Yasmine Hamdan performed in the Geneina Theatre in Al Azhar park Friday 10 August to a large and enthusiastic audience.
After a thrilling taxi ride through Old Cairo and a beguiling walk through Al Azhar park, I arrived at the delightful outdoor auditorium of the Geneina Theatre for a concert by Yasmine Hamdan. As a steadily growing line of keen young photographers sat cross-legged right in front of the stage like good boys in school assembly, the venue gradually filled up. The audience was young and smartly dressed and when I asked the man next to me if he is a fan, and he said “yes, for me Yasmine’s voice is the best. I have all her albums.” I was not very familiar with Hamdan’s work, but songs like ‘Aranis Aranis’ and ‘Aziza’ have kept popping up around me in the past few months and every time I heard them I liked them more.
Percussion, bass and acoustic guitar, keyboards, and drums were all set up before Yasmine Hamdan appeared, arms wide in greeting. Opening with ‘In Kan Faoudi’, Hamdan’s voice was strong without being overpowering. Dressed in a shirt with a spangly gold bikini top and what looked like leather trousers, I was pleasantly surprised by her dancing, which at points verged on being bawdy, not the delicate femininity I had expected.
As the set went on Hamdan combined her dramatic arm movements with a lot of smiles and fun, inviting the crowd to join in, which they did, enthusiastically. Percussion was enhanced with a tabla halfway through, and another high point of instrumentation was the ‘hang’ combined with a melodica for the intro to ‘Suleima’. Western and Eastern instruments combined to great effect and were complemented by Hamdan’s frequent interchange of two microphones and extra vocal reverb. At the end of the gig I was no longer wondering how to classify her music – it sat comfortably in the sphere of intelligent, inventive collaborative artistic pop.
After the gig Hamdan was nice enough to sit down with The Daily News Egypt and shared her love of performing: “I love melancholy music, but I also know how to have fun. And I was brought up on pop kitsch and old songs. The Egyptians are a very different audience to play to – they know how to have fun too. We used to come on holiday to Cairo when I was a child. I have been trying to infiltrate the Anglo-Saxon world but it is difficult.”
When asked what the difficulties are, Hamdan explained, “the music industry works with a format. They expect you to be world music, and each time I have a CD out they do not know where to put me. So we try to change things a little bit. And it is not the same experience with an occidental public. They are more reserved and I cannot let go in the same way if I cannot dance.” She went on without prompting, “When I first started making music I was listening to Portishead, Bjork, Fiona Apple, Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Janis Joplin, Radiohead and Leonard Cohen.” And, after a small pause, “Jefferson Airplane.”
Having experienced and enjoyed the concert without understanding the lyrics prompted the question if there is a point where language stops being important to her as a musician. “Of course! You do not need language for music. Language is meaningless to me. Look at the Cocteau Twins – they wrote whole songs with no language at all.”
Commenting on her new solo status Hamdan said, “this is the first time I feel that I have matured. I know my desires better and can control my emotions better on stage. I initiated this whole project, I worked with the producer.” When asked if she considers herself a solo artist she explained, “you let your collaborations lead you. I know what I do not like. It is very important to be in control, there were too many important things involved before but now it is me who is driving things.”
During the performance last Friday that certainly showed.