Column by Annelise Tarnowski
Stop. Imagine yourself in a Middle Eastern country listening to typical Middle Eastern music. Your eyes are closed, and you’re feeling the Middle Eastern weather while wearing typical Middle Eastern clothes.
Stop again. Hopefully, even for the most uninformed humans, it’s well understood that there is no such thing as typical Middle Eastern any of that stuff.
It’s a region with varied countries, climates and clothing. The piece that may seem most surprising to an Ameri-centric 20-something, though, is that there are not only many kinds of music, but also many definitions of what constitutes as music.
For less traditional minds, the most sacred chants could be considered reminiscent of music, and it would be no problem for a woman to be singing them. But should you ask a conservative Ayatollah where he draws the line, and he’ll push women away from singing (especially to men), and say that the chants should never be spoken about in such a way.
He may even completely discount music that isn’t praise music as a distraction from pursuing God.
Enter Yasmine Hamdan. She’s a woman who speaks a multitude of languages and has decided to devote herself to developing the indie Arab electropop genre, apparently a more popular trend than expected.
Hamdan is a new breed. She’s not only a strong female vocalist, but she also speaks six languages and isn’t afraid to show a little skin (as seen in her music video for “Samar”).
She’s been making this kind of music for a long time, having started out as the frontwoman for a different band 1998-2003. She knows what she’s doing.
Rather than present herself as a female Lebanese singer gone American or gone Parisian, she’s remained true to her roots and sings all her music in Arabic. She even switches among different dialects.
Despite gaining popularity across the world, Hamdan has chosen to continue singing in Arabic for her first studio album, drawing on the rich traditions of classical Arab music.
She claims that she follows her passions and can’t censor herself as a way of explaining these deliberate choices, but I think there’s more there.
She explains her first project’s name (“Soap Kills”) and sound from “the idea that the reconstruction of Beirut was washing away the city’s history, their music offsetting cosmopolitan digital beats with moods and melodies that drew on Arab classical music in a highly unorthodox way.”
It seems as though she’s attempting to break through the Western stereotype for music from the Middle East by being an advocate for music as an art form.
She says that she began performing and writing music to “create (her) own space” after she escaped the Lebanese civil war, and used music to understand what was going on in her home country.
Hamdan moved around the Middle East and lived in Paris for a while.
She’s making ripples in music communities internationally, but she says her music is not grounded geographically, and that if you feel the emotion, the music is for you.
Tarnowski is a junior radio/TV producing and sociology double major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org