Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Yasmine Hamdan – 2013 – "Ya Nass" Not Your Everyday Arabic Album ياسمين حمدان – يا ناس

Yasmine from Soapkills Band (the first indie/electronic band to appear in the Middle East) has a new stellar album to her name.. 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 her debut solo album, a mesmerizing self-titled opus entitled "Ya Nass".

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 humor.

This is the intellectual music or music for the Arab intellect, the average folks may need to grow up a little bit or go to college to start digesting this album. This is meant for a broader audience, but it's certainly different as it experiments with a number of styles, cultures, languages, and genres. She is a like a curious tourists who wants to do everything, like a kid at a chocolate store, he wants to try every piece. I respect and enjoy this vast musical collaboration  that will certainly travel worlds, connects people and teach them something new about the possibilities of the human spirit.

Yasmine Hamdan - Beirut


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