Who is Zeid Hamdan? Lebanese underground musician of Soapkills fame gets signed by PopArabia

The Abu Dhabi music publishing company along with New York's Reservoir acquire the trailblazer's musical catalogue

A handout photo of Zeid Hamdan in Al Ganoob festival in Egypt (Photo by Cairo Scene) NOTE: For Rob Garratt's feature about Zeid Hamdan in Arts & Life, September 2015 *** Local Caption ***  zeid colors al ganoob.jpg
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Zeid Hamdan's back catalogue of music will finally receive much-deserved international attention.

PopArabia, the Abu Dhabi music publishing company, and independent New York music company Reservoir, have signed a deal with the Lebanese musician, acquiring his published works as well as his catalogue of master recordings.

The deal also includes a recording agreement with Bedouin Burger, a musical project between Hamdan and Syrian singer Lynn Adib, with new music set to be released this year.

"I'm extremely honoured and excited to share my passion with a team that understands my vision and shares my ambition," Hamdan said. "This is the right deal at the right time in my career, with a team that has global reach and has fought for artist rights in this region."

Who is Zeid Hamdan?

Hamdan has been a trailblazer in Lebanon’s underground music scene since at least 1997, when he founded the electro-pop band Soapkills with singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan.

The duo drew inspiration from Arabic classical music and were at the forefront of the region's burgeoning electro scene. Though Soapkills performed live several times in the late 1990s, the group only released their first studio album, Bater, in 2001. It quickly gained traction in the Arab world and by the time the follow-up, Cheftak was released in 2002, Soapkills became paradigmatic of the Middle East's indie electronic music.

Soapkills would go on to release one more album, Enta Fen, before disbanding in 2005. However, the group's influence did not slow down, as its jazzy trip-hop sound is still referenced by contemporary indie artists from across the region.

A compilation album, The Best of Soapkills, was even released in 2015.

Political motivations

After Soapkills, Hamdan went on to found The New Government, an English-language punk rock band that was a response to Lebanon's precarious political condition. The five-piece released their debut self-titled album in 2006, an eclectic work that fused rock and punk sounds with sonic textures from the 1970s.

In 2010, Hamdan founded Zeid and the Wings. A single titled General Suleiman put him in hot water, however, as the song's final line, "General go home", was perceived as an insult to Michel Suleiman, president of Lebanon at the time. Hamdan was arrested as a result.

"[The authorities said] it's the worst thing you can tell him, you are asking him to leave power. So it's worse than an insult,” Hamdan told the BBC in 2011, going on to insist that the line wasn’t an insult but a piece of advice. Hamdan was released the day after his arrest, after a Facebook group created by his lawyer rallied thousands of supporters.

High-profile collaborations

As a producer and composer, Hamdan has branched out widely from his indie and electro-rock beginnings. He has worked with a range of cutting-edge artists, including Tanjaret Daghet, Remie Akl, Maii Waleed and Maryam Saleh, mixing electronica and indie elements with traditional Middle Eastern music.

He has also written original scores for television series, advertising campaigns and films – he was the producer behind Khaled Mouzanar's score for Nadine Labaki's Capernaum, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2019.

Bedouin Burger is Hamdan's latest musical effort and he once again breaks new sonic ground with singer Adib, blending Bedouin inspirations with electronica. The group's debut single, Taht el Wared, mixes textured analogue synthesisers with Egyptian pop and Arabic poetry. The song, which translates as Beneath the Flowers, is a tribute to Adib's late husband.

Hamdan's work is inherently political. In an interview with The National last year, he spoke of harnessing Lebanon's current political situation as well as three decades' worth of hope and despair into a range of prolific projects.

"All that has transpired over the years, you can hear in all my work. It is in the production, the words, the melodies and the feelings. It is in the studio where I make some sense of it all.”

Now, the musical guru's formidable back catalogue has the change to extend its reach internationally.

PopArabia founder Spek said: "It's such a thrill to be working with someone of Zeid's immense talent and his pioneering spirit.

“I am very proud that he has entrusted PopArabia with his diverse catalogue, and we look forward to working with Lynn and Zeid on bringing Bedouin Burger’s awesome music to the world.”