Expect to hear more of singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan over the coming months. She currently is busy with a tour promoting this year's album, Al Jamilat - her second solo offering. On Monday this week she played London, on Friday she plays Istanbul. But today was Wednesday, so it was the turn of Fez
My heart is as helpless
As the river is
Inaccessible to all
And the waterfall follows its course
From the end of the spring
To the beginning of the sea
～ Maya Sabah, Syrian poet
Variously described as a "Lebanese pop princess," as influenced by her "pan-Arabic heritage" (she was born in Lebanon, raised in Kuwait and lives in Paris) or as an "underground icon," none of these labels adequately describe Hamdan's genre-mashing repertoire. Those who came tonight expecting a modern take on Oum Kalthoum or Mohamed Abdel Wahab will have been disappointed. Hamdan has taken this back catalogue, absorbed its essence, then turned it on its head and shoved it backwards through a Roland 808.
Hamdan appeared on stage alongside a guitarist, drummer and keyboard player with a sultry, almost gloomy, expression. She wore a tight leather bodice and an embroidered gypsy skirt, looking like some kind of post-modern bellydancer. Throughout the performance she moved between two mics - one halfway back on the stage and one at the front. She hardly smiled throughout. Studiously aloof, she warmed slightly when addressing the large audience in French, Arabic and English. Not that the audience cared - her fans went wild for her final, pre-encore track and jumped up to dance, while those less familiar with her work were still scratching their heads trying to figure her out.
To describe Yasmine Hamdan as "Arabic" misses the point completely. Although she sings in Arabic and cannot deny that musical heritage, her music is both globally and historically influenced, owing as much to Jimi Hendrix (to whom her guitarist bore more than a passing resemblance) as to the Trip Hop and Madchester movements of 1990s Britain. Throw in a few post-punk riffs à la The Sisters of Mercy and the Neue Deutsche Welle, alongside some Rotterdam hardcore techno -inspired industrial samples and you would not even come close to summarising all her influences.
If we were to try to pigeonhole Hamdan, we might say she belongs to a global tribe of feisty female singer-songwriters who use all manner of international influences and genres to express themselves and their ideas. In more than one song, she resembled Moroccan-born Hindi Zahra, who is Paris-based and sings in English and Tamazight. In others, she might be compared with Jain (French, lived in Dubai, Congo and Abu Dhabi) or UA (Japanese singer-songwriter and TV star, sings in genres such as pop, jazz, electronic and reggae). However you want to describe her, Yasmine Hamdan is a stereotype-smashing, boundary-erasing force to be reckoned with.
Review and photographs: Lynn Houmdi