Yasmine Hamdan is a singer, songwriter and actress of Lebanese descent, now based in Paris. She became known with Soapkills while she was still living in Beirut.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. Two of Soapkills’ songs were featured in the award-winning film “Divine Intervention” by director Elia Suleiman.
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 solo debut album.
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, inspired atmospheres and Yasmine’s multi-faceted, wonderful voice.
One element which may be lost to 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’s status in the region.
Yasmine Hamdan will appear in Jim Jarmusch’s upcoming movie, she plays… herself, and is featured singing a song she wrote for the occasion.