SOAPKILLS-THE BEST OF SOAPKILLS.
SOAPKILLS-THE BEST OF SOAPKILLS.
Ten years ago, that Soapkills, one of the most influential and innovative bands in Lebanese musical history split-up. Soapkills were a trailblazing band, and one of the first indie bands to emerge from the Middle East’s nascent music scene. Since then, Soapkills’ music has continued to influence a new generation of music lovers. The Soapkills story began in Beirut, in the late-nineties, and is documented on The Best Of Soapkills, which was recently released by Crammed Discs.
That’s where Yasmine Hamdan and Zeid Hamdan first met at the end of the nineties. Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city, was recovering from the Lebanese Civil War. The city was being rebuilt, and was an unlikely setting for a new band.
With Beirut being rebuilt, a new chapter in Lebanese history was about to unfold. This just happened to coincide with the rise and rise of Soapkills, one of the first indie bands in the Lebanon.
While there was a rich history of traditional folk and classical music, Lebanon didn’t have a reputation for producing indie bands. That was until Yasmine and Zeid formed Soapkills. They were at the vanguard of Lebanon’s nascent indie scene. This was the late nineties.
Yasmine Hamdan and Zeid Hamdan, who aren’t related, decided to form a band. Originally, the band was named after a song by Zeid Hamdan, which, apparently, dealt with the rebuilding of Beirut following the Lebanese Civil War. Yasmine explains: “We thought that at the time, in the context of Beirut being … you know, reborn, and all the war being wiped clean, we thought, wow, it’s shiny and it’s awful and it’s soap kills. We thought it would be a nice name for a band.” So, Soapkills was born.
By 2001, Soapkills had recorded their debut album, Bater. By then, Lebanon’s music industry was in its infancy. There were no record labels for aspiring indie band. This meant that Soapkills had no option but to self-release Bater.
When Bater was released, Lebanese music fans discovered a captivating, genre-melting album. It struck a nerve not just in Lebanon, but further afield. Tracks like Lé Zaalen? and Yahoo!, which feature on The Best Of Soapkills, are a fusion of Western and Middle Eastern influences. They’re best described as understated, cinematic, mesmeric, haunting and enchanting. Elements of downtempo, electronica, Lebanese folk and trip hop were combined by Soapkills. It’s no surprise that music lovers were captivated by Soapskills music. Elements of downtempo, electronica, Lebanese folk and trip hop were combined by Soapkills. They were quickly winning friends and influencing people with their sound.
At the heart of Soapkills’ sound was Zeid’s Roland MC-303 Groovebox. Zeid had used this in his previous band Lombrix. He brought the Roland MC-303 Groovebox onboard, to replace musicians who had left Lombrix. This worked well, so Zeid incorporated it into Soapkills’ sound. Soon, other instruments were playing their part in Soapkills music.
Over the next four years, Soapkills’ sound expanded. Joining Soapkills’ rhythm section of bass and drums, were a flute, trumpet and saxophone. The result was music that was bold, ambitious. This became apparent on Soapkills’ sophomore album.
Just like Bater, Cheftak was self-released by Soapkills in 2002. When Cheftak was released, it surpassed the quality of Bater. Cheftak was an ambitious, assured and eclectic album. Elements of electronica, trip hop and world music are combined with traditional Lebanese classical and folk music on Cheftak. Among its highlights were Aranis and Koullou Ndif, Tango, Kasdoura, Marco Slow which feature on The Best Of Soapkills. It’s a bewitching fusion of musical genres and influences. These disparate musical genres and influences are combined seamlessly, by Soapkills, who were maturing and evolving as a band.
So much so, that already, comparisons were drawn with Leftfield, Portishead and Massive Attack. Soapkills’ music was finding an audience further afield. Somehow, Beirut’s top indie band were making their presence felt in Britain and Europe.
Following the release of Cheftak, great things were being forecast for Soapkills. Their music provided the backdrop to the Lebanon’s evolving and vibrant arts scene. It had sprung up in the post war years. At the heart of the new art scene, were Soapkills. They were trailblazers, who flew the flag for the new Lebanon. Soapkills were an example to new bands, and inspired others to follow in their footsteps.
Three years after the release of Cheftak, Soapkills released their third album Enta Fen. Still, Soapkills weren’t signed to a record company. So they self-released Enta Fen.
Soapkills decision to Enta Fen independently wasn’t unusual. Many artists and bands were dispensing with record labels, and adopting a D.I.Y. attitude. This was helped no end, by the internet. It had made the world a much smaller place. The internet also increased Soapkills’ audience. While this was the case with their first two albums, Enta Fen benefited from the explosion in popularity and access to the internet.
When Soapkills released Enta Fen in 2005, it was the finest album of their career. It seemed with each album, Soapkills grew and matured as a band. Their music was haunting, beautiful, cinematic and mesmeric. Proof of this are four tracks from Enta Fen; Herzan, Galbi, Manni Zelak and the title-track. They feature on The Best Of Soapkills and feature Soapkills at their bewitching best. Playing a leading role in the sound and success is Yasmine’s vocal. Its ethereal beauty is omnipresent, while the arrangement are variously understated, sparse, smokey and cinematic. It’s a glorious fusion of ambient, electronica, trip hop and Lebanese folk and classical. Surely, Soapkills were about to become the first band from the Middle East to enjoy widespread critical acclaim and commercial success?
Between the late-nineties and early noughties, Soapkills had toured extensively. They played in Algeria, Australia, Berlin, Congo, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Paris. Wherever they went, critical acclaim accompanied Soapkills. They enjoyed a degree of success. However, not as much as they might have.
The Soapkills story came to a sudden end when Yasmine moved to Paris. It was the end of an era. Soapkills could easily have replicated the success of Portishead, Leftfield or Massive Attack. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
Now living in Paris, Yasmine began working with Mirwais to on the Y.A.S. project. They then collaborated on Yasmine’s debut solo album, Ya Nass, which was released on Crammed Discs in 2013. As for Zeid, he Zeid remained in Lebanon.
In his home country, Zeid created the Lebanese Underground collective. He also produces a number of artists based around the Middle East. His latest project is a solo album, Zeid And The Wings, which showcases one half of Soapkills, whose music is documented on The Best Of Soapkills, which Crammed Discs recently released.
The Best Of Soapkills is the perfect introduction to Soapkills. This fourteen track compilation features tracks from their three albums plus two previously unreleased tracks, the Paris Version of Cheftak and Wadih. They’re welcome additions to The Best Of Soapkills, which is a musical reminder of Lebanese indie pioneers, Soapkills. They were trailblazers, who inspired a new generation of musicians to embark upon a musical career. That’s not all. Soapkills are a hugely talented band, one who deserved to enjoy widespread critical acclaim and commercial success.
While Soapkills enjoyed a degree of critical acclaim and commercial success, their music never found the wider audience it deserved. Soapkills could’ve and should’ve been a much bigger success. Maybe, ten years after Soapkills split-up their music is about to reach a much wider audience. The Best Of Soapkills, which was recently released by Crammed Discs, is just the start of a comprehensive reissue program. After this, Crammed Discs will reissue of Soapkills three albums, Bater, Cheftak and Enta Fen. At last, Soapkills music will be heard by a much wider audience, and no longer will they be one of music’s best kept secrets.
SOAPKILLS-THE BEST OF SOAPKILLS.