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28 Mar 2015 18:00

Who is Yasmine Hamdan?


Praised by the media as “Arabic Music’s Modern Voice” (New York Times), Lebanese singer/songwriter Yasmine Hamdan became known with Soapkills, the duo she founded with Zeid Hamdan in Beirut in the mid 90’s, which was the pioneering indie/electronic band to appear in the Middle East. The band gradually acquired an emblematic status and, to this day, Yasmine is considered as an underground icon throughout the Arab world.

In 2006, Yasmine moved to Paris and recorded under the Y.A.S. moniker, Arabology (2009), with Mirwais, a former member of the band Taxi Girl who also produced/co-wrote Madonna’s «Music» as well as the «American Life» albums.

She then joined forces with Nouvelle Vague’s Marc Collin to produce her debut solo album, «Ya Nass», which was released by Crammed Discs in Europe in May 2013 and in Japan and the USA last April. One of the album’s songs, « Hal » is featured in Jim Jarmusch’s latest film «Only Lovers Left Alive». Her “Ya Nass Tour” has brought her so far to major cities in Europe, the US and the Arab world.

In order to write the melodies and the lyrics for her songs, Yasmine draws from the repertoire and attitude of great Arab female singers from the early and mid 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 others. Yasmine, 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.

A seasoned performer, Yasmine has been on stages all around the world, amongst them the Opera house (Australia), Byblos Music Festival (Lebanon), Olympia (France), Trianon (France), Carthage Museum Esplanade (Tunis), Respect Festival (Prague), Clandestino Festival (Sweden), Albert Hall (London), Haus Der Kulturen der Wel (Berlin), Woomex, (Berlin), Geneina Theater (Egypt).
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