Between worlds: the making of an artist

Marwan Abdelhamid
Marwan Abdelhamid, more commonly known as Saint Levant, began a musical career on TikTok and Instagram in 2018, and has amassed tens of thousands of followers since then. (Photos: Aasiyah Faryal/ Jordan News)
Music creator Marwan Abdelhamid, more commonly known as Saint Levant, identifies himself primarily as a “Palestinian-French-Algerian-Serbian artist”. But when pressed, he reveals a different side to his view of himself.اضافة اعلان

“Saint Levant is the creative outlet of Marwan. Obviously, Saint Levant has a lot of Marwan, but he’s also the culmination of my childhood dreams,” explained the artist. “Childhood dreams are not rooted in reality, they’re rooted in fantasy. Saint Levant does what he thinks is sick, tries to bring ideas to life and tries to get better at what he does.”

The 21-year-old began his musical career on TikTok and Instagram in 2018, and it is quickly developing — he currently has 115,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone.

Born in Jerusalem, Abdelhamid grew up in Gaza and then Amman before moving to his current base: Los Angeles, California.

This constant displacement and the resulting feeling of being out of place strongly influences Levant’s music, with the artist describing his resulting sound as “eclectic”.

“I grew up with a lot of different things going on. I would speak French at home, but I would go to Nadi El Wehdat every day to play football,” Levant recalls. “I would go to an American School, (surrounded by) American pop culture, and also have my North African side, so there’s a lot of things in the subconscious that would emerge to create something new.”

Saint Levant also cites his father, Rashid Abdelhamid — a renowned producer, director, and art curator — as another major influence who has shaped his sound.

“We don’t listen to the same music now, but I grew up with his music taste until I was able to develop my own. He listens to Wyclef Jean, Lenny Kravitz, Timbaland, Sting, and The Police. Lenny kravitz and Wyclef Jean are crazy influences of mine,” the young artist said. “I grew up listening to a lot of French music as well. I just wanted to be like Michael Jackson and Mika, two of my biggest inspirations.”

As Abdelhamid grew up, he said, he also started listening to Arab music, including artists Shabjdeed and Marwan Moussa, showing that he lacked a “traditional” Arab musical influence in his childhood. When he incorporated Arab beats into his playlists, he said that it was the originality of these artists that encouraged him to develop his own sound.

These influences are evident in Levant’s new creations. Since the beginning of his three-year career, Levant has released 16 singles. Ranging from his Jerusalem Freestyle to 7ajir, 1001 Nights, and Mandela, his music focuses largely on the political — especially given that Edward Said is “the guy that I really see myself in”.
It’s not just based on ‘this guy makes cool music’, I think it’s a real community.
Saint Levant’s music also heavily details his experiences with mental health issues, and his lyrics attempt to normalize mental health conversations.

“What happens when you start taking care of your mental health? You can dissociate from and analyze yourself, and identify patterns of behavior you don’t like,” he noted. “Before therapy, I just assumed that I’m a stubborn, anxious person. But after therapy, I realized that maybe the fact that I literally grew up in a war zone has something to do with it.”

“When you start talking about it, you’re able to work on yourself in a way where you’re aware of these feelings and make an actual plan to deal with them.”

It is these discussions and Saint Levant’s relatability that have attracted what he calls “his community” — and community building is vital to the artist.

“When I write, ‘I miss not knowing I was living in a war zone, I miss when all my friends were on the same time zone,’ it’s a really specific thing that people relate to, so people will message me telling me that,” he said. “That, for me, is community building. I never really had a community growing up and I always had to integrate myself into different communities, now the music is good because we’re building our own.”

Reflecting on his show in Toronto, Canada in June, the artist recalled that he felt like the audience were “his friends”.

“It’s not the biggest community, but it’s real. It’s not just based on ‘this guy makes cool music’, I think it’s a real community. These guys who really support me, they’re the same as me; there’s something that clicked between us,” he said.

Looking to the future, Abdelhamid wants to expand not only his music, but also the business side of his craft. This is embodied in 2048, his “world-building artistic project”, which provides living stipends for creative Palestinians. He chose 2048 as “a significant date” because it is 100 years post-Nakba.

“I want to be a project artist, and when I say project, I don’t mean just audio. 2048 is the world that I want to live in. It’s a re-imagination of what is, and isn’t acceptable. I don’t know what it looks like, but I can feel it, I know what the colors are, it’s everything I do,” he explained.

“I had to work for this and I’m still working for this, because I wanna do it because it fulfils me and it brings me a lot of joy. A lot of it is luck, but also believing in myself more than anyone else,” he said.

“No one’s gonna believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.”

Read more Music
Jordan News