Image Credit: Lynn Cheikh Moussa

Lebanese musician Yara Asmar makes Pitchfork’s top 30 experimental and jazz albums of 2023

Lebanese musician and puppeteer Yara Asmar’s album “synth waltzes and accordion laments” has been named one of Pitchfork’s Top 30 Best Jazz and Experimental Albums of 2023.

Asmar’s album was made possible by the support of the Culture Resource, and is mastered and released by Hive Mind Records, a small-time record company out of Brighton, United Kingdom. In an Instagram post announcing the release of the album, Asmar writes “This cassette I’m putting out – almost in spite of myself – is tainted with exhaustion and I think, with a bit of bitterness too. But also with hope and with all the love in my heart for the people who make Beirut a little easier.”

In a short dedication, Asmar dedicates the album “To everyone who wants to leave but can’t, to everyone who wanted to stay but couldn’t, to my grandpa and his garden in the middle of Ashrafieh.”

During the past few years, Lebanon has been suffering under the heavy weight of economic and financial collapse, which has forced many abroad in pursuit of a better lifestyle, and left many here wondering if they should do the same.

Asmar belongs to the latter category – one of the few artists and musicians who have stayed back and continued to produce in spite of the odds, perhaps even driven by them.

The songs featured on the album were all recorded from the comfort of her home in Ashrafieh, using her grandmother’s massive green accordion, a metallophone, and other miscellaneous items she has collected over the years.

Of herself, Asmar writes “I find myself being a bit of a broken record lately, always thinking of myself in the third person as one of the people who’ve stayed here. And I often think of everyone I’ve loved and grown up with who has traveled looking for a better life. I find myself cursing these gentrified streets I’ve grown up in more than I’d like to as the rent gets higher and the work, the work, the work. Never ending. Exhausting. A good friend of mine was arguing with me a while back telling me, “It isn’t about class. It isn’t about money. No one in this country is doing well.” But it is; it always has been, hasn’t it?”

Whether it is intentional or not, Asmar’s work begins to dissect the urban changes Beirut has come to undergo in recent years. In talking about her own experience walking Beirut’s newly-gentrified cities, Asmar raises questions of class, economy, living standards – all of which have shattered in the last few years, where the rich have remained intact by the crisis, and the lower classes have come to suffer.

But the album isn’t only merely social commentary – rather it is a comfort and a solace for those that have stayed behind and watched the city transfigure itself into something that has become unrecognizable. It bows its hat down to the younger generation who have lost the spaces and people they love, and while doing so, have had to watch the city disfigure itself.

Asmar’s album is a testament of all that we have witnessed between 2019 and 2023. When listening to it, it sometimes feels as if the music is enveloping us in a supercut of memories. Other times, it feels driven and edgy. Most importantly of all, it walks us through feelings that we have sometimes let sit dormant, or entirely forgotten that we have had them.