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A few years back, Lebanese singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan made a splash in a scene-stealing moment of Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch's 2013 vampire flick, where she was performing in a Tangiers cafe. She's been hard at work since then, and is about to release a new full-length album, Al Jamilat (out on March 31st on Ipecac Records).
Hamdan has been all over the Middle East and she currently lives in Paris with her husband, renowned filmmaker Elia Suleiman. While in Lebanon she formed groundbreaking electro-pop band Soapkills with musician Zeid Hamdan (no relation), one of the first of its kind in the Middle East. Despite facing challenges, Soapkills created its own legacy, eventually becoming a cult group in Lebanon. In 2013, Hamdan released Ya Nass, her first solo album (Crammed Discs).
Her new album, Al Jamilat (which means "The Beautiful Ones"), is all about women, whose characters and stories Hamdan creates using different Arabic dialects. The title comes from a poem of the same name by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, a gorgeous, evocative work that captures the complexity of women's experiences, something Hamdan also seeks to convey on the album. The title track is her sung rendition of the poem.
As part of an ongoing tour, Hamdan performs Saturday night at this year's Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. I spoke with her about her new album, how singing in different Arabic dialects helps her create characters, her feelings about the state of the world right now, and more.
It's such a historical moment right now in terms of the relationship between Europe/The U.S. and the Middle East, as a kind of frenzied paranoia seems to be escalating in both areas in terms of their relationship with the other. As someone who has made a home in both worlds, how are you feeling right now? What might the way forward look like?