Yasmine Hamdan
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Yasmine Hamdan


Band Pop Singer/Songwriter


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"Arabic Music's Modern Voice"

PARIS — It was a familiar Paris hipster scene. The crowd behind the discrete façade of the Tigre club in the First Arrondissement were in skinny jeans with carefully tousled hair and clutching expensive drinks. Marc Collin, co-founder of the cult electropop collective Nouvelle Vague was setting up vintage keyboards on a tiny stage. The female drummer picked up her drumsticks and the skinny-cool guitarist settled into place. Then the singer, in jeans and a black vest, looking out from behind long dark hair, took the mic and began to sing.

In preparation for the release of her new, self-named album, the Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan was doing a small gig in Paris, and as the crowd swayed to the music, their eyes fixed on the stage, it didn’t seem to matter if only 10 percent of the people there understood the words she was singing.

As with her past work — which includes the groundbreaking underground Beirut duo Soapkills, an album with the legendary Paris musician Mirwais, who produced Madonna’s album “Music,” and a collaboration with the alternative American rock group CocoRosie — Ms. Hamdan is looking again to bring Arabic singing out of the field of world music and into the musical mainstream.

“I love Arabic culture, and I hate how the Arab world is portrayed in the press today,” she said in an interview after a rehearsal last month in a cafe in the 10th Arrondissement. “I sing in Arabic as a statement. It’s art and it’s a challenge.”

Born in Beirut in 1976 and with a childhood moving between Lebanon, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Greece, Ms. Hamdan first found success in Beirut in 1998 playing in partnership with Zeid Hamdan (no relation) as the duo Soapkills. Part of the generation growing up after the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, they named their duo after the idea that the city’s troubled history was being glided over too quickly.

“All the war being wiped clean, we thought, wow, it’s shiny and it’s awful and it’s soap kills,” Mr. Hamdan said in an interview with the local Daily Star. “We thought it would be a nice name for a band.”

A mainstay of the underground scene, the band mixed ragged electro beats with Ms. Hamdan’s husky deadpan vocals, which, from early on, were sung in Arabic.

“At the start I sang in English, but quickly I found myself asking why,” she said. “I felt intuitively that there was a gap to fill and also that it gave me a freedom — singing in Arabic but in my own way.”

At first she was rejected by radio stations in Lebanon. “It was seen as not cool. Either you sang traditional Arabic folk music or you sang rock in English,” she explained.

But the band quickly began to achieve cult status in the city. Major European and Arabic labels and producers approached Ms. Hamdan, offering contracts and mainstream success — if she would sing in English. She refused.

“This way of singing was a way of addressing the problems I had with having a sense of not belonging,” she said. “I was lost as a teenager. I had to reconstitute my memories. We moved around so much. Arabic music created my reference points, it’s thanks to that that I know where I am from.”

In 2002 she moved to Paris, where she continued making music with Soapkills, did a degree in performing arts and met the Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, who is now her husband. She started writing music for his films and through him met the producer Mirwais in 2005. Intrigued by her work, he agreed to collaborate on the album “Arabology,” produced by Universal, which came out in 2009 to critical and popular acclaim.

Despite one of the album’s songs being picked out as a title track for a French television news program, the music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, normally allergic to anything that smacks of mainstream, picked “Arabology” as one of its albums of the summer.

“You quickly forget that it is a popular hit,” the magazine wrote, “and simply celebrate this mix of electro and Arabic, an exercise in style that avoids the pitfalls of dodgy world music.”

But, for Ms. Hamdan, who had grown up creating music from a more grass-roots perspective, the experience of working with a major producer and label was one that she was happy to move on from.

“When I worked with Mirwais, it brought me out of the local scene,” she said. “It taught me how to mix Arabic with electro, it really pushed me to work with words. But Mirwais was the musical leader of the project, so it was a varied experience.”

After the publicity and touring linked to “Arabology” died down, she took time off to write more songs, dig through her archive of Arabic music stretching from the 1930s to the ’60s, and travel to the United States, where she worked with members of CocoRosie recording the song “The Moon Asked the Crow,” which has become a YouTube hit. Last September she started work on a new album in collaboration with Mr. Collin.

“I learned a lot working with Mirwais, and with Marc, I knew more what I wanted to produce, he is very relaxed,” she said. “With this new album, I wanted to go back to something calmer, more about the voice, mixing different Arabic dialects. The electro side comes from Marc.”

Roughly half of the songs in the album were composed and written by Ms. Hamdan, while the others are “freely inspired” from old Arabic songs.

“Beirut,” for example, is based on a Lebanese song from the 1940s. “My great aunt sang it to me all the time,” Ms. Hamdan said. While the original has a cabaret-style vibe, Ms. Hamdan’s version is melancholic and almost folky, set to a 12-string guitar melody by the guitarist Kevin Sedikki.

“I sing ‘Beirut’ for what the city is for me, but I am also singing as an exile,” she said. “It’s an impossible love.”

Ms. Hamdan has set two challenges for herself in her music. She is looking to pull Arabic-language music out of any politicized “world music” or kitschy, synthetically-made pop categories and into the hip music sphere. At the same time, by reworking old Arabic songs, she wants to keep music from the Arabic “golden age” of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s alive.

“There was no archiving at the time of old Arabic songs, they were hard to find,” she said. “When I started to collect old music, I had to search out underground dealers. Not everything was easy to find in Lebanon, so sometimes I would go to Syria to find more music.”

Ms. Hamdan mixes different dialects and forms of Arabic in her singing, inspired by performers who include the Lebanese-Syrian singer Asmahan, and the Egyptian singers Nagat El Saghira, Oum Kalthoum and Sayed Darwish. In her latest album, for example, “Beirut” is sung in a Lebanese dialect, “Baaden” is Egyptian and Palestinian, “Irss” is Kuwaiti, “In Kan Fouadi” is Egyptian and “Samar” is Bedouin.

“When the public doesn’t understand me, it’s a battle,” she said. “So when I choose words, I choose them for their musicality, rhythm and sense, and I choose the right dialect to express that.”

Asked whether she had been inspired by the youth movement behind the Arab Spring, she was circumspect.

“We have had neither enough distance nor enough time to work out what it means,” she said. “I was very happy when it happened, I was angry with the authorities in the region and I felt less alone in that. But I don’t think it is finished. Time will make things happen, it can’t just be revolution, change also needs time.”

In the meantime, her immediate plans include the release of “Yasmine Hamdan” in France on April 23 on Mr. Collin’s label, Kwaidan, followed by a release in the Middle East over the summer and tour dates beginning with a gig at Comedy Club in Paris on May 7. In addition, the song “Herzan” by Soapkills has been topping the playlist of Radio Nova, one of the most influential French mainstream radio stations, since last autumn. In addition, Zeid Hamdan, Ms. Hamdan’s former partner in the duo, had a four-page article dedicated to his new work as a music producer in Les Inrockuptibles this month. For Ms. Hamdan, however, the battle to be accepted is not yet won.

“It’s complicated for my music to be accepted, even in Lebanon and the Arabic world — I sing in Arabic, but there’s no lute, no classical instruments,” she said. “Maybe with the Internet opening things up, things will change.”

“I’m inspired by the Cocteau Twins,” she added hopefully, referring to the alternative Scottish rock band, whose lyrics were purposefully indecipherable. “No one questioned what or why they were singing.” - NY Times

"Yasmine Hamdan review"

The first result of the Beirut-based singer’s collaboration with Nouvelle Vague founder Marc Collin puts the dross that usually results from attempts at “East-West fusion” to shame. Over a simple bass hook, Hamdan’s confident, sultry Arabic vocals create an evocative blend of Oriental soul and Europop. - Rolling Stone

"Beiruti Yasmine Hamdan sings funky Arabic folk"

Yasmine Hamdan’s music re-addresses Arabic traditions in a way that could almost be seen as an affront to how we perceive the Arab vocal identity. Born in 1976, Hamdan has undertaken the challenge of affirming and rewriting Arabic musical heritage.

In her new self-titled album (produced by Kwaidan), she continues to demolish the oft used style of verbose praise or lamentations about love, the homeland, nature, pets, last night, and the chosen self.

She partnered with Zeid Hamdan in 1997 forming the band Soap Kills. At the time, Beirut was trying to scrub up its schizophrenic glamor with an imaginary soap. Their band was the underground music scene’s response to this.

Soap Kills was a platform for expression in which music was just one element. From the beginning, they worked against illusionary beauty that was "part of the ideology of advanced capitalism and distorted awareness serving social hegemony," as German philosopher and musicologist Theodor Adorno put it.

Violations of "socially acceptable" beauty, as Adorno said, become possible through avant-garde music that safeguards the truth. With five albums, Soap Kills consolidated its presence in the Lebanese underground music scene.

Fame began with the song Ya Habibi Taala Lhaeni (My Love, Come Chase Me), which was first performed live in 1999. One year later, Umaima al-Khalil presented her interpretation of the same song with musician Hani Siblini in the album Umaima (2000).

While both versions of the song claim to modernize the original – sung by Asmahan (1940) with a Turkish tune – the difference was clear between the performances of the two singers.

While Khalil performs the song in a classical aesthetic form but with modern music, Hamdan sings it with a simple voice devoid of classical expressions. Her delivery could even be considered disastrous for its deliberate vocal inconsistency and intentional shifts at the start and end of the musical sentences.

This comparison can also apply to the new album, co-produced by Marc Collin, founder of the band Nouvelle Vague. Over 11 songs, the album revives the region's musical traditions from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Kuwait, and Bedouin heritage.

It relies mostly on live instruments and is closer to folk, dominating the pre-arranged electronic music.

With an almost unemotional voice, Hamdan, who has been living in Paris with her Palestinian husband, film director Elia Suleiman since 2002, plays with heritage in the most positive sense of the term.

The Kuwaiti songs Ours (Wedding) and Samar are sung in a Bedouin accent. Then, as usual, she goes back to the classics of Egyptian music, with her version of Laila Murad’s In Kana Fouadi (If My Heart...), written in the 1940s by Ahmad Rami with music by Sheikh Zakaria Ahmad.

Her adaptations of the songs play with words and alter the original meanings.

She offers an interpretation of "Beirut," recently performed by Ahmad Kaabour in his album "Ahmad Kaabour Sings for Omar al-Zaani," where he invokes the people's poet.

While Kaabour appears to agree with the image of Beirut that al-Zaani deliberately abuses, Hamdan presents a true picture of Beirut through the poem. She turns the most famous line "Beirut is an untimely flower [zahra]" into "untimely naughty rascal [zaara]. - Albawaba Entertainment

"Vocals take center stage in Yasmine Hamdan's new brand of Arabic electro-pop"

In the world of underground music, electro-pop singer Yasmine Hamdan is known for Soapkills, the duo she started with Zeid Hamdan (no relation) in Beirut in the 1990s. But as she breaks away from the influence of that formative band and defines herself as a solo artist, the singer-songwriter is slowing it down and taking the time to let her unique vocals sink in.

She relates to her audience with a sense of humor, evidenced Friday night at Al-Azhar Park not only in the way she jokes with her listeners, but also in the pieces of her outfit — a sequined belly dancing top over her shirt and a gold serpent headpiece — that seem to have come straight from Khan al-Khalili.

"I identify a lot to Egyptian humor and energy. Humor here is incredible, people are so funny, it's crazy," she says.

For Hamdan, experimenting is all part of the fun.

"It's really interesting to see my energy, the crowd ... when you change the order of the songs how this can affect the public, so it was an incredible and very, very pleasurable experience," she said after performing at El Geneina Theater on Thursday and Friday.

Early in her set Friday night, the now Paris-based Hamdan sang "Beirut," an almost ballad-like homage to the city that has had so much influence on her music.

"I was on and off connected, disconnected to this place," says Hamdan, who as a young girl was shunted around the world to escape the conflict at home. "I was born in the middle of civil war and I have a very fragmented memory and a very fragmented childhood: escaping coming back, going, coming, living in many places. So I identify and do belong to this place but I'm an outsider also."

Listening to the great classical Arab songstresses like Asmahan, and singing her own modern music in Arabic helped Hamdan feel at home when she wasn't sure where she belonged.

"When I emigrated to Paris I took all my things and I had like 60 kilos of cassettes ... this is my treasure."

Trying to reconcile the disparate sounds and styles of Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Madonna, Daft Punk and Om Kalthoum would be enough to give some a headache, but Hamdan doesn't see anything unusual about pulling from as many different influences as possible.

"For me its so normal, natural. I lived in so many countries and traveled a lot. I guess I'm open to that, sensitive to that," she says describing her daily diet of music as her vitamins.

"I listen to a lot of old music also. I try to be in touch with what's happening, but I'm not always. I listen only to dead people, almost."

During the tour for her self-titled solo album, Hamdan is putting strong and sometimes spine-tingling vocals at center stage.

"This time I want to come with something more down-to-earth," she says.

"Something really calm and sensual and feminine and at the same time a weird mix, a new way of doing what I do."

After a few down-tempo beats Friday night, she brought her own blend of belly dancing moves and a tabla player to join her band, instantly rousing the audience to its feet. From there, her slow start was forgotten as she won the clapping, swaying crowd. - Egypt Independandt


May 2013 - New Album "YA NASS" out on Crammed Discs

Follow : https://twitter.com/yashamdan

More info:



Ya Nass is the debut solo album by Yasmine Hamdan, written and produced in collaboration with Marc Collin (Nouvelle Vague).

Yasmine became known with Soapkills, the duo she founded in Beyrouth, which must have been the first indie/electronic band to appear in the Middle East. The music of Soapkills quickly became the soundtrack to the vibrant, young arts scene which developed in postwar Lebanon, the band gradually acquired an emblematic status and, to this day, Yasmine is considered as an undergound icon throughout the Arab world.

Yasmine moved to Paris a few years ago, and started working with Mirwais (who was part of French electronic new wave band Taxi Girl in the 80s, and produced/co-wrote Madonna's "Music" as well as the "American Life" album). Under the Y.A.S. moniker, Yasmine and Mirwais recorded the "Arabology" album, which came out in 2009.

After collaborating with CocoRosie for a while, Yasmine teamed up with Nouvelle Vague mastermind Marc Collin to create this mesmerizing, self-titled opus.

In order to write the melodies and the lyrics for these songs, Yasmine drew from the repertoire and the attitude of great Arab women singers from the middle of the 20th century, including some little-known or half-forgotten figures, such as Aisha El Marta, Nagat El Saghira, Asmahan, Shadia, Mounira El Mehdeyya and many more. Yasmine (who is an avid collector of records from that era) is inspired by these women, by the mischievous sensuality and the subtle, ironic social criticism which pervades their lyrics, and which is reminiscent of a period of freedom and emancipation in the history of Middle-Eastern societies.

While Yasmine's vocals are definitely connected to traditions of Arabic music (to which she takes a personal, unconventional and fresh approach), the structures and arrangements of the songs are very remote from its codes. They might be described as a kind of elegant, mutant strain of electro folk pop, mysteriously springing from somewhere in the Persian Gulf… with acoustic guitars, vintage synths, spellbinding atmospheres and Yasmine's multi-faceted, wonderful voice.

One element which may be lost to our Western ears is Yasmine's playful use of various dialects of Arabic in her lyrics, which alternate between Lebanese, Kuwaiti, Palestinian, Egyptian and Bedouin, and use a lot of the code-switching and references so typical of Middle-Eastern humour.

Yasmine Hamdan has started performing her new repertoire in concert, with a band which includes Marc Collin and two other musicians. They've recently played several shows in Cairo, where the enthusiastic crowd reception and the intrigued media reactions confirmed the uniqueness of Yasmine status in the region.

Yasmine will appear in Jim Jarmusch's upcoming movie, she plays… herself, and is featured singing a song she wrote for the occasion ("Hal", which is featured in this album). Yasmine's tracks have repeatedly been used in films, sometimes with unexpected consequences: she met her husband, brilliant Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, after he used two Soapkills tracks in his award-winning movie "Divine Intervention"…