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Arts and culture

Yasmine Hamdan, the reinvented artist

BEIRUT | - June 02, 2014, 12h40
Par Elodie Morel
Photo from the visual announcing the event "A Night of Dancing With Yasmine Hamdan", at Radio Beirut on May 29, 2014.
Yasmine Hamdan has returned to Beirut. After five years of absence from the Lebanese scene, she found herself in the capital once again at the end of May and early June to present to the public the film Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch, in which she plays herself. She also gave a concert in the framework of an international tour, which started in 2013, for her album Ya Nass. When we met her briefly at a café, she talked about Jim Jarmusch, her love for the theatre, her musical evolution, and the album that has cast a spell on us.
We meet her in a small room in Radio Beirut, in Mar Mikhael. The photos of Yasmine Hamdan in the media sometimes give her a sulky and distant image. She is neither sulky nor distant. She is very Zen and at the same time excited, sensitive. A sign of passion, or of fatigue, perhaps. These days she is getting through interviews full throttle. But “It’s ok, I’m used to it,” she says.

Yasmine Hamdan’s presence in Beirut is a media event itself. She has returned to her city after five years of absence. Five years without returning once is long, no? “But it just happened like that” she declares. She will tell us more later. For now, we know she has returned to the capital, mainly to present to the Lebanese public the film by Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive, in which she plays herself and sings the song Hal, in a café in Tangier. The film premiere, on May 27th at Metropolis Empire Sofil in Achrafieh, will be a complete success, reuniting artists, die-hard fans, and more recent admirers.

The angel and the creature

Yes, Yasmine Hamdan is someone we admire. The word that keeps reappearing next to her name in the press is icon. Icon of electronic music, icon of contemporary Arab music, fashion icon as well. This last point is nothing surprising. The table in Radio Beirut is narrow, so we can observe her at our leisure: dark eyes, thick black hair, beautiful features and hands. This style is soft, melancholic and nervous at the same time. At the press conference for Only Lovers Left Alive, in Cannes in 2013, Jim Jarmusch described her as an “extraordinary artist”, “a creature”. We repeat the words of the American director to Yasmine. She smiles. “Jim Jarmusch is an angel”, she says.

The angel and the creature, then, met in 2010 at the Marrakech International Film Festival. It’s one of those meetings that are made possible by a series of unforeseen events: Yasmine gave a concert that she didn’t think she was going to give and for which she rehearsed the night before. On stage, she was accompanied by piano, unusual for her.

She met Jim Jarmusch and his wife the day before the concert. He attended her performance, and then he came to see her and told her he had an idea for her for a new film.

He contacted her again just two years later and told her that the movie is ready to be filmed. It’s Only Lovers Left Alive. “I’ll send you the script, you’ll be able to discover your scene,” he said.

“I dreamt about the scene that I read,” Yasmine recounts. “And then I wrote the piece that I sing in the film. I contacted the artists with whom I wanted to do this song (Hal, which features on her album Ya Nass). During this evening in 2010, at the concert in Marrakech, there was a particular energy that I wanted to re-transcribe in this song. And also, something hypnotic that I felt whilst reading the script.”

Ya Nass: The enchantment

Two months later, they filmed this scene in Tangier: She sings in a café accompanied by the Karkabou, and the Gimbre. The result is hypnotic, as she had imagined. And we are enchanted, as we are by all of Ya Nass. Let’s say it quite frankly, this album was a shock for us, an unexpected fusion, the feeling of seeing Arabic music find a new path, a new voice, soft, muffled, a little hoarse sometimes.

Since last year, Yasmine has been giving international concerts non-stop to introduce her album. One day in Cairo, another in London, Paris… in Beirut as well, on June 8th. It’s an exhausting rhythm but it’s beautiful and it’s part of her life, she says. “In the world of music, you release an album and you spend two years playing it, defending it. You are facing the public; you have to continue whatever happens, whatever the circumstances. And then the public influences the person that you are on stage. The public changes all the time. It’s very destabilising but with experience you learn to combat it.

Her musical style has also changed a lot throughout her career. Today, the album Ya Nass is very different from Arabology, released in 2009 when Yasmine was part of Y.A.S the electro duo she formed with Mirwais Ahmadzai.

But for the artist there’s nothing surprising in this evolution. “I like breaking taboos, opening doors, without worrying about what should or should not be done,” she explains. “I left Lebanon 12 years ago, to settle in Paris. I needed to find other codes, to reinvent myself as an artist.” She doesn’t know yet what her next opus will be made of.

But for the moment she is here, in Lebanon, and “it’s good” she says. “In any case, my life has always involved a coming and going between Beirut and elsewhere. But I follow the direction of my search for freedom whilst trying to conserve my sincerity. Yes, throughout all these evolutions, I have always been true to myself. I have never betrayed myself.”
#Yasmine_Hamdan, #music, #Lebanese_music, #Lebanese_artists
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