DUBAI: A chameleon when it comes to identities, California-based part-Palestinian musician Saint Levant has had many names. But it’s his current alias that is taking him to global recognition as a young musician speaking straight to the people.
Born Marwan Abdelhamid in Jerusalem, Saint Levant’s mission is to dismantle the old notions some people have of Palestine. For Abdelhamid, who spent some of his formative years growing up in Gaza, the memories of Palestine still bring warm feelings, despite the horrors that led to his family having to leave.
“The actual cultural makeup is my mom is half-French and half-Algerian. My dad is Serbian, half-Palestinian. And they actually both grew up in Algeria. But they decided, in the early 90s, post the Oslo Accords, that Palestine was going to be free.
“So they went back, my dad went to live in Gaza in the early 1980s. And my dad actually built a hotel there and that’s where I grew up, I grew up in a hotel built with my father’s architectural brain. And, to me, it was like the best years of my life,” said the singer who turned 22 last month.
“For everyone, like childhood is very meaningful. And for me, it was a juxtaposition because I remember the sound of the drones and the sounds of the bones. But more than anything, I remember the warmth, and the smell of … and the taste of food and just the odd feeling of soil.”
As a musician and artist, Abdelhamid says he wants to walk in the footsteps of Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said to “reclaim the Orientalist fantasies that have dictated the geopolitics of our area for the last three centuries.”
This year, Abdelhamid also announced the 2048 Fellowship, which covers the living expenses of a young Palestinian creative for a whole year.
“Palestine is such a big part of my identity. I always feel very out of place, always. You know what I mean? And I think one of the only times maybe in my life that I didn’t feel out of place was in Gaza.”
He said that he even composed a song, “Tourist,” that expresses how he feels when he travels back to his birthplace. “I feel like a tourist in my own city. I know (if I) go back, I would feel like a tourist. So yeah, my music can also be naive, nostalgic,” said Abdelhamid.
Abdelhamid has spent the last few years focused on his activism which also saw him gain thousands of followers on TikTok. But around 2021, he was left with a choice of music, activism or a startup that he had been working on.
“I made a conscious decision last September that I’m gonna be a musician, because I don’t want to be 80 years old and look back at my life and regret the fact that I didn’t give it a try. And I heard this quote the other day, ‘leap, and the net will appear.’ And just like that, everything fell into place.”