Hamdan was born in Beirut in 1976, a year after the outbreak of the 15-year civil war. He is a pivotal figure in the development of alternative or underground music in Lebanon both as a performer and as a producer.
In an interview with Saudi Gazette, Hamdan said: “I grew up in a region where there is not an alternative movement for music. You have classical stars, and then the pop mainstream”. The mainstream pop scene has become dominated by Arabic video clips and “doesn’t have a beautiful vibration.”
Hamdan wanted “to give the Beirut youth a new model, a new way of considering Arabic music.” The Lebanese younger generation “has been traveling and learning abroad and coming back to the country with ideas.” The underground developed as a musical expression of this generation hungry for social and political change.
Hamdan has his own special brand of on-stage charisma, and sings a selection of his songs in Arabic and English in his distinctive tender and soulful voice which in its upper reaches has an otherworldly quality.
He has come a long way, as a young boy living in Paris, he first picked up a guitar and found himself spontaneously composing a song. His family moved to France for six years in 1986 when Zeid was ten.
While living in Paris he got to know the music of Western performers such as the Doors, David Bowie, French hip hop artists and above all the Beatles. “My band The New Government is very influenced by the Beatles” he says.
Hamdan typically has several music projects on the go. His solo vehicle is ShiftZ, into which “I throw all my experimentation. It can be a reggae song, it can be Arabic electronics. Shift Z is my playground, my space for myself.”
He has founded several bands over the years. After he returned to live in Lebanon in 1992 his first band was Lombrix, which released the hit EP “Lucy” in 1994. It was a time of optimism and stability and the press was interested “that a young Lebanese band made an EP after the war which had a mixture of Western and Eastern influences.” The Lombrix line-up included singer Yasmine Hamdan (no relation to Zeid), possessor of a beautiful sultry voice.
After other members left the group, Zeid and Yasmine formed Soapkills. Why this name? Hamdan explains: “I wrote a song called Soapkills, and it talked about erasing all remains of the war, cleaning up the town – like killing the memory, killing the truth, through the action of washing up.”
Soapkills drew both on classical Arabic song and on electronics. Zeid and Yasmine first wrote songs in English, but then the artists Rabih Mroue and Walid Sadek joined the group and worked with them on Arabic lurics. Soapkills gained much from this input “because their writing in Arabic was so rich and funny, and because Rabih is an incredible flute player and Walid is a trumpet player.”
After Mroue and Sadek left the group Zeid and Yasmine continued as a duo and enjoyed considerable success in Lebanon and beyond. But the parting of ways came at the end of 2005 when Yasmine saw her music future as being in Europe and moved to Paris while Zeid wanted to develop the local Lebanese music scene.
Soapkills remains influential, and six of its albums are still on sale.
In November 2004 Hamdan formed The Government. The name was changed to The New Government the following year after Lebanon was plunged into a period of assassinations and political instability. The New Government’s first CD was released in 2006.
The band had five members, of whom three now remain: Hamdan and French brothers Timothée and Jérémie Regnier. Although the Regnier brothers live in France, they regularly perform and tour with Hamdan.
On June 7 last year, the day of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, The New Government released five free downloadable tracks to “voters” who cast a vote for the band on its website. Hamdan sums up the band’s indie rock style as “a blend of the Pixies tendency with the Beatles, Beach Boys and Franz Ferdinand.”
Hamdan’s African project Kanjha Kora-ShiftZ began in December 2006 when he was brought together with Kandia Kouyate, a 17-year-old singer and kora player from Guinea. The duo’s collaboration produced a highly appealing mixture of “reggae, hip hop, Guinean music and electro.”