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First Listen: Yasmine Hamdan's 'Ya Nass'


An album out this week is drawing international attention to a hidden gem of the indie Arab music scene, Lebanese singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan. Her second album is called "Ya Nass." It showcases her hypnotic phrasing and modern take on traditional Middle Eastern sounds. And it's caught the ears of cultural taste-makers worldwide, from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch to NPR's Bob Boilen and Anastasia Tsioulcas.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: She's super sleek, super modern. She's got this style that's backed by synths and drums and guitars. And I think she's really all about upturning everybody's assumptions about what Middle Eastern music could and should sound like.


BOB BOILEN, BYLINE: So that's a song called "Deny," off the new record, which you can always sense this deep tone, this vibe that she has. It's clear in all of the music she does.

TSIOULCAS: You know, she's new to American listeners and probably to most Europeans, too. But she's been on the scene for a long, long time in the Middle East. She was one of the founders of - maybe even the only - indie electro pop outfit in the Middle East, a duo called Soapkills. She went on to work with Mirwais Ahmadzai, who produced Madonna's "Music" album. So this is somebody who's coming from a very deep sense of who she is, and who she wants to be.

BOILEN: And she's getting an awful lot of attention. I saw a YouTube video clip of her in a Jim Jarmusch movie that's coming out. "Only Lovers Left Alive" is the name of the movie. And she leaves everyone in this club scene that she's part of just speechless.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah, and that includes Tilda Swinton, who is one of the stars of this film. So let's hear her sing the song that she sings in this film. You'll kind of get a sense of what that dark moodiness is all about


BOILEN: I find her music, and her style of singing, would fit so well into so many bands and club acts that I see these days, who use electronica in their music. But there's a catch. She sings in Arabic.

TSIOULCAS: She is fluent in English. She is fluent in French. But she made a very conscious decision to sing exclusively in Arabic. And she also indulges in a lot of regional code-switching in her songs - she switches between different dialects of Arabic.

I think it's really, a very serious attempt to carve out an identity for herself as a female singer; as a female singer singing in Arabic; as a female singer singing in Arabic, in a super-modern style. It's all these kind of layers and layers of meaning and depth.

BOILEN: Whether or not you understand these songs on the level that she sings them at, this is just an absolutely stunning record. And I'm totally taken by it.


WERTHEIMER: NPR's Bob Boilen and Anastasia Tsioulcas on Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan. You can hear her new album, "Ya Nass," as part of our First Listen series, at NPR.org. It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm David Greene.

(SOUNDBITE OF YASMINE HAMDAN SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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