Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan returns to Beirut for a concert after the release of her new album Ya Nass which blends old and new music. The promotional parties for the film Only Lovers Left Alive, which features Hamdan, put her in touch with world-class musicians. This enabled her to add something new to her live performance, which we will be able to see during Sunday’s concert.
Since her early beginnings with underground and electronic music in the mid 1990s, Yasmine Hamdan (b.1976) has been a pioneer in her field, predisposed towards innovation and experimentation. She was always attracted to old records and the music of great Arab women singers from the mid 1920s. But Yasmine has her own musical vision. There is no room here for repetition and imitation. This music is too precious in her opinion, and she has way too much respect for these artists to simply parrot their work or sing Karaoke style, as she puts it. Hamdan is an innovator and an explorer, always trying to offer something new, even if based on traditions.
Back in early 2002, Hamdan was gripped by a sense of anxiety which prompted her to move to Paris in search for stability. “I needed to see myself in the future,” she said. “I was excited to meet people and artists in a context that allowed me to evolve freely as an artist. I needed to have a different reality and do what is necessary to improve myself artistically. I simply needed to find myself in a place that made me work.”
Settling in a new city, Hamdan’s adventure as a solo artist began, albeit gradually. At the time, she was still working with Zeid Hamdan, her partner in the band Soap Kills, which was well-received in Paris and their songs were being played on the radio. “There was hope,” she said.
But things quickly got complicated because of the long distance and the band’s mismanagement, so the artists went their separate ways.
Under the name Y.A.S. Yasmine launched an album with Mirwais called Arabology. But Ya Nass, which was released on the record label Crammed Discs in May 2013, is considered her first solo album. It is the product of the accumulation of all her experiences, which have molded her musical identity and resulted in an “intimate and delicate” album, as she describes it. An album that blends the old and the new, a kind of Arabic folk music.
Despite the many tempting offers she received, she never wanted to sing in English, even though one of Soap Kills’ first songs was actually in English. But when “I began listening to Arabic music, I decided to sing only in Arabic,” she explained in a previous interview with Al-Akhbarmonths ago. At the time, Hamdan did not have specific events in the region. She was getting ready to release her album in the US and to have a series of concerts with bands that participated in Jim Jarmusch’s film, Only Lovers Left Alive.
Hamdan’s visit to Lebanon comes in the context of the film’s release at the Metropolis-Empire Sofil movie theater. Jarmusch had fallen under Hamdan’s spell when he saw her at an impromptu concert in Marrakech years ago and he did not forget her. He wrote a scene especially for her in his last film where we see her singing a song called Hal that she had written especially for the film and is also included in her new album. The film premiered in Beirut about two weeks ago and Hamdan was there for a discussion of the film afterwards.
The idea of a tour came up spontaneously according to Hamdan. After screening the film, she was interviewed at Radio Beirut then a dance party was held where her music and old Arabic songs were played. She said: “Nasri Sayegh organized a party last week in which he was the DJ and I heard some of my old songs that I had forgotten. The atmosphere was fantastic.”
Hamdan does not hide the fact that she feels a sense of new-found power and vigor in the independent music scene in Lebanon. “I think independent music is now enjoying a new dynamism. There are a lot of young people who are adding a breath of fresh air and beauty to this genre. And there is an audience for this kind of music and an atmosphere that allows musicians to evolve. Previously, this genre was more secretive and underground.”
She adds: “Now, it is easier to communicate, listen to all kinds of music online and exchange experiences. This music now is at everyone’s disposal. When I came last October, the situation in Lebanon was tense because of the security conditions. Now I feel people are more relaxed and the atmosphere is more conducive to accepting musical evolution.”
When it comes to commercial music, however, Hamdan voices a harsher view: “Commercial music in Lebanon is non-existent as far as I am concerned.”
Yasmine’s fans have waited for her concert in Lebanon for quite some time. For the Music Hall concert on Sunday, she prepared songs from her album Ya Nass in addition to other songs that have not been released yet. Through the film’s promotional concerts which brought her together with international musicians from different genres, Hamdan was able to enrich her art and add something new to her live performance. “The concert I will hold in Beirut will be rich because of the encounters I had at the film’s collective concerts. The influence will be obvious especially in terms of the musicians on the stage, the lighting and the sound.”
Yasmine Hamdan: 9:00 pm Sunday 8th June - Music Hall (Waterfront) - For information: 01/999666
An Event with Tania SalehThe Baalbek Festival Committee is organizing an event with the Lebanese artist Tania Saleh who will hold a concert during the festival on Friday, August 22 at the Temple of Bacchus. The event will be held at 11:00 am on June 10 at the Baalbeck International Festival office (Othman bin Affan street, Dorsomian building, Beirut). For information: 03/380643