Ten days ago, Lebanon’s Beirut & Beyond International Music Festival (BBIMF) led the charge in hosting the region’s first-ever all-women-identifying sonic gathering, inviting a group of MCs from the Middle East and North Africa to come to share their lyrical skills in one of the Arab World’s traditional epicenters of culture, arts, and inclusivity. Despite the challenging circumstances that Lebanon currently faces due to a series of unfortunate events affecting its economy, politics, and civil society, the festival proved that the rich talent in the Mediterranean Nation remains vibrant, if not even more prominent.
Regardless of the whos, whats, and whys of such a surge in creativity in Lebanon, over the weekend of the 26th and 27th of May, dates in which BBIMF took shape and place, the mini-festival served as a first formal introduction to a marginalized scene while also providing a parallel platform for fellow artists in the crowd to connect, network, and mingle. With the potential to create new opportunities that are adamantly poised to amplify the many voices of an entire scene that is far too often overlooked, dismissed, and collaterally muted by their male counterparts, in between two steaming sets, where fire beats and bars were being sent left, right, and center, we crossed Yal Solan’s path, a Beirut-born singer, poet, and model who was dancing her way through the night and whose genre is just as difficult to pinpoint as the title she identifies with most and best.
“Being an artist in Lebanon right now is very hectic, as you have to do a lot of things to make ends meet. It requires so much of you. You have to learn and harness so many different skills, and constantly be on the lookout for new opportunities to keep yourself afloat. I perform and focus on my singing but I’m also a character dubber on the side, a model as well as being my own social media manager, copywriter, and PR representative,” shared the multi-talented 30-year-old artist.
“It gets really busy but it is what it is,” Solan confessed before admitting trying to look at the brighter side of things, identifying some sense of beauty in the struggle she, as well as many of her peers collectively experience. “I’d actually say that it’s quite an advantage that I may have as everything feeds into each other. My background as an animator helps me design my own covers and brainstorm my music videos, modelling helps me work on my stage presence and be comfortable in front of cameras for photoshoots and so. Although it can get overwhelming, I’m lucky enough to be self-reliant and not have to outsource each time I want to try something out!” Solan went on to reveal.
With such an abundance of talent roaming around the Phoenician City, which comes as no surprise as the Lebanese capital has, for decades, always been a hub for artistic expression and creativity; the current state of affairs seems to not have dampened the spirits of the musicians that make the scene what it traditionally has been and what it still is today. In fact, it appears to have ignited a renewed passion within them to make their voices heard, looking at the large number of cultural practitioners as potential collaborators rather than rivals.
“The scene here is so rich and vibrant, and I don’t see it as competition at all. It’s inspiring and encouraging,” expressed the Indie singer, who released her first solo single, Silent Fireworks, in 2022. She believes that originality and good music can distinguish oneself from the crowd, regardless of the number of individuals pursuing their artistic careers. Solan’s vision is to create a unique genre by blending soul music with oriental percussions to set a specific ambiance and mood to evoke emotions and connections with her audience.
In the contemporary music landscape, artists consciously embrace their identity and cultural background, incorporating their sonic codes and respective vernaculars as a means of reclaiming their roots and asserting their presence globally. This growing movement, which gains momentum with each release, has become a powerful force that the multi-hyphenate aims to be a part of.
“If I don’t celebrate and express my roots, who will?” she asked. “The Arab World is my heritage, and I will never forget that. A new wave of artists proudly incorporates their identity in artistic ways that resonate with the youth. We carry our cultural baggage and use it to create something meaningful and share it with the world. I want to convey my truth, and representing my roots is an integral part of it. By being genuine and authentic, I hope to connect with people worldwide, and that’s beautiful,” she expressed.
Solan’s journey through life intertwines her identity and artistic vision in the most genuine and honest ways. She strives to create music that deeply resonates with others by sharing personal experiences, transforming them into universal narratives, inviting listeners to explore their own emotions but to also foster unity and understanding in order to embrace their unique identities and find strength in their vulnerabilities. This invitation serves as an opportunity for listeners to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery and self-acceptance—a prospect that she takes pride in.
“When someone approaches me after a concert, confessing that they cried and went through a cathartic experience, it makes me feel like I have made an impact. Opening up is not a conscious process for me, as I am comfortable with my vulnerable side. It feels more like a relief,” she shared.
“I carry my baggage with me all the time, so why not share it and hope that listeners can relate to what I am saying? Opening up breaks barriers and liberates oneself, providing satisfaction and empowerment. When you’re unafraid to feel, especially in a culture that often suppresses emotions, you expose yourself to the profound depth of human experience that others might miss out on,” she added, reflecting on the spaces in Beirut she visits to clear her mind and find inspiration.
“Amalgam Studio is where I go to rejuvenate myself, to loosen my body, free my mind, and connect with my breath. Barzakh Bookshop is where I find inspiration. It brings together poets, film enthusiasts, and musicians. I always meet someone who rejuvenates my spirit there, or I can simply pick up a book and read. It’s a place where culture is accumulated and preserved over time. It allows me to observe my inner state and inspire myself,” Solan shared.
As our conversation came to a close, our shared thoughts and perspectives on Lebanon and music intertwined. What started as a coffee time interview turned into an official invitation for MILLE to attend the artist’s first gig in a while, happening later that evening on a nearby rooftop in East Beirut. Eagerly accepting the invitation, we looked forward to witnessing the singer’s wise words come to life and being part of such an intimate gathering after our meaningful exchange. We felt privileged, knowing that this experience would deepen our understanding of Solan’s artistic expression more than the Q&A session we had just moments ago.
As the sun began to set, painting the Pool D’Etat venue with mesmerizing hues of orange and pink, a warm and ethereal glow enveloped the scene. Solan, seemingly weightless on the custom-made set crafted for her performance, took the stage, capturing immediate attention and captivating everyone present that evening. After spending an adventurous afternoon exploring her favorite spots and cafes, we settled in eagerly to enjoy the artist’s soulful and emotive singing, which truly reflected her earlier description of herself.
Throughout the performance, Solan’s music created an enchanting atmosphere. It became evident that her music had the power to uplift spirits, bring people together, and amplify voices that often remain unheard. Immersed in her sonic world, we felt a profound connection not only with her, but also with each other and with those around us. The rooftop transformed into a temporary sanctuary, where emotions were shared, strangers became friends, and the transformative power of music reached its pinnacle.
As the last notes echoed through the night, we carried the memory of that magical evening with us, forever inspired by Solan’s ability to bridge worlds through her music. She served as a reminder that when we allow ourselves to feel, especially through singing, we can find strength amidst hardship and all-encompassing challenges. For that, we express our heartfelt gratitude to Solan.