Music Reviews
4:00 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Album Review: 'Ya Nass'

Originally published on Tue May 6, 2014 12:33 pm

Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan redefines the concept of Middle Eastern music. Her debut album, Ya Nass, seamlessly fuses her roots in punk rock and techno with traditional Arabic sounds. Reviewer Banning Eyre says she is one of the most free-thinking and inventive artists singing in Arabic today.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Yasmin Hamdan is a Lebanese singer and composer now living in Paris. She started her career in the '90s as part of the alternative rock scene in Beirut. Now she's pulled her diverse experiences together in a debut solo album called "Ya Nass." That means Hey People in Arabic. Banning Eyre has this review.

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Yasmin Hamdan's calling card to the world was conceived as a folk rock take on Arabic music.

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EYRE: Her influences care many, but among them is the voice of Neil Young, which she admires for its combination of strength and fragility. Most of these songs are about love, but they channel darker emotions, the anger Hamdan felt as a teenager displaced by the Lebanese civil war and now frustration over the divisive politics and cultural clashes of the Middle East.

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EYRE: Hamdan spent her youth dodging wars. She lived in Kuwait during the most intense years of the Lebanese war and returned to Lebanon in the early '90s after Iraq invaded Kuwait. In Beirut, Hamdan became the lead singer for a band called Soap Kills. The lyrics were edgy. The music drew on punk rock and techno and all of that echoes on "Ya Nass."

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EYRE: Along the way, Hamdan also got interested in Arabic classical music. It offered a soulful alternative to the rock and roll she'd grown up with. She had neither the training nor the inclination to sing Arabic music traditionally, but she had a wonderful voice, deep curiosity and the courage to defy conventions.

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EYRE: This song is a tribute to the iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. Yasmin Hamdan's new album is full of such subtle references to the past, but you don't need to understand them to appreciate the songs. Maybe that's why American director Jim Jarmusch tapped Hamdan to compose a song for his new film, "Only Lovers Left Alive." It's a literary vampire tale set in Morocco, perfect for Hamdan, one of the most free-thinking and inventive artists singing in Arabic today.

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BLOCK: Our review of the album, "Ya Nass," by Yasmin Hamdan came from Banning Eyre. He's senior editor at Afropop.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.