|Yasmine Hamdan |
Lebanese songwriter, composer and singer Yasmine Hamdan is known for her fusing classical Arabic music with modern-day electro-pop.
Along with Zeid Hamdan she formed the electro-pop band Soap Kills in 1998 and was the front woman and singer of the band for seven years. Soap Kills dominated the Arab and Lebanese underground music scene and released four albums, after which both artists decided to go solo.
In 2005 Hamdan met with electronic music producer Mirwais Ahmadza´, who composed Madonna's album "Music." Together they formed the project Y.A.S, which places Arabic lyrics at the center of electronic beats. The album "Arabology" was released in France four years later by Universal Music and it represented a potential bridge between two musical worlds.
Today, Hamdan is launching a new self-titled project. It is in collaboration with Marc Collin, the producer and lead musician of the French cover band Nouvelle Vague. The project comprises Hamdan's original compositions, as well as an original take on oriental classics. In an attempt to break musical boundaries her album echoes 50s and 60s Arabic music from Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Kuwait.
The Arabic electro-pop artist talks to NOW Lebanon about her musical career and latest project, which was released in France earlier last week and is expected to be launched in Lebanon this summer.
NOW Lebanon: You started your musical career when you first formed the group Soap Kills with Zeid Hamdan, can you tell us more about that?
Hamdan: I was living in the Gulf and came back to Lebanon to continue my studies, and I formed the group Soap Kills with Zeid. I started my career without any musical background; I didn't know how to read music, I wasn't a part of the music industry, so I had to learn things on the spot. This meant I had to make enormous effort and listen to a lot of music, but I've always had a crush on old Arabic music. So, during Soap Kills, it was very natural for me to sing those kinds of songs, but at the same time I was in the process of learning and finding my own way.
NOW Lebanon: How was the experience of going solo from Soap Kills to Y.A.S.?
Hamdan: When I left Soap Kills and began working on Y.A.S with Mirwais things were very different. So, for me, Y.A.S. represented the point of my leaving a comfort zone and heading to unknown places.
I wanted to do some electro-Arabic music. It was thrilling and challenging to turn Arabic songs into electro-pop. I wanted to do songs in Arabic, which can be embraced by an Arab crowd, but at the same time be accessible to anyone who doesn't understand Arabic. I wanted to break the geographic boundaries.
NOW Lebanon: Could you tell us more about your new self-titled project?
Hamdan: After Y.A.S, I started collaborating with new artists, to see where my aspirations will lead me. I wanted my music to be more intimate, more centered on vocals, to use songs that I've been listening to and to sing some which I had written.
In the first phase I worked with the guitarist Kevin Seddiki on some of my songs, which were sort of a romantic folk. After that, I met with producer Marc Collin, with whom I am currently working; he is the one that "dressed" my songs in an electronic "coat."
The album is under my name, Yasmine Hamdan; I couldn't find a name for the album, and didn't feel like calling it anything in particular.
NOW Lebanon: Some of the songs you sing are a reinterpretation of older ones; can you tell us more about the process?
Hamdan: I come forward with some of my original compositions, as well as many other favored classics from my collection of veteran Arab albums. I take the lyrics and I change them, but only when I have the right to, that is when they are a public domain. I transform them into something more channeled toward who I am and the world I live in.
Working on these songs is similar to using samplers: from this song I picked a melody, a chorus, found a way of resonating Arabic dialects; I repeat phrases and recreate all the musical arrangements until something completely original is born. It is intuitive, when you're in the middle of the creative process you know what is good and what is better. I look to keep a certain balance and harmony.
NOW Lebanon: From Soap Kills to Y.A.S to Yasmine Hamdan, how have you developed as an artist?
Hamdan: I'm more confident, I know myself better, I know what risks I can take, and what challenges I can face. I've come to realize that my main goal is to be free from norms, free from geographical boundaries in music, from what limits one's self and one's identity as an artist. I like what I do. Art is very inspiring, it gives you hope, courage and strength to fight your fears and challenge yourself; it inspires you and makes you grow. Therefore, I feel like I made a great choice, yet this entails a lot of sacrifices.
NOW Lebanon: Could you tell us more about the content of your new album?
Hamdan: The album doesn't seek to send a message, it's not a narrative, and it only displays my instinct. I treat the album like an object: I amalgamate songs in the midst of the creative process. It incorporates songs that I composed at one point or another in time.
I wanted to sing some of Omar El Zenneh's old songs, so the album includes songs called "Beirut" and "Bala Tantanat." "Beirut" talks of the many years of war that the city has gone through and dwells on the memories of a city that is in continuous transformation and that will never be the same.
I lived in Kuwait for many years and was familiar with the dialect. So, I decided to sing songs from that region; this creates variety. This also allowed me to create different moods in the album; for example I sing a song by Aisha al-Martha, but I include a completely new chorus called "Ya Nass."
"Samar," is one of my original compositions. I wanted it to sound a little like Hindu music but with a twist of modern pop. I am currently filming a video clip for it.