Any kind of artist reinvention is risky, but after starting their career writing and performing mild-mannered love songs, releasing an album of politically charged material is a particularly bold move for an artist to make. This is what Iraq-born, Tauranga-based singer-songwriter Yasamin has done with her sophomore album ‘Songs Over Baghdad’, released in November 2020.
Entirely self-written and produced, the album has a strong focus on Arab-related issues, including devastating events in her homeland and closer to home, the Christchurch mosque shootings. Yasamin proves herself to be a strong lyricist, delivering powerful messages that will make listeners think. Coupled with her raspy, emotive vocals, it’s clear that she’s passionate about these songs and this subject matter. Her production is raw but unique, with an Eastern flavour that serves the project well.
“They divided us to make headlines,” she sings on strong album opener Babylon, a powerful track that laments the bombing of Yasamin’s home country. “Babylon, Babylon…” she wails in the chorus, “When are we going to get back to being one?” Maybe It’s America, which follows takes a confrontational tone, exploring the idea that inaction is complicity. “Maybe it’s America and the rest of us.”
Terror Comes In All Colours has a particularly interesting production, with a huge, reverb-saturated kick drum and very dynamic highs and lows. The song itself is a repetitive and incisive anthem, addressing how Yasamin feels about being pulled over at airports. “When are you gonna admit that what you’re doing is racist… Random selection is a choice, terror comes in all colours, girls and boys.”
Baghdad Boy also stands out for its production, with Yasamin’s Bollywood-esque vocals accompanied by sizzling synths and drum machines. The result is an upbeat, Eastern-flavoured pop song, with lyrics that romanticise about Baghdad activists. “I love you, and I love all those who love you… You’re the bravest boy in the world, and I can’t wait to be yours.” The track effectively provides light relief while not diverging from the political subject matter.
Gladiator is a definite stand out, dealing with the power of words and art as a form of activism. “Swordsmith / wordsmith, both entertain,” Yasamin sings, “Once time passes, only one will remain.”
Although dealing with heavy subject matter, Yasamin never fails to inject hope and positivity into the songs. “Minds will change about this situation, and heads will shake at this generation,” she sings on Scarf. “Peace will always win, if not now but in the end,” are the lyrics of October’s uplifting double tracked bridge.
‘Songs Over Baghdad’ is a strong body of work which portrays a message of hope and resistance. In Yasamin’s case, the reinvention was worthwhile, allowing her evident artistry to shine.