Yasmine Hamdan is not your typical Arab pop singer. She doesn’t wear lots of makeup or flashy clothes. In fact, most of the time, her stage outfits look like something you’d wear to stay home all day: simple, unfussy, and comfortable. She also likes to perform barefoot, which gives her shows an even more intimate vibe, like she’s just hanging out in her living room, chilling, singing her heart out. Her voice, though, is soulful and intense, and makes anyone who hears her stop and pay attention. That is her magic, and that is why it doesn’t matter whether you speak Arabic or not: you’ll feel the pain, the anger, and the love all the same.
From Strictly Confidential
She was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1976, one year after civil war erupted in that country. That war, which lasted for fifteen years and completely destroyed Lebanon, forced her family to relocate abroad, so Yasmine grew up feeling Lebanese, but didn’t actually know what it was like to live there. After living in Kuwait and Greece for a few years, she and her family moved back to Beirut in the early 1990s, after the war had ended. Her experiences as a young woman living in a city ruined by the war inspired her to start writing music. By 1997, she and a friend had formed the duo Soapkills, which became known as the first Middle Eastern indie pop band and an icon in the underground scene in Beirut.
This band brought her fame in her home country as well as abroad, but she still didn’t feel like she had found her voice as an artist. As she explains in an interview, this was because, with Soapkills, she had been singing in English, and it wasn’t until she started singing in Arabic that everything really fell into place for her. For her, Arabic is the language of home, family, and love. She needs it to fully feel what she is singing and to make us, the audience, feel all these things with her.
Her music is defined by an unusual combination of Arabic vocals and electropop rhythms. She explores both of these worlds, never inhabiting just one of them, but rather bringing them together and making them coexist under her own terms. Her deep, breathy voice is her best tool to create a bridge between these two worlds and tell the stories, events, and relationships that have shaped her life. Her lyrics can be openly political, talking about everything, from the civil war that ravaged her country to the Arab Spring that changed North Africa and the Middle East forever. But they can also be about universal themes like love and heartbreak. No matter how personal or political her songs are, they will definitely move you and make you feel something.
With two solo albums under her belt—Ya Nass (2013) and Al Jamilat (2017)—Yasmine is certainly not new to the scene, but she is still relatively unknown in the West. However, you might have seen her performance in Jim Jarmusch’s indie hit called Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), which stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as vampire lovers. Yasmine appears towards the end of the movie, performing her song “Hal” and makes a lasting impression on everyone who watches her. Her singing and dancing is hypnotic, and you have no idea what she’s singing about, but it’s okay. You don’t need to.
Cover photo: Nadim Asfar
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