Bedouin Burger's BB EP is a futuristic taste of Arabic pop

The duo consists of pioneering Lebanese musician producer Zeid Hamdan and Syrian singer Lynn Adib

Zeid Hamdan and Lynn Adib are Bedouin Burger. Photo: Sachyn Mital
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Bedouin Burger's new EP fulfils the promise of one of the region’s exciting new indie acts.

A collaboration between pioneering Lebanese musician producer Zeid Hamdan and Syrian singer Lynn Adib, the BB EP is a vibrant collection of five songs blending pulsating and, at times, abrasive electronic beats with the rich sounds of Levant folk and balladry.

The fact it sounds so assuring is more impressive considering the uncertain circumstances that spawned the duo.

Bedouin Burger formed in 2020 in a Beirut at a standstill because of the first waves of Covid-19, when Hamdan holed himself up in a local studio working on beats and loops he would email to Adib in Paris.

Those early songs, Taht el Wared and Ya Man Hawa (not on BB), are defined by those straitened times.

“They basically feature just Lynn and I and the few toys I had in the studio,” Hamdan tells The National.

“But both are very important in that it went on to show our evolution and our changing circumstances.”

Bedouin Burger's early days were also an outlet for Adib to express grief for a personal loss.

Taht el Wared, meaning Beneath the Flowers, has her ghostly vocals hovering over a production that begins languidly, before evolving into a pulsating dance rhythm.

The song was inspired, Adib says, by her late husband, Nicolas Zwierz, who died of cancer in 2017.

“The lyrics and melodies I actually wrote two years ago, when I went to Poland to visit my husband’s grave,” she told The National in a previous interview.

“And I remember feeling so touched by the fact that he is alone there, lying beneath roses. So I wrote this song when I returned home and I wanted it to somehow sound like a celebration of this love we have.”

With Lebanon’s deteriorating economy forced Hamdan to relocate to Paris last year, the duo reunited in person and work on the EP began.

The resulting five songs are more detailed and fully formed, owing to the better studios and musicians available in the city.

It is a tight and cohesive listen, complementing both artist’s respective visions.

Acknowledged as one of the godfathers of Arabic indie music, Hamdan has been a trailblazer in Lebanon’s underground music scene since at least 1997.

He founded the seminal electro-pop band Soapkills with singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan, before producing a string of releases by cutting-edge Arab artists, including Maii Waleed and Maryam Saleh, as well as composer Khaled Mouzanar's score for Nadine Labaki's 2019 Oscar-nominated film Capernaum.

Damascus-born Adib is also known for her adventurous streak, with projects fusing Arabic jazz and soul with electronic music — a striking approach displayed on last year's album Nearness, created with French multi-instrumentalist Marc Buronfosse.

By combining their efforts, Hamdan says Bedouin Burger hopes to create a soundtrack for what it means to be an Arab today.

"I just feel like it's about providing a more realistic portrait of our generation," he says.

"We are deeply rooted in our parent's tradition, but at the same time we are the children of new technology and other modern influences.

“Lynn and I love traditional music but we can only express it in the way we know and not the way our parents did.”

This is epitomised in the instrumental Dabkeh, a thrilling electro hoedown pairing Arabic percussion and flutters of the flute with rampaging synths.

Above the intoxicating rhythms is Adib’s sensual wail, at once longing and euphoric.

Where Dabkeh felt more like a Hamdan production exercise, other tracks in the EP display a finer synergy between both talents.

Nomad is the most organic sound of the bunch.

Carried by the bluesy notes of the guitalele (a compact six-string guitar), which Hamdan describes as Bedouin Burger's signature instrument, Adib's frail vocals echo the tragedy of displacement.

Ethereal and sparse, it also illustrates Hamdan's measured approach in the studio.

"It's very important that each instrument has its importance," he says.

"So, for instance, in a song like Nomad, the main quality is Lynn's beautiful vocals, so my job is to empower the vocal and not compete with it.

“I am not one to over orchestrate, it's all a question of balance."

That poise is also found behind the scenes with Hamdan surrendering his normally tight grip on his projects to outside management.

In 2021 Bedouin Burger signed a recording agreement with Pop Arabia, the Abu Dhabi music publishing company, and independent New York music company Reservoir.

The regional and international ties have already borne fruit.

Last year they performed as part of the influential Tiny Desk concert series organised by American radio channel NPR, and at Riyadh's XP Music Conference.

With a second EP on the way later this year and an international tour in the works, Hamdan is now happy to focus on what matters.

“In the past, some of my projects didn’t reach the level they were meant to go,” he says.

"Now, with the experience that I have had with so many bands, I no longer want to do this alone. I want to implicate professionals, managers and agents to help.

“That way I can focus on the music and the rest will follow.”

Updated: April 14, 2023, 6:23 PM