Cardamom Garden - Habibi
Updated: Jan 2, 2019
Western riffs cultivate eastern roots.
Written by Ida V. Eskamani
I still buy CDs. It’s a little piece of history I’m not prepared to forgo, and honey, it’s a buyer’s market out there. About two years ago, while sifting through a stack of used compact discs at a record store, I came upon something magical. A prismatic album cover featuring mid-east imagery and an Arabic name: Habibi. I promptly flip the CD on its back, my eyes surveying the track listings. I note a song titled “Persepolis,” named after the ancient Persian ruins. With quiet giddiness, I add this record to my “yes” stack.
My parents are Iranian, my mother a child of the '50’s coming to age in pre-Islamic Revolution Tehran. She constantly filled our home with music, my childhood almost exclusively consisting of music from the '50s, '60s, and '70s— both Persian and English. Habibi embodies this intersection of identities. Frontwoman Rahill Jamalifard was born in Michigan to parents who like mine, immigrated from Iran. Along with the Jamalifard, Habibi consists of guitarists Lenny Lynch and Erin Campbell, bassist Leah Fishman and drummer Karen Isabel.
As an Iranian-American, Cardamom Garden’s fusion of east and west feels like home; for those of other identities, it transports to far lands. In either scenario, the listener is caught in a trance, released only when the music stops.
The record that caught my eye on the resell shelf was their self-titled 2013 record. The album fuses surf and psych-rock with Motown girl-harmonies and Middle Eastern vibes. The combination introduces a captivating sound and an undeniable allure. Their latest release Cardamom Garden digs deeper towards these roots, cultivating a spellbinding sound.
This week marks Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Translating to “New Day,” Nowruz is rooted in 4,000 years of tradition and celebrated by millions across the world. Aligned with the spring equinox, the holiday embraces themes of rejuvenation and new beginnings. Nearly five years since their last record, Habibi aligned their new release alongside this ancient celebration. It is a beautiful tribute to our ancestors and this moment in Habibi’s own history.
Cardamom Garden opens with a mesmerizing saunter. Is is kaleidoscopic in sound, with riffs that both shimmer and bounce. Each song carries a certain allure to it, the lyrics throughout seamlessly transitioning between English and Farsi. “Khodaya,” translating to “Oh God,” pairs wipeout-esque riffs with a tambourine rattle and hypnotic harmonies. “Gypsy Love” offers stunning imagery of powerful nomadic women, and "Nedayeh Bahar," meaning “song of spring” in Farsi, offers a nod to the symbolism of this EP’s release, and the role the season plays in Persian culture. “Green Fuz” is a cover of an American band of the same name, except this time sung in Jamalifard’s native tongue.
Habibi honors their Motor City roots alongside their native lands, and in doing so, cultivate magic. Pure, exhilarating, enchanting magic. I treasure the moment I found their album in that record store, and the silent knowingness that consumed my heart. As an Iranian-American, Cardamom Garden’s fusion of east and west feels like home; for those of other identities, it transports to far lands. In either scenario, the listener is caught in a trance, released only when the music stops. The EP consists of only four songs totaling under ten minutes, yet the listening experience transcends space and time. Its hypnotic grooves leave you captivated and yearning for more. There is no better way to start a new year. Nowruz Mobarak joonams.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.