Found Sound

Two stories of music getting lost… and then found again. A record producer unearths a Moroccan masterpiece in the back of a dusty electronics shop in Casablanca, sending him on a long and complicated mission to find out what happened to the artist. And, a song that was never meant to be heard outside a small group of friends becomes an internet sensation.

This episode was written and produced by Alex Atack and Dana Ballout, with editing support from Zeina Dowidar and Nadeen Shaker. Fact checking by Tamara Juburi. Sound design by Alex Atack and Mohamad Khreizat. Bella Ibrahim is our marketing manager. Special thanks to Nahida Tarbaou, who helped us record one of the interviews for this episode, and to Roger Bendaly, Jannis Stürtz, Nordine Aboura and Joey Hamoui for speaking to us for these stories.

Support this podcast on patreon.com/kerningcultures for as little as $1 a month.

Transcript

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[STING]

DANA: There’s this thing I do every once in a while, when I’m procrastinating or feeling nostalgic: I’ll log onto eBay, go on Reddit, into archives and search “Lebanon”, just to see what comes up. Mostly, it’s old pictures, trinkets like stamps or old coins… but sometimes I’ll land on something that will instantly transport me to a moment in my childhood. And in this case, I found a link to a vinyl record of this song… 

I hadn’t thought about this song a long time. The moment I played it, I thought of my older brother who used to sing it in the house to make us laugh. . I’m willing to bet that anyone who grew up in the Levant in the last few decades knows this song. Maybe you haven’t heard it for years, but it’s there, buried among your childhood memories.

Growing up, I personally remember thinking that it was a bit of a joke – Lebanese trying to sing in a language they don’t really speak… trying to be more Western. But when I listened as an adult, 20 years later, I had a new appreciation for what the band was trying to do: merging some Western lyrics to Arabic sounds, trying to expand their reach. Musicians do it all the time these days, but back then in the 1960s??? when this was released — it was ahead of their time. And although I only knew one of their songs, they’d released several albums. I had a ton of questions… 

ROGER: Hello?

DANA: Hello, how are you?

ROGER: I’m fine. How are you doing? 

DANA: This is Roger Bendaly, one of the main members of the group. I reached him by Whatsapp from his home in Tripoli. This was during the height of covid so we couldn’t record in person. 

He started telling me about how the Bendaly family had grown up around music – his Dad was a composer and his Mum was a singer, and together they’d play songs to each other and Roger and his 11 siblings would listen in admiration.

Then, one mother’s day, Roger had the idea to compose a song for his Mom. So he assigned each of his siblings a different instrument – drums, guitar, oud, – and they performed it. 

His Dad actually so was surprised at how good they were, and had the thought that maybe they had potential. So they started practicing together, and by chance were featured on a local news broadcast one night. And the way he describes it, the media loved the band, because they were so unique at the time – this group of siblings between the ages of 9 and 24 all performing together. 

The press compared them to the Osmonds or the Beatles, and they started getting offers to play at theatres in Beirut. Their first show was in February of 1975, at a theatre in Clemenceau. He said they performed a three month residency there in front of huge crowds.

But then, the Lebanese civil war started getting worse. Beirut became more dangerous, and they had to move back to their family home in Tripoli, and they stopped performing. Like so many Lebanese at the time, their dreams were crushed.

A friend of their Dad’s suggested that they move to Syria instead, where it was safer and where they could carry on performing their music. So they downsized the band to three or four members, and moved to Syria, where they launched into a new phase of their careers, performing in theatres all around the Middle East – in places like Jordan and Iraq, sometimes playing to audiences of 2000 people a night, which was huge for them.

And in Kuwait in 1978, is where they filmed the video for maybe their most famous song ever – Do You Love Me.

In the video, you see the eight members of the Bendaly Family wearing distinctively 1970s outfits – button up shirts, high waisted trousers, belts with these big buckles. The song became one of their biggest hits, although Roger told me he didn’t really expect it to be that way.

He said, our happiness and talent  was like the glue that bound us together. The song was totally spontaneous, it wasn’t aimed at making a lot of money. We just wanted to try something new. 

For most of the 70s and 80s, the band were a household name across many countries in the Middle East. And then, at a time that felt like the height of their career, in the 1980s, their father died, and not long after that their mother died too, and after that the Bendaly Family didn’t perform as a band any more.

When we lost our father, he was like the backbone of our family. Then we lost our mother, and it was hard because we used to share everything as siblings. But the hardest part for me was when the family separated. It was hard for all of us, because our closeness was what inspired all of our work.

Over the next couple of decades, the song almost disappeared. But then it popped up on this thing called YouTube in 2007, and in 2019 it was sampled in a famous song by TroyBoi, and that song was even used in one of Rihanna’s fashion shows.

At the end of 2019, Rene Bendaly – one of the singers in the band – passed away. And in one of their last performances together, the group sang Do You Love me on a Lebanese TV show. In the video, they’re all much older, they’ve lost the 70s outfits and the big hair. But you can tell they’re enjoying themselves just as much as they did at the height of their success. Rene Bendaly stands up and walks around the room, smiling and singing with each of his band members in turn.

Today, we have two stories about songs that have been lost – and found – in different ways, and about people doing all they can to try and recover them. 

I’m Dana Ballout, and this is Kerning Cultures, stories from the Middle East and North Africa, and the spaces in between.

[STING]

DANA: Our first story starts with Jannis Stürtz. He’s a German DJ and record producer who runs a project called Habibi Funk, which reissues old or sometimes forgotten records out of the MENA region – the Middle East and North Africa. And, he’s particular about that word – reissue – because, when he first started Habibi Funk – he was using the word discover, like he was discovering this music for the first time, until this conversation he had with a friend.

JANNIS: This friend of mine told me, yeah, well, you are working in using the word discovered kind of is a bit reminiscent of Christopher Columbus discovering Latin America. So that’s actually one of the things that, where I was like, yeah, that makes total sense. Let me try to not use that word anymore.

DANA: And this whole project – Habibi Funk – started for him with one man: Bob Fadoul.

JANNIS: I was really just randomly walking through the city of Casablanca and I was somewhere close to one of the entrances to the Medina and there was like a neighborhood where you had a lot of like small shops, people repairing staff, fruit vendors small fish market and in one of the side streets.

DANA: This was in 2013, and he was managing another musician who was passing through Morocco on a tour.

JANNIS: And from one of the side streets, I saw a shop that from the outside, looking in, appeared to be repairing broken electronics from radios to CD players. And they were all stacked on top of one another. And then I saw that behind all of these electronics, there was records. And so I went into the shop, the guy was kind of confused what I wanted as I was clearly not interested in any of the electronics he was selling. And he kind of kicked me out immediately. 

DANA: But then the next day, Jannis was walking around the same area of town, this guy came up to him, trying to sell him a guided tour of the city.

JANNIS: He was around the same age as the shop keeper. And I was like, no. I don’t really want to talk, but maybe you could come along, maybe you can explain why I’m interested in the records and everything and he did, and it actually worked and then I was allowed to browse through the records which I guess at this point, nobody really had looked at in a long time. 

DANA: It turned out, the shop owner used to have a record label and a distribution company in the 1970s, and as business died out he switched to selling electronics. But he still had all of his old records in the back of the shop.

JANNIS: And one of the records I found that, and I bought was by Fadoul. And at this point I didn’t have a portable record player with me, so I had to wait until I was back home in Germany and it kind of was what I expected just much better. 

[Clip of Fadoul record]

JANNIS: Like a Moroccan adaptation of James Brown’s Papa Got a Brand New Bag…

[Clip of Fadoul record]

JANNIS: But with different lyrics, Fadoul made it into a song where he kind of deals with trying to not get high and not trying to drink anymore. And at the same time, played with like a very, very wild energy.

DANA: Jannis told us that, at the time, James Brown, he was a huge hit pretty much anywhere in the world.

JANNIS: So I’m sure there is a band in Thailand, there is a band in Russia, there’s a band in South Africa, there is a band in Chile that all made songs that were influenced by James Brown. For example, it is an Egyptian band called the Cats and they also did a James Brown cover. 

DANA: But most of these James Brown imitations were not good, or they were just straight rip offs. Not Bob Fadoul.

JANNIS: And I think what made Fadoul stand out to me is this, is the fact that he very much took an influence, but then made the track his own. It managed to translate an energy level that you rarely find, I think point I wrote that it kind of feels like funk music played was a punk rock attitude, which I still feel describes it very adequately.

DANA: There was something special about Fadoul, something Jannis hadn’t really heard before. And he had this idea; maybe if I can find out what happened to this guy, I can ask his permission and reissue his record.

JANNIS: So we started looking at asking around for him, asking at the old record shops.

DANA: He was in touch with all these Moroccan musicians who’d played in bands around the same time as Fadoul. A lot of them remembered him, but nobody really knew what had happened to him.

JANNIS: And then literally went into like the neighborhood coffee shops with a photo of the cover and started asking people whether they remember the guy.

DANA: He found someone who knew his parents, but his parents had passed. And then he tried to find his brother, but that didn’t really work. But they found someone who said, you know, I think you need to try calling this guy called Tony Day. He’s a security guard in Germany now but I think they were friends and he might be able to tell you some more about Fadoul. So Jannis tracked him down, got him on the phone, and started telling him about his idea, to try and reissue Fadoul’s record. But Tony had the hard job of breaking Jannis’ heart a little bit, and telling him the bad news; Fadoul died in, actually, 1991. With the new of Fadoul’s passing, Jannis wanted to find next of kin to kind of ask for permission and to work out a deal for reissuing his record. So he did finally get the did get the contact. But he did get the contact details of Faddoul sister, who lives in Casablanca, who was was happy to sit them down and tell him as much as she knew about her brother.

JANNIS: His sister, she, she later told us that when she heard that there was like some young people from Europe asking about her brother. She was like, oh shit, he got someone pregnant. It’s his kids. They’re looking for their dad. Now I have to tell him that his dad is not alive anymore. And she said she was very relieved when she realized we are there for the music and not looking for their father.

DANA: His family gave Jannis their permission to publish the reissue of Faddoul’s music. They’d split the profits between the family members. But before that, Jannis had to find out as much as he could about Fadoul’s life, especially if he was going to do his record justice.

DANA: I assume Bob Fadoul is not his actual name?

JANNIS: No, no, that I guess a nod to to to Bob Marley, I can only assume.

DANA: At the time Bob Fadoul got into playing music – the late 60s, early 70s – Morocco was going through this kind of specific cultural moment. Famous rock stars from the US and the UK – people like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, they all visited Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech to write music.

And today still, in the village of Essaouira on the West coast of Morocco, there’s a Jimi Hendrix cafe, and murals of him on walls around the village.

But at the same time, Morocco was going through this period called the Years of Lead, which were two decades defined by brutal crackdowns on democracy activists, state violence, and a general atmosphere or repression under King Hassan II.

So when rock ‘n’ roll music started spilling over, through records brought back from Europe and America by cousins or friends or small record store owners, and through these famous bands coming to visit Morocco to look for inspiration, something stuck with a lot of  young people, and they started forming bands of their own. 

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: This is Nordine Aboura. He used to play with Faddoul, as a guitarist  in his band. And he told us that at the weekend, groups of young people would host these parties while their parents were out. Quite typical. Everyone would bring their favorite records, or sometimes bands would play, and everyone would be dancing. And at one of these parties, Nordine met Bob – Bob Fadoul. 

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: This was 1970, 1971. They were both playing at one of these parties, and they were actually introduced by Tony Day – the guy who now works as a security guard in Germany.

By this point, Fadoul was popular. Nordine says that Fadoul was pretty popular. He told us that, any club or party he was at, they’d be playing his music.

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: He was like a Moroccan James Brown –– his lyrics were amazing, and he had a sense of humor too. And after being introduced at that party, he kinda looked at him and said, hey man, wanna record an album together?

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: They showed up at this cinema – not even a recording studio – to record their album. 

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: He says they didn’t soundcheck, didn’t adjust anything, they just recorded their first take and printed the album to vinyl. Just like we do at Kerning Cultures.

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: It was a horrible recording, he said. He told us he gave the first copy of the album to his grandmother, and when his parents heard it, they were not pleased. 

But this recording is the one that Jannis found at the back of the record shop in Casablanca all those years. It’s also the only recorded music Jannis has been able to find from Bob Fadoul. And he remains this elusive figure, even his family don’t know that music about him.

JANNIS:  I mean his family, I don’t think were so much part of his artistic life They knew too, like some of the bigger headlines. So apart from being a singer, he also played theater. He used to paint, even though I’ve never seen any of his paintings. And funny enough, he also worked as a circus clown. So he lived in the Netherlands for three years as a circus clown.

DANA: The last time Nordine  saw Fadoul was decades ago. They stopped being in touch after Nordine moved to France in the 1980s.

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: He’s saying that Fadoul would come and see him often and we’d talk about music, he was so passionate about it. So it hurt a lot that Fadoul died. Tony Day was the one who told me Fadoul had died, and I couldn’t believe it. 

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: It broke his heart, because, he says, he was such a nice man.

JANNIS: Someone in Morocco told me Fadoul is more famous now than he was while he was still alive in Morocco, which might very well be true which makes it even more, a pity that he’s not here anymore to witness the second coming of his music.

DANA: Jannis splits the royalties with his artist or their family 50/50. And in Fadoul’s case, his brother and sister are saving them for Fadoul’s children. 

NORDINE: [Speaking in French]

DANA: Nordine says, frankly, Fadoul was a pleasure. He spoke classical Arabic and perfect French, and the way he phrased things was extraordinary. May God bless his soul.

[MIDROLL]

DANA: In this next story, producer Alex Atack stumbled upon a musical mystery in its own right around this song… its called the Lahme song.

ALEX: I’ve had this song in my head for literally months now. At least a few times a week, it’ll pop up out of nowhere and I’ll just find myself whistling it or mumbling the lyrics to myself. I think it’s stuck there for good. And it’s all because of this guy.

JOEY: My name is Thanks Joey. I am a music producer, an audio engineer I’m based out of Los Angeles, California.

ALEX: He’s used that stage name – Thanks Joey – since he was around 13 or 14. He got it from a sticker on the back on a tow truck he saw on the motorway one day.

JOEY: And it kinda stuck.

ALEX: Is it Thanks Joey always or just Joey?

JOEY: Oh, no, no. It’s just Joey or, you know, depending on from when you knew me, if you, if you’re an old time friend, it’s Joe. Joey J, you know, it’s cool. Whatever makes you comfortable. 

ALEX: Joey’s Syrian American. His parents moved to the US from Damascus and he lived in Brooklyn New York when he was young, then they moved down to Orlando in Florida, which is where he spent the rest of his childhood.

ALEX: So when did music come into your life? How did music come into your life?

JOEY: My grandfather. His name, his use is Youssef Kassab, my mother’s Dad, is a musician. And so he is a classical trained well, classical Arab, Arabic trained musician. So he’s into like the older Arabic stuff, like Om Khaltoum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab, and stuff like that. And so he’s, you know, a master oud musician, and he’s always had like instruments around. He’s get me like little toy pianos or little toy guitars or stuff like that – like it was always a thing. And then when I, when I got a little bit older It was, you know, growing up in New York, my uncles were just be playing like Biggie and Jay Z and like east coast, New York hip hop music. And so I started listening to a lot of hip hop music. For me, it was like, oh, I love the sampling aspect of hip hop, taking something old and creating something new out of it, right? The recontextualization of music and so that was mind blowing to me. And next thing you know, you know, 13, 14 years old and started trying to make it myself. And I would just mimic beats that I loved. At the time, a big one of the songs that I heard was Kanye West’s first record that he released Through the Wire. I found that record, downloading music illegally online on Kazaa or Limewire or whatever.

ALEX: Kazaa and Limewire were these music sharing platforms in the early 2000s. And I think they were probably the most popular way of listening to music before Apple and Spotify came along.

JOEY: Kazaa was the one. Oh my God, are you kidding? I had, my library was ridiculous. I’ve broken so many copyright laws. It’s insane. So that’s where I would download all these oldies and I would throw them in Fruity Loops and I would make beats out of them. And man, it was so trash.

ALEX: But he started to get better at it, and before long it got to the point where he was selling his CDs in school.

JOEY: It was a whole operation man. And I was doing it all from my parent’s house and we would sell these CDs on campus and we sold maybe 500 copies of our CD. 

ALEX: Oh. So like people were into it, it was like popular?

JOEY: People were into it. It was popular at the time. And it was crazy because we had maybe 2000. About some, maybe 2000 kids at our high school was a pretty large high school.

ALEX: And one of the people he quickly became friends with through all of this was a guy called Firas. He was a DJ as well, and they bonded over music and became close friends quickly. Joey showed me a picture of them from the time.

JOEY: It’s hilarious because we’re dressed in like mafia suits. it was Halloween. So, I mean, Check this out. 

ALEX: It’s a picture of Joey, Firas and their friend Niko in these oversized mafia outfits, posing for the camera, they’re probably about 15 years old.

JOEY: We look like a bunch of thugs hanging out in a Denny’s restaurant at 5:00 AM.

ALEX: Anyway, these three quickly became close friends.

JOEY: And so we were kind of like creating music and playing music and throwing parties together – senior year of high school. And one morning I get this call from Firas and he’s like, hey, I have an idea for a song I want to do about lahme. Can me and Tarik – his brother Tarik – can be and Tarik, come over and record? And I said, yeah, sure, come on by.

So they come over this morning and he set up his in my bedroom, right? So I have my bed over here and, you know, have my little studio set up a small desk and whatever in the corner. And Firas tells me, you know, open up Fruity Loops real quick. This is my idea for the song, right? This is how fast it should be. So I go ahead and I plug in all of the patterns for the drums and whatever. And he starts singing, he starts writing out, I give him a notebook and he starts writing out the lyrics to the Lahme Song. He gets about halfway through his verse written on the paper and I said, okay, are you guys ready to record? He’s like all right, let’s go.

[Lahme Song clip]

JOEY: And so they started recording their, their verses, record Firas first – hilarious. I’m cracking up. I can’t even – I’m thinking this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

[Lahme Song clip]

JOEY: And we did the record. I did a quick bounce, I burned it to CD so they can listen to it in the car said, peace, see you guys later. And then I decided to upload it to my MySpace.

ALEX: This was November 15th, 2005. Joey put it up on MySpace under the name of their quote unquote production company at the time, Top Notch Records. And after that, they kinda forgot about it. Until a few months later.

JOEY: I remember Firas coming over to my house, It was in 2006, sometime like early 2006. And he, I remember he was in such a crazy hurry and he pulled up in the car and jumped out and came inside and he was like, there’s a video on YouTube with our song. And I was like, what are you talking about? And he looks it up and sure enough, it’s this video that was posted by these two guys from UCLA that heard the song and created a whole music video to it.

ALEX: The video was made by these two guys, University of California Los Angeles students, filming on one of those small point and shoot cameras from the 2000s that had a video mode. In it, they’re miming the words, cooking dinner, driving while eating a steak. It looks like it was cut together in probably whatever editing software came pre-installed on home computers at the time. But, it had a lot of views, like, hundreds of thousands of views.

JOEY: He’s like, man, somebody just hit me up. You know, one of my cousins called me and asked me if it was me on this song, because they had heard a ringtone in Australia of the song. And so somehow, some way, somebody had taken the song off my MySpace, they had ripped it off my MySpace and it just took a life of its own. That’s when we realized like, oh shit, it blew up.

ALEX: Here was this joke of a song song, that they’d recorded in an afternoon in Joey’s childhood bedroom, and it was all over the internet, getting hundreds or thousands of views, likes, comments. And this was before really things went viral in the way they do today, so it wasn’t like it was just a passing trend for a day and then forgotten The momentum kept on building with new people uploading videos of them dancing to it or singing to it. It got really big. 

JOEY: I wish I knew it like exactly what it was that drew people to it.

ALEX: Me too. So I asked my colleague Bella Ibrahim. She’s Kerning Cultures marketing director.

BELLA: I – okay, I actually have a hard time remembering the first time I heard it because it feels like it was always there.

ALEX: Bella is Egyptian American, grew up in Virginia. 

BELLA: Like, it’s just something that I feel like I remember in middle school and high school was always something my friends would sing, like we would just – you would hear that song anytime we were going to Chipotle or like someone’s parents were grilling up like kebab or kofta or something, it was like, someone would just sort of be humming that song in the background. 

ALEX: Bella told me that part of the reason the song took off in the way it did was because of how niche it was. It was in English, borrowed from the tropes of American spoof music that was popular around the time – people like Weird Al Yankovich – but then, it was obviously written by Arab Americans and used Arabic words and phrases. 

BELLA: I think it was just one of those things where it felt like it was written for us. And it was one of the first times I saw that at least yeah, like it just felt very specific to being Egyptian American and not necessarily just Egyptian or just American.

ALEX: So these two UCLA guys, who’s video popularised the song, they got around half a million views. And Joey actually didn’t have a problem with that, at the time, he was sort of flattered.

JOEY: you went and literally like borrowed your mom’s camera to be able to create a video and then somehow stitched it together on your computer and then uploaded it to YouTube? Like, good for you, man. That’s great. I love that – that’s some initiative right there. 

ALEX: But they didn’t credit him, so when saw it, he reached out to them to just ask that they put his and Firas and Tarik’s name on it somewhere.

JOEY: And they responded immediately saying, yo, I’m so sorry. We didn’t know it was you we’ll give you credit in the description. And so in the description they put, by the way, the song wasn’t created by the two thugs in the video, it’s actually two brothers from Orlando, Florida. 

ALEX: But then, this other channel – the username was Aladdin88 – uploaded it as well without crediting Joey. And then that video got hundreds of thousands – possibly over a million views – way more than the UCLA guys’ video. For context, the most popular videos on youtube that year got between 2 million and 4 million views. So this wasn’t in that category, but it was up there. But by this point, the train had fully left the station without them. Their song was an internet hit, but there was basically nothing they could do to wrangle back ownership over it.

JOEY: And we felt, I think, helpless at the time, because we didn’t know how to get a grip on it. We didn’t know what to do. We just knew this thing blew up. We made it, people in our community know about it and well, let’s go, let’s move on with our lives. Right? That was it. 

ALEX: I mean I guess there’s nothing you can do, but did it matter to you at the time that it was being taken and you weren’t getting credit for it? 

JOEY: Absolutely it did. And it was, it was such a weird feeling and, and, and the feeling persisted for years, and it was to the point where I didn’t want to play it. I didn’t want to hear other people play it. I didn’t, you know, it was kind of like, ah, I missed out on something.

ALEX: Because for a young guy like Joey who was trying to make it as a music producer, being able to hold up this thing he’d made that had gotten all this attention – even if it was just a jokey song that wasn’t meant to be a hit – that could’ve actually been a really good stepping stone for him, early on in his career.

JOEY: If people had known who it was you know, maybe we would have been able to get shows, we would have been able to tour, we would have been able to take the song and reach even more people.

ALEX: For years afterwards, he told me it stuck in the back of his mind, as one of those frustrating things that we all have from our past that we wished had gone differently.

Especially because this thing that kept happening even years later, in his 20s and 30s; he’d be talking to someone new, and he was a full time music producer by this point, but they often wouldn’t have heard of the music he’d made, the music he was proud of. Then he’d mention the Lahme Song.

JOEY: And you know, people might not know, but you know, then I’ll drop, oh you know the Lahme Song? And they’re like, yeah the Lahme Song is amazing!  And I’ll be like, yeah, I made that. And then the perspective would just be like, yeah, you know what I’m saying? Everything would just change.

ALEX: By now though we’re in the early 2010s, and it seemed like the song was over the other side of the hill. People who listened to it when they were kids weren’t kids anymore, and the Aladdin88 video was kind of living in YouTube obscurity, it didn’t get much attention anymore either. But then, the Janoskians happened.

JOEY: Yes, the Janoskians. This is a whole situation. These guys are from Melbourne Australia. It’s a group of guys. I think it was five guys – three of them are brothers. They’re pranksters, I believe like they make, you know videos of themselves in public, kind of like pranking people, playing jokes on people.

ALEX: I would describe their genre as basically, super obnoxious immature high school humor. Their bread and butter is the kid of videos where they’ll knock on a stranger’s door and ask them dumb questions, or they’ll stand in the middle of a shopping mall and just start screaming. And in 2012, somehow, they came across the Lahme Song on YoutTube and made a video to it. It starts with them in goofy costumes dancing in the middle of the road. A car comes along, trying to get past them, they ignore it. And this video started raking in hundreds of thousands of views very quickly. But again, no mention of Joey or Firas in the comments.

JOEY: We’re sitting back here looking at all of this and we’re like, damn man, these guys are all making videos and they’re taking our song and it’s getting millions and millions of views and it bugged us, you know.

ALEX: Because, the Janoskians music video took off in a bigger way than any of the previous videos, and I think it’s fair to say it became a a pretty significant part of their early YouTube success.

JOEY: And I think that song helped them take their YouTube channel, which was their primary focus to the next level where they were able to secure a deal. I believe it was with Sony or some major record label. And then they started creating music – started creating music for film. I think they got a couple songs in some films.

ALEX: They have a Netflix documentary about them. 

JOEY: Oh my gosh, man.

ALEX: I don’t think it’s fair to say that this video is what made the Janoskians. They had other, more popular videos, and lot of other less popular videos. But whether they meant to or not, the song basically became theirs. Whenever you would Google “Lahme Song”, the only thing that came up was the Janoskians. And their video to the song on YouTube reached almost 2.5 million views.

JOEY: And I think for, you know, so many years that have gone by, it wasn’t necessarily an issue because the only place that the song existed was on YouTube and on only one person was profiting, no other person who was monetizing anything – like nobody, none of the YouTube accounts had any ads on any of the videos.

JOEY: But the real issue started when maybe three – last month, I think. I had Googled the Lahme Song – every once in a while. I would just Google it and see what’s going on.

ALEX: Do you do that in a sort of like jealous, like old man sitting at the end of the bar, like, look what I could have done way or in a, in a kind of curious way?

JOEY: I hate to admit that you’re spot on. That’s that that is, I’m not going to lie. That’s the truth, right? I’m sitting here. Like, God damn it. Those darn kids! Taking my music! Yeah. That’s me.

ALEX: So one day a few months ago, he was Googling the song, checking how many views it had on YouTube, and he noticed something…

JOEY: These guys, the Janoskians were playing ads, they had ads on the video.

ALEX: Ohhh.

JOEY: And so it was, you know, if you have ads on a YouTube video, it’s generating money. And so that’s when it started becoming an issue for us when other people were profiting off of our work, no matter how old the song is. Whatever they were profiting, even if they had made $3, you know, that’s that $3 should be split up. And me was split up between me and the two other guys. I should have a dollar. I need that dollar!

ALEX: So when he saw that the Janoskians were running ads on their videos of his song, Joey reached out them.

JOEY: I sent through Daniel Skip. I think his name is Daniel Sahyounie I think he’s known as Skip. I saw that he had an email in his Instagram, and so I reached out via email to him, and then within an hour I got an Instagram message from him. He had followed me and DM’d me and he basically said dude, we’ll take down the video. And he said, we never made any money on the song. We’ve never profited off of it. We couldn’t never profit off it. And I said, well, you’re running ads, and he said, let me check. And so I sent him a screenshot of a Hula ad playing on the video. And  he said, I don’t have access to the YouTube. I don’t speak with the others. I mean, if we did make anything, it wouldn’t be anything major, bro. So I can’t help you, but I’ll tell them to take it down.

ALEX: They took it down shortly after that, but they never got back to Joey when he asked them to see how much money they made from him song.

JOEY: But I, you know, I don’t know, at the end of the day, for me, it’s, it’s really principle, you know, I’d like to, I’d like to know, and I think the, the two brothers Tarek and Firas would also, you know, appreciate knowing and at least – we haven’t gotten the accounting, I would love to see the accounting and see, yeah. Would love to see what two and a half million views on YouTube gets you.

ALEX: I was curious too. So first, I reached out to every member of Janoskians individually though their emails and social media, as well as their management, to ask if they’d talk to me for the story. In the end, no one got back to me.

Then I reached out to Google, who own YouTube. A representative there told me she couldn’t tell me how much money a creator might’ve made in ad revenue from one video. Only the creator themselves can tell you that, she said. She also couldn’t tell me what the average ad revenue for a video with 2.5 million views would be. She said it depends on where the views were coming from, and who was advertising on the video.

I was starting to realise that ad revenue is a closely guarded secret in the YouTube world.

So I started wading through this very specific type of YouTube video. These are the videos where people share how much money they’d made in ad revenue on YouTube for particular videos. I watched tons of these, and, they weren’t very helpful in coming to a specific number, but, they said that for a video with around 2.5 million views, a YouTuber could make anywhere between $2000 and $18,000 in ad revenue.

But, as I said, the only people who could say how much money the Janoskians made from their Lahme Song video would be the Janoskians.

Anyway, since they’d taken their video down, Joey re-released the Lahme song under his own name. And a lot of the reaction was from people who had heard the song when they were a teenager, but they had no idea Joey was behind it. And it’s had sort of a second life in places like TikTok and Instagram.

JOEY: And sure enough, it’s like you’re watching these TikTok videos and it’s a younger generation man that is now discovering it. That is now – maybe they had listened to it when they were, you know, five, six, seven years old, 10 years old, and are just now coming back in their twenties, listening to it again and bubbling on TikTok.

ALEX: Do you know what this makes me think of? Kazaa. Just a different generation. 

JOEY: Exactly. Just a different generation. And so now we’re on the other side of it trying to control the thing it’s like, it’s really karma, of you think about all of the, all of the albums that we pirated, it’s coming to bite us back in the ass.

ALEX: But I think for Joey now, he’s a successful music producer, he doesn’t need the recognition that might have come with the Lahme Song, but I think for the him the main thing he’s taking away from this is revisiting this song and going back and thinking about this period of time from his childhood over a decade ago, I think it’s helped him remember why he got into music in the first place.

JOE:Y That’s the most important thing, man, is to be able to, you know, share that laughter.  And I think for me, the best part is how so many people can share that laughter with us, man. I think that’s, that’s that’s for me, that’s what it is. It’s it’s being able to just be ourselves and have fun and make something for, you know, the homies around us to like have a quick laugh or whatever, and, for it to take off and be shared by so many, I’d never expected it to happen, and I’m grateful for it. I think that’s the most important thing.

JOEY: And the, the funniest part to all of this is I’ve been a vegetarian since 2008. So it’s been – 12 years. 

ALEX: So you kind of don’t love lahme any more? 

JOEY: I don’t. I’m sorry, guys. I don’t love lahme anymore.

ALEX: Wow. That’s that’s, that’s hilarious. The truth is out, that’s the exclusive.

DANA: Kerning Cultures is a production of the Kerning Cultures network, which means we have more shows – in English and in Arabic – that I think you’ll love. To find out more, visit kerningcultures.com, or search Kerning Cultures network on your podcast app.

This episode was written and produced by Alex Atack and me, Dana Ballout, with editing support from Zeina Dowidar and Nadeen Shaker. Sound design by Alex Atack and Mohamad Khreizat. Bella Ibrahim is our marketing manager. Special thanks to Nahida Tarbaou, who helped us record one of the interviews for this episode. Thank you to Roger Bendaly, Jannis Sturtz, Nourine Aboura and Joey Hamoui for speaking to us for these stories.

You can hear Fadoul’s record at Jannis’ website: habibifunkrecords.bandcamp.com, and the full re-release of the Lahme Song on Spotify or YouTube.

We’ll be back with a new episode next week. Thanks for listening.

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