With over 20 releases under his musical belt, an ever growing fan base and a penchant for ignoring the limits of genre and style, Zeid Hamdan has ushered in a new wave of Arab music. Eihab Boraie meets the artist/producer to delve into the mind of one of the hardest workers in the music industry.
Creating an album is often compared by artists to giving birth. Delivering a great album can take up to nine months, unless of course it is premature birth and in Lebanon, chances are, if you are in the underground scene introducing your new baby, than Dr. Zeid Hamdan has likely helped you with its birth. Striving for legendary status, Hamdan, not actually a doctor but a musician/producer/performer, has helped the Lebanese underground music scene emerge as one the most musically diverse in the whole region. To learn just how prolific his collaborative efforts and body of work has become I caught up with him on the beaches of Soma Bay...
For more than a decade Zeid Hamdan has been challenging himself to create his own unique sound while helping a slew of others develop their sounds across a wide spectrum of genres. His first release entitled Lucy dates back to 1994 by his very first band The Lombrix and quickly set this iconic producer on the path to developing eclectic sounds for a variety of musical troubadours. According to Hamdan, “I’ve produced albums with Yasmine Hamdan, Soap Kills, Kandjha Kora, Hiba Mansouri, The New Government, Katibe 5, Maryam Saleh, Maii Waleed, Dany Baladi, Miles Jay and Rakan Suleiman, among a slew of others. All in all, I have around 23 albums with several bands.”The multi-talented Hamdan has ventured across diverse musical landscapes, and doesn’t care about any one genre, but rather the collaboration behind it. “I don’t have any one musical preference. It's all about the encounter, if I meet an inspired Reggae artist then we produce Reggae; if they're into Metal then we produce Metal; it’s mostly about working with passionate and talented people regardless of style,” he explains. From Guinean Pop to Arab influenced Electro, Hip Hop, and just about everything in between, Hamdan has impressively amassed an eclectic body of work, constantly releasing new projects, while challenging himself to find unique sounds to add to his repertoire.
Working in the shadows of the Lebanese musical scene for years, Hamdan was finally launched into the international spotlight after the 2008 release of General Suleiman by Zeid and the Wings. For four years, the track went unnoticed... Until the Arab Spring began to blossom. Fearful of the uprising spreading to Lebanon, authorities scrambled to squash any form of dissent. They took particular offense to the final lyric of the song, where Hamdan bravely asked the General to go home. Temporarily detaining the courageous artist, authorities interrogated him. Within hours of his arrest, a campaign was launched calling for his release, which helped pressure authorities into setting him free instead of turning him into a musical martyr. Upon his, release the international media began painting him as a revolutionary singer, however the humble artist acknowledges that “General Suleiman gave people the impression that I mainly did controversial Reggae Pop music for kids, which doesn’t represent my style in general. The detention never affected me stylistically; it was just a disturbing moment to go through. I am conscious about how little known I am, and that’s ok. I’ll be a real revolutionary when I apply my huge ideals on myself.”
As we continued our conversation behind the beach stage ahead of his performance, I found myself taken back; instead of talking about his own creations, Hamdan spent most of the conversation talking about a plethora of bands from the underground scene that he hopes will succeed. “We have a lot of heroes working hard to make this Arab world strong, beautiful and vibrant,” he passionately describes. I began wondering if there was anyone he didn’t like and when asked, Hamdan admitted - without mentioning any specific names - that “the ones hurting the musical scene are the wannabes, those who are just a copy of a copy, who are focused on their image rather than their music.” Although some will argue that image is important in finding success in the industry, Hamdan gave me the impression that his image didn’t matter to him, and that he would rather his worth be measured by his musical contribution and not cheap gimmickry.
Easily one of the highlights at 3alganoob 2015, Hamdan showcased two of his bands; Zeid and the Wings and Maii & Zeid. Both acts were well received by those in attendance and the explosion of sound on stage certainly made it the talk of the festival. Comparing both acts is difficult as both Hamdan’s bands gave stellar performances, but Maii & Zeid may have had a slight hometown advantage due to the soft sultry Pop vocals styles of Alexandria-native Maii Waleed. Presenting a variety of unique but consistently smooth Electro Pop and Rock tracks, any sort of positive reaction from the crowd proved to be a testament of their talents, as many were frustrated and angered by terrible weather and logistical problems. When asked about his thoughts on the festival, Hamdan made it very clear telling me that “I loved it, the team was adorable. I’m so sorry they got hit by a sand storm. The 300 people that remained on site were like a little family of colourfully adorable warriors.”
Throughout the weekend, our paths would cross often, and every time we bumped into each other Hamdan would be accompanied by a multitude of artists, passionately discussing music and critiquing acts. Just before we went our separate ways, he reaches into his bag and give me his latest Zeid & The Wings EP, Balekeh. Released in April this year, the five-track EP proved to be a short but effective piece, definitely worth a listen as it showcases the evolution of Zeid’s composing, writing and producing skills. With over 20 albums under his belt, it's hard for Hamdan to point out a single favourite. And rather than pointing out his past work, Hamdan prefers to highlight the present. “I love each one of the albums I have worked on because they represent relationships and phases I’ve gone through. The track that is still fresh and vibrant is my last one on Balekeh. The song Iza w Law still makes me shiver. At the same time my favourite collaborative projects that I am currently working on are with Maryam Saleh and Maii Waleed.”
Those who missed his performance at 3alganoob will be happy to hear that he will be returning to Egypt alongside Maryam Saleh in September to support a new album release. With any luck, when he returns he will find his dream concert waiting which the proud godfather of underground music describes as having aAll the artists I’ve produced on stage, all the women I loved in the crowd, my son on an instrument, a beautiful place, a nice sound system, and some good LSD...” With his efforts in bolstering the music scene, this hard working artist/producer deserves more accolades than he gets. Not only does he contribute his own diverse compositions, but seems to be constantly helping others find or produce their sound with the ultimate goal of making the underground music scene more vibrant and interesting, not just for Lebanon, but for all music lovers.
To keep up to date with this busy artist visit his webpage