(Hamdanistan Records/Crammed Discs)
I heard this songstress first on – of all things – the CNN television news channel. They had a documentary feature about creatives in Lebanon and Ms Hamdan was briefly interviewed. She seemed to have drive, ideas, a great and haunting voice and a striking appearance. Prompting me to find this album which I think is her third?
Now, as I listen I cannot easily decipher what each of these songs is about. Language barrier. But maybe it’s not a barrier and I can appreciate the record in my own limited way. The record is produced by Yasmine with input from Luke Smith and Leo Abrahams. Hamdan is credited with vocals, programming and arrangements. The images of her on the album and in the accompanying booklet are blurred and do her no justice but obviously that is an artistic choice, presumably made by the her. However the booklet has lyrics in English, so I am less lost, there…
Douss floats in on acoustic guitar and sparse bass. The vocal is airy and yet still emphatic. There is a slightly smoky tinge to Yasmine’s singing. The keys are ethereal and uplifting but all players are working to the delicacy of the tune. The words concern the Arab Spring and reek of hope. There is an undercurrent of mistrust of those in power and without shouting the message is delivered.
La’Ba’Den centres on the friction between two – I presume – lovers. A steady electronic beat rules with keyboard trills and a chilled synth figure hovering overheard plus keening strings. If that sounds a mess, it isn’t, but the song has an unsettling ambience. Hamdan sings with a soft authority, soul with subtlety. Assi has a cotton wool vibe about it, the stab of the strings evoke a thriller film. A romantic dilemma is at work in the lyric. Which way to turn ? The mystery builds in this shadowy piece. The vocal yearns. Yasmine may be high-maintenance for all I know, listening – safely ! – at this distance
Choubi is livelier, the words are of regret at perhaps a love missed. A bit of a weird mix of tones churn along in the background. Suits the song, I guess. Yasmine sounds resigned, but with no lesson to be learned. Iza starts over an insistent bass figure and soft backbeat. It quickly weaves a spell. I think I would have used a flute on this one. The beat flutters as the vocal nags at the ear, but gently, tenderly. The words centre on self-realisation of perhaps bad habits. Nothing much she can do about them, it seems!
Café is an eerie and to my ears Arabic segment. Traditional sounds mix with electronica. Looking for a movie, this track…..
K2 seems to be tale of easing away from troubles to calmer times. But what caused the conflict? Behaviour of others? Own mistakes? Addiction? This is a song I’d like to understand better…that floating ambience is used with the vocal almost angelic in a cloud above us..the electronic trills add to the mystery.
Al Jamilat is the collection’s title cut and starts with guitar chords hit steadily. It draws on a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. The track subtitle is The Beautiful Ones and beautiful it is, stopping here and there to leave the vocal stark. A jangling beat returns. If I could dance, I would be up on my feet. But like many musicians I cannot dance..
Balad sounds like a spaceship arriving in a mist as it commences. Yasmine uses her most sultry tones as the lyric unfolds. It’s a story of anger, frustration and strife. The almost martial beat underlines the capped fury. ‘I am the deserted subject’ she sings. La Chay returns us to romantic dischord as a theme. Acoustic guitar overlaid with a treated electric ? The vocal is delivered with resignation. Maybe this situation won’t be corrected?
Ta3ala brings the record to a close with a snappy beat and a solemn setting, snaking violins here and there.
Though sometimes I would prefer a fatter, more rhythmic drive in the production to some of the songs, this set showcases a fine emotional singer who never yells and some great intuitive musical elements that have taken some obvious thought. Hands up, I am beguiled by this album. Though it cannot be aimed at the likes of me, I am sure.
Yasmine Hamdan’s new album ‘Al Jamilat’ is out now on Hamdanistan Records/Crammed Discs.
For more information visit www.yasminehamdan.com