labels, many forgotten acts have been able to revive their fortunes by selling their songs over the web, direct to the consumer.

Yet even by 21st-Century standards, the career of world music pioneer Ahmed Fakroun is unusual, to say the least.

Born in the Libyan city of Benghazi, he spent long periods in the UK and France in the 1970s and 1980s, recording a handful of singles and albums that now fetch high prices on record collectors' websites.

But he was reduced to a mere mention in specialist music encyclopaedias after Libya's years of international isolation made it difficult for him to market his music to the outside world.

However, he recently came to prominence among obscurity-hungry club DJs when some of his early songs were rediscovered, re-edited and reissued anonymously.

Thanks to internet chat forums and blogs, his identity was soon revealed - and taking advantage of his renewed visibility, he has made his music available legally on download store 7digital.

Sanctions

Ahmed Fakroun looked set to make his mark in world music circles in the mid-1980s when his album Mots D'Amour, combining traditional Arab instruments and melodies with electronic music and dance rhythms, was released on the Celluloid label in France.

Some old albums by Libya's Ahmed Fakroun
Ahmed Fakroun can now reach a wider public than before

But then came the US aerial bombing of Libya in April 1986, followed by years of international sanctions, as evidence of terror links turned Libya's government into a pariah of the West and seriously impeded its citizens' freedom of movement.

"When I look to my press book, I found the articles stopped in 1986," he told the BBC.

"It was so difficult for me to be in two places at the same time.

"To take a plane to go from my home town to any part of the world, I had to go across the Tunisian border to Jerboa, about 700km, or take a boat to Malta overnight, then [travel] the next day to the other part of the planet. Imagine the rest of the story."

As it happened, record companies did manage to market Arabic pop to international music fans at that time, but Fakroun missed out.

Instead, all the action came from neighbouring Algeria, as Khaled, Cheb Mami and others introduced the world to the North African sound known as rai music.

'Arabic R&B'

And that seemed to be that, until about a year ago. Then a New York-based DJ known as Prince Language unearthed an old Ahmed Fakroun track called Soleil Soleil, re-edited it and put it out on a 12-inch single, renamed Yo Son.

Websites devoted to club culture immediately raved about it. "Prince Language delivers an edit of an 80s obscurity that sounds like it could have been an outtake from Talking Heads backing an Arabic R&B group," said one.

Screen grab from Dilated Choonz music blog
Music blogs revealed that the mystery records were by Ahmed Fakroun

A few months later, some French DJs working under the name of Les Edits Du Golem released a 12-inch EP featuring a tune called Pyramide - in reality, a re-edited version of Fakroun's 1977 single Nisyan.

Rising cult interest in the two records prompted some crate-digging detective work.

And by the end of 2007, music blogs such as Dilated Choonz were able to disclose who was really behind them.

Even though neither record was authorised by Fakroun, he was grateful for the renewed exposure.

"I was very happy that these tracks are still alive in people's minds," he says.

"Thanks to those DJs from all over the world, playing and re-editing and refreshing those tracks. No, I don't mind. It's good for me to hear them in a good re-edit or mix, as long as they respect copyrights."

No middle-man

Since April this year, Ahmed Fakroun has had 20 of his songs available for download from 7digital's indiestore - an offshoot of the firm's main site that allows singers and bands to create their own digital music shop.

"It happened through a fingertip. I happened to find [the store] while I was surfing and I tell you, I am happy to find them. It wasn't too complicated, my fans started to know about it and others discovered it," he says.

Screen grab from Ahmed Fakroun's site at 7digital's indiestore
Based in Benghazi, but selling all over the world

Artists can set their own price for songs in pounds, dollars or euros. Fakroun has chosen to charge 99 US cents each for his.

All music is sold without Digital Rights Management (DRM) copy protection.

The artist pays an annual fee for the service (75, $99 or 99 euros) and gets 80% of the revenue from sales.

Since indiestore was set up two years ago, it has built up a roster of 50,000 different acts.

"It's a DIY platform that allows unsigned independent artists to sell music directly to the fans," says indiestore's product manager Tejas Mistry. "They lose the middle-man and have total control over their music distribution online."




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