Photo via Yal Solan

Our lives have always been exclusively intertwined with capitalism: Rushed mornings, late nights at work and the chase behind consumerism is a routine we are all too familiar with.

But what happens when we allow ourselves to rebel against these notions ingrained into our very being? What happens when we look beyond? Lebanese singer and songwriter Yal Solan explores these notions in her music. 

Her debut single, Silent Fireworks, combines “spiritual pop” with a flavor of world music by bringing in different instruments from cultures across the world. The mesmerizing song, produced by Mike Massy, builds slowly —rebelling against today’s rushed culture and an attempt at encouraging self-reflection.

It’s not the first time she collaborates with the singer, songwriter, and producer. Her career in the Arabic music scene kicked off when she joined efforts with him for Chou Original in the leading TV drama series Salon Zahra.

Yal Solan sees the very act of returning to art as a statement against capitalism.

“Music-making on its own is a rebellion against capitalism,” Yal Solan told Beirut Today. “To make music, I should be completely disconnected from the demands of the world, to reconnect to my body, heart, and soul.”

The singer also places a special focus on emotionality, femininity, and sensuality. She wants her music to be inspiring to other women to express themselves on that level.

In the same way Lebanese culture is influenced from different parts of the globe, Yal Solan combines regional roots with Western influences to produce music that mixes expressive Arabic and English lyrics.

And apart from her singing career, Yal Solan works as an animator and visual designer. We sat down with the multidisciplinary artist to chat about her new single, spirituality, and capitalism.

Beirut Today: Let’s start with the basics. When and how did you find your passion for music?

Solan: Music has always been a part of my life. During my university years, I joined a choir and it was there that I fell in love with classical music—the harmony with other voices, the polyphony of the music, the history. 

I knew it was the path I wanted to take but it just was not the right time. Even after I graduated, I would go to work and would have choir rehearsals in the morning and then work till late. 

A few years later, I met my vocal coach and producer Mike Massy. This was when I started experiencing the difference between the traditional kind of singing where you have to blend in and use only one mode of your voice which was the lyrical operatic mode versus really diving deep into your individual voice and uniqueness. This is where I felt truly empowered. 

When you work with the voice, you discover so much about yourself and you earn the flexibility to express yourself in so many different ways. Having the space to do that helped me grow remarkably and things started to flow on their own.

I have also taken initiatives myself, such as teaching myself the piano, and researching scales, keys, and chords. I used my design skills to make a huge poster which I hung above my piano to start composing on my own and discovering an alternative practice to playing the piano. 

Your music is inspired by a lot of self-reflection. Can you take me through the process of your song-writing and recording?

The greatest part of this process happens during the night-time. Once I can take space away from the rushed pace of life. I simply sit on my bed, dim the lighting, and start writing and reflecting on my day. I am very passionate about becoming a better person, diving deep and uncovering why I am the way I am, where I can work on myself, and how I can express the things that maybe society doesn’t give space for. The words naturally come out in poetry form. Later, I feel their melody on the piano. 

The whole process is very intuitive and spontaneous. Through music, I try to break these barriers of systematic steps. I am very passionate about yoga and meditation, which inspires this kind of self-reflection into the inner world. It is similar to putting a lens inwards and seeing what comes out. I believe we need more of that. 

We need music that speaks to us, and that can only come with honesty and authenticity. In the recording process, my producer Mike Massy and I directed the song in a way that has a “world music” kind of feeling, involving instruments from different cultures. I genuinely enjoyed this process because as a singer and songwriter, I want to incorporate this universal kind of music that you can relate to wherever you are, whoever you are. This is when I came up with my genre, “Spiritual Pop.”

Would you consider that your music is dedicated to certain causes and takes the form of activism or is it more personal than that?

It’s both because once you go into the personal, it will have to reflect outwards. I would love to work on so many causes—women’s empowerment being the first one. But before any of that, I believe in spiritual awakening, which calls for a slower, mindful pace, contrary to the speeding through capitalism and mindless consumption.

If we are able to sit with ourselves, and carve our own space within the world when we need to, I believe this is the root of all great action. And this is how community actions work after all. When we notice what is missing in our lives, realize our needs, imagine a better world and then demand its manifestation. And what better than music to incentivize this!

You already mentioned that you are someone spiritual, and that you like to reflect that in your music. What would you want your audience to take away from your music?

I want them to remember that there is a space within that they can always come back to. I value this inner voice, which for me, is Silent Fireworks. If my music can awaken something in them, I’m already satisfied. 

Because in the outer world, there are endless reasons to distract us: the fuel prices, the dollar crisis, the constant instability. Only we can truly create our own peace of mind, and this looks different with  each person. My music is for them to relate to in their own special way. I would love to take my audience to this dreamy world, which is at the same time awakening and empowering. 

Speaking of the audience, how were the reactions from your small community and the people around you when you released your single?

It’s been amazing, honestly. I’ve been getting beautiful feedback from both friends and strangers, telling me they’re listening to Silent Fireworks before a stressful meeting. Some even listen to it as their comfort song. Some people said they felt the sensation of Silent Fireworks on their bodies. Several people even said they cried. The cathartic feeling I had hoped to give was very much received!

People were also very happy with the video. I presented a different side of myself; the designer who is usually behind the screen suddenly emerged as a singer dancing in front of the camera expressing herself. I’ve gotten a lot of messages saying that the way I own my true self is inspiring their own transformation.

As for the bigger community, it’s been several weeks since the release and the momentum is still rolling beyond expectation. I’ve gotten several radio interviews and features on regional and even international music and culture blogs! At the moment, Silent Fireworks is peaking at #6 on the Official Lebanese Top 20 Charts. Silent Fireworks has even made its first TV appearance in Egypt! I’m happy to be expanding to different audiences across different countries.

What inspired this mix between Arabic and English in your music? 

As a new artist, I want to offer something different. As Lebanese, our spoken communication has had so many influences. We speak Arabic, and at the same time, many of us grew up watching English shows or listening to French songs. My music is a reflection of this upbringing. 

I can not be an English singer and ignore my mother tongue. I’m used to singing in English and communicating in Arabic, so you’ll notice my verses are in English yet there is spoken word Arabic in between. I want to portray the wholeness of what we are as Lebanese people: we’re a mix of memories, locations, and influences constantly in flux. 

You are also a designer and an animator. Do these sides ever intersect with each other? 

Definitely. For instance, when I take on an animation project, I design the scenes, and narrate the video with my own voice over and choose the music myself.

I use my design and video skills in my music career as well: I have designed my branded material like my logo, resume, press kit, etc. I edit my photos, art direct my videos and prepare my storyboards myself. Being a self-produced artist so far, I support my music through my own design and animation work. It enables me to bring my musical ideas to life.

Let’s talk more about the music field and the music industry. First of all, what opportunities do you think the music industry provides in Lebanon, and what are the challenges as well, especially as a rising artist?

When it comes to opportunities in Lebanon, I believe there are several causes, movements, and communities which open spaces for art to bloom—events, gigs, cultural talks. There is always so much happening in Beirut despite the situation. There is so much talent here, and definitely lots of material to express about Lebanon. 

As for the challenges, I think we all already know them by now. The lack of resources like electricity and good internet has really delayed my launch as an artist. Brain drain is also a very real phenomenon where so many musicians and artists have moved out of Lebanon or immigrated in order to make a proper living. So there are way less talents here to collaborate with.

You talk a lot about capitalism and how your music is in a way rebelling against this capitalistic and consumerist culture. But the music industry is subject to capitalism in a way as well.

You just targeted my existential crisis! The channels through which we share our music are unfortunately subject to the capitalist system. Music streaming, marketing, management, production are all businesses we fall prey to.

And there is a lot of pressure on independent artists to manage themselves and take care of so many things besides music, like social media presence for example. 

When it comes to my experience, I am aiming to put out content that doesn’t only inspire and entertain but also encourages collaborations with local artists, fashion designers, product-makers, and so on.

What I’m saying is we can use the platforms of these big corporations to empower ourselves and each other. The ultimate reality is that as musicians we need to make money from music, but the true solace to that is the message behind our work and the purpose we fulfill. 

Do you think that the industry in Lebanon is experiencing a new movement or is being redefined?

I think we’re flourishing creatively. As Lebanese people, we have many sources of inspiration, so many connections abroad. We are like a geographic melting pot and it shows in our music. We are slowly outgrowing the usual mainstream music we have become used to, and incorporating different regional and international influences. 

We are growing more outspoken, more intense in what we say in our music due to everything we’ve been through these past two years and more. Everything that we go through in this country gives us this fuel to give. We are putting out work that really shows that we are still living despite everything…

What are your short and long-term plans for your music career? 

My short-term and long-term plans are intertwined. Currently, I am working on my first album. It will tackle more of the same themes but will include more diversity in terms of reflection, empowerment, realization, inspiration, and growth. It encompasses all these inner topics that I would like to bring out to my listeners. 

I want to give my first album justice before I release it, and until then, I’ll be contouring myself, starting more conversations on spiritual well-being, working on my vocal journey and sharing it… 

Whatever I do, I want to be an artist. I aim to expand into different artistic disciplines, some of which I’ve already started. I’ve recently gotten into fashion modeling which has been a growing interest of mine! By the time I would’ve gotten enough experience and gotten so enriched with music and matured by the world, I would love to give back, through teaching, through healing. The road from there is open!

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Sandra Abdelbaki is a multimedia journalist currently pursuing her Master's degree in Journalism, Media and Globalization in Europe. She is passionate about investigative journalism, alongside a cup of coffee and some good music.