saint levant

It’s telling of his global lifestyle that Marwan Abdelhamid, better known as Saint Levant, appears on our Zoom call fresh from a morning stroll along the cold but quaint Parisian streets. Sipping a steaming takeaway coffee, and resisting any chill with a white beanie and a golden Puma track jacket, he takes a moment to reflect on his breakout year. “Life is good bro, we’re staying grounded, focused and humble,” the 22-year-old artist says, smiling. “It’s easy to get stuck on the little things but I’m grateful, especially during this holy month.”

Saint Levant has had a lot to be thankful for since his viral track ‘Very Few Friends’ began amassing millions of streams by the day, now standing at over 50 million on Spotify alone. After a teaser of the track blew up on TikTok in late 2022, the glossy, romantic trilingual ballad instantly hit hearts all over the world when it was released, as he smoothly sang in Arabic, French and English: “Lover Boy Levant back in the building / Viens chez moi vas y te / Til the morning / Demain soir on va tester ca.”

Raised in the Gaza Strip before fleeing to Amman, Jordan in 2007 following the outbreak of civil war in Palestine, Saint Levant was educated in an American school where he started making trap-infused diss tracks, before eventually moving to Santa Barbara to pursue a degree in International Relations. Despite having to leave Palestine, he says the struggle of his home nation will always stay with him; the cover of his debut EP, March’s ‘From Gaza With Love’, features a faded photo of him as a child petting a goat. “I keep Palestine as my North Star and everything I do is for that community,” he says today.

Given Saint Levant’s global impact, it’s no wonder that his forthcoming world tour – which includes an appearance at London’s 1400-capacity KOKO in May – sold out in just 15 minutes. Saint Levant is convinced this is the start of a movement, as he and his pals like collaborator Lana Lubany are determined to push Arabic music towards a global breakthrough. “I can’t wait for more people to flood through,” he says. “We’ve broken down a barrier, there’s going to be more like us making music because they see that it’s finally possible as an Arab.”

NME: How did you cope with the overnight success of ‘Very Few Friends’?

“I remember the days when I used to get all my friends to stream my shit overnight just so I can get a few hundred more streams. That song came after a year of making music every day, and doing one TikTok a day with some live shows across the US and Canada. We knew we were building something, then I made ‘Very Few Friends’ and posted a snippet on TikTok, I checked the next day and it had a million views. I was like, ‘OK, I know I need to drop the song and capitalise on it, I’m not stupid’. I turned that shit around in five days and put it onto Spotify. The demand was there and I delivered.”

You’re blazing a trail as an independent artist. How central has that direct to fan approach been in kicking down doors?

“It’s such a vital thing. I have friends on labels that haven’t been able to put music out for six months, for example. I wouldn’t know what to do if that was the case for me. I think direct to consumer is democratic in the sense that the people chose ‘Very Few Friends’. I thought there were better songs, but the people chose that, I gave it to them and they gave it a life of its own. It wasn’t the media, I wasn’t shoved down people’s throats, they just loved the song.”

“It’s beautiful to infiltrate these spaces and talk about what I want to talk about”

People have really latched onto your trilingual rapping. Did that surprise you considering it came so naturally to you when you first started making music?

“I don’t think it’s that crazy because I grew up speaking like this. That’s why I love Lebanon so much because they speak English, Arabic and French as well. The interesting thing is that the snippet [of ‘Very Few Friends’] that blew up online was just in English, with the line, “I wanna take you to Paris and spoil you / I wanna go to Marseille and enjoy you.” Then people listened and they were like ‘What the fuck’ – there was a bit of intrigue, then you realise the song is also in Arabic and French and it asks questions. Now people know I’m Palestinian, French, Serbian and Algerian. It’s a beautiful reflection of immigration and multiculturalism.”

saint levant
Credit: Press

How does it feel to be infiltrating a mainstream space as an Arabic artist? 

“Every Palestinian holds a sense of responsibility to represent their people and talk about the struggle along with the Israeli occupations it has on our people and our economy. I come from a multicultural background though – I’m not a cookie-cutter figure. I never look for acceptance within certain communities. I think that’s why people are drawn to me because they feel like that in their everyday lives too. As an Arab, it’s beautiful to infiltrate these spaces and talk about what I want to talk about, but at the same time, I’m wary of labelling myself as a certain ‘something’. Now I’m Saint Levant and I’m grateful.”

Has your newfound success come with a sense of responsibility? 

“It’s OK really, like ‘He’s the guy that sings in three languages’ or he does this or that. That’s the start right? Tyler, The Creator was the guy that ate the cockroach in that video at the beginning, now he’s directing movies and has sold a million records. On the contrary I don’t mind at all, I think it’s beautiful that people are trying to understand who I am and put it into perspective. Some people get frustrated about being boxed in but I just want to thank people for listening to my music and even caring about what I’m doing in the first place.”

saint levant
Credit: Press

What does the idea of home mean to you now that you’re rarely in one place for long?

“So the name Levant is taken from the area in the Middle East, it’s Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, it’s such a beautiful region of the world and somewhere I’ll always feel at home. That being said, I find home in routine more than physical space – I can make myself at home anywhere in the world. Right now, I’m in Paris, and I’ll go to the studio at 2pm then leave around 8pm. I feel at home on the streets of Paris, even when I’m walking along soaking in the beauty with my little coffee. I also find home in other people.”

On that note, you’ve become close friends with Lana Lubany, who will be joining you on tour this May. Do you take comfort in the parallels of your respective journeys?

“I take a lot of comfort from that friendship, especially with the first world problems of TikTok and stuff like that. We’ll discuss those things together. She’s a huge friend of mine, we talk all the time. She grew up in Palestine and had a very similar experience to me. She was educated in English and tried to make music and was scared, then she blew up on TikTok. I love her to death, she’s going to be a superstar, I’m so inspired by what she does. She has such an aura and I love to be around her. It was a no-brainer to have her come with me on tour.”

How important is this next chapter of live shows for Saint Levant?

“What’s crazy about KOKO is that I went to see the Ethiopian jazz musician Mulatu Astatke there and I told the person I was with, the next time that we’re here, I’m going to be performing. Now it’s six months later than that dream is happening, I manifested it. It’s so important, I love performing live. When I’m onstage I don’t think that much, I get out of my own head and it’s a beautiful, elevating feeling. These people are hear to listen to my music, so that’s such a blessing.”

Saint Levant’s EP ‘From Gaza With Love’ is out now

The post Saint Levant: trilingual rapper leading a global movement for Arabic music appeared first on NME.


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