raditional Arabian sounds, electronics and folk – you can’t put Lebanese world citizen Yasmine Hamdan in one box.
Reeperbahn Festival: Yasmine, you’re on a world tour right now but in your songs you carry a lot of your home – Beirut in Lebanon. Do you consider yourself a kind of ambassador?
Yasmine Hamdan: It’s not a strategy or a plan, but of course I want to emphasise something I know and love about my culture. I don’t recognise myself in a lot of things that happen there. But I recognise myself in the music and the language. Many of your songs are inspired by the voices of people you meet by chance in the streets, like taxi drivers. And many of these voices are angry. Yes, there is disillusionment about the Arab Spring – a term I hate, by the way. I don’t think a revolution is brought about in one day and I don’t think you can do it without all members of society, meaning minorities, meaning women, meaning the LGBTQ community. You cannot create a different future for a country if you’re not united on a basic level.
Reeperbahn Festival: What do you think is your responsibility as an artist?
Yasmine Hamdan: You’re a public figure, a representative of change. I always had a strong desire to create art, but I was also very aware that I would be facing lots of obstacles. People criticise you and that stays with you. In the end I didn’t choose. I had no choice. I had to do it. Then I realised a lot of people – the youth especially – identified with that. There’s a desire to challenge tradition and challenge conservativism.
Reeperbahn Festival: Where did that desire stem from in your case?
Yasmine Hamdan: It’s a personal drive, everybody has their own motivation in life. I wanted my world to widen. I wanted to be to someone what Neil Young or PJ Harvey or Portishead or Chet Baker were to me. They made me dream. How did people react to you singing in Arabic? When we started our band Soapkills it was the end of the Civil War, and nothing was ready for us. We had to do everything on our own. In the Middle East I faced a conservative approach to things, and to women especially. When I went to Europe I thought that people would be more welcoming – and many were. But I also faced post-colonial attitudes like: oh, is this really Arab? Or: what box can we put you in? We never fit into any of the boxes. Maybe we weren’t exotic enough, maybe we weren’t doing the fusion music they were expecting. Looking back, I realise I was really stubborn. Luckily.