Take one part Fado singer Mariza, to that add a dash of Shiela Chandra, mix in a decent dollop of Susheela Raman and you won’t even get close to how transfixingly beautiful, evocative and enthralling the singing of Yasmine Hamdan is.
Now underscore with music that comes from West End Musicals, The Pet Shop Boys, Warren Ellis and traditional folk music and again you won’t have nailed Yasmine Hamdan. If you liked the very best of Ethiopiques I would suggest this will be to your liking.
That probably makes it sound like a pot pouri of ill fitting musical styles. Don’t you believe it.
This is extraordinary music that has a rare beauty to it.
Now, the thing that nails it for me is, like Tinariwan, who sing with startling ethnic embellishments and words totally unfamiliar, so too does Hamdan, but her source is Arabic, because she hails from Beirut, although now lives with her husband in Paris.
Before a week ago I had not heard of Haman (despite his significant back catalogue under the band name Soapkills) but after seeing her blow away all and sundry on Jools Holland’s show I sent immediately for her debut album.
Rather than a strictly new release it appears to be a Western catch up of some previously released materials that we haven’t yet come across.
She sings defiantly in Arabic because the youth of Lebanon eschew their roots favouring, like many other countries, transatlantic sounding pop. The result is that this is music I have never quite heard before but is stunningly complex and enthralling from start to finish.
Please don’t approach this as “World Music” which to so many is a pejorative genre definition. It is just beautiful and no more so than on the albums opening numbers, Deny (straight out of Homeland), Shouie (surely the most plaintive lament you’ll hear in a long time), Samar (with its Indian sounding, slightly syncopated, early Depeche Mode feel) and the monumental Enta fen, again (swooningly beautiful French noir thriller soundtrack material if ever I’ve heard it – Think Diva).
The ship’s foghorn that introduces La Mouch only creates a further layer of intrigue. Nediya is a Morodoresque synth-driven torch song. (But that only sells it short.)
This is not throw away pop. It’s truly great contemporary music worthy of any year end top ten list. I confidently predict you will witness this. Not least on mine.
Right now? It’s way out there on its own.