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Musical pioneer prowls the Lebanese stage

How an indie music diva in skintight leather brought Arabic and electro-pop together.

Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, who fronts the band Y.A.S., performs during the annual Byblos International Festival in the ancient city of Byblos, July 23, 2009. (Cynthia Karam/Reuters)

BEIRUT — The members of Arabic electro-pop duo Y.A.S. appear in their first video blasting off from Cairo in 2019 for an Arab mission to the moon.

The scenario is, of course, a stretch of the imagination. Their current mission is back on earth: to bring Arabic into the mainstream of Western pop.

“Language is not a barrier,” said Yasmine Hamdan, 33, the Lebanese singer who fronts Y.A.S.. “Language doesn't have to be a 'checkpoint' for the listener in music.”

Last Thursday, Hamdan came home, playing Lebanon's biggest music night of the summer at the Byblos International Festival, north of Beirut.

This crowd knew Yasmine from her days on the Beirut music scene in the late '90s, when she fronted a trip-hop band called Soapkills, one of the first indie bands to move away from singing in English and French to Arabic. It started a trend, and today most Lebanese indie bands don't even give it a second thought — they almost all sing in Arabic.

“Soapkills were a lot more true because they spoke to the public here,” said fan Elysa Tabet, 25, on her way out of the concert. “But when you go and do something like 'Arabology' that's more universal, it's more accessible. It's a hit. It's a good mix now and it's bound to work universally.”

France and Belgium are the only Western markets in which the album has been launched, and it has it drawn critical acclaim in both.

“I know that Y.A.S. will do fantastically well in Europe. I know they can break through in England and certain parts of the U.S.,” said Lebanese producer and promoter Ziad Nawfal.

The video of Y.A.S.'s second single, “Yaspop,” sees the duo succeed in their blast off and plant a flag on the moon. The real challenge, though, is whether they will manage to stick a flag in planet pop.

More on life in Lebanon:

Lebanon's basketball addiction

Going downhill fast — and loving it

Banned Israeli film draws a crowd in Beirut

Market unites Beiruti farmers — and foodies

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/lebanon/090730/musical-pioneer-prowls-the-lebanese-stage