The Diamantéd, Psychadelic Silliness of Ziyad Al-Samman

Music editor ROMILLY SCHULTE reviews Ziyad Al-Samman’s ‘Hard To Say’ release party at Paper Dress Vintage.


Ziyad Al Samman does not veer from the truth when describing himself as ‘your favourite Habibi music maker.’ With a glitzy, psychedelic-disco-pop sound and melodramatic lyrics, the Jordan-born, London-based singer has his finger right on the pulse of sleazy camp – with the occasional appearance of a giant papier-mâché head. 


The music video for his new single, Hard to Say (released by indie label Handsome Dad Records), provides a visual explanation of the musician’s artistry. Directed by Andrea Mae Perez, a VHS camera follows a dishevelled Samman, dressed in his characteristic seventies-sleazebag garb, as he traipses Hackney’s streets and stumbles into its residents. Eventually, the aforementioned giant head makes its screen debut: a grotesque caricature of Samman’s face, surrounded by a group of its own hysterical fans. The distinction between the real Samman, unglamourous in his ketchup-stained T-shirt, and his gaudy, feather-boa-clad, superstar alter-ego reflects the dualism between sound and lyricism within the single itself. Crooning vocals over poppy synth and swooning guitar create a dreamy sound that nods towards the early rock and roll of Roy Orbison and Edwin Collins, with Samman’s big-headed alter ego adopting the old-fashioned heartthrob persona.


The lyricism, however, feels through the glitzless realities of young people navigating the city in the 2020s. Phrases such as ‘I don’t eat anymore, and I’ve been living in my car… Can I still come around?’ show dealings with challenging living environments and the discomfort of commitment. The hook-heavy song is about selfishness and the hard realisation that you have mistreated someone in a relationship due to preoccupation with your own woes: ‘it’s hard to say… I want more. I don’t wanna lie no more; no I don’t wanna stay two-faced.’ The hook itself is self-contradicting, joining guilt with carefree, impulsive hedonism. At the song’s climax, Samman breaks away from his accountability into a lengthy, high-pitched ‘lalala’ –  further instilling the playful light-heartedness that the sound so strongly evokes, whilst maintaining to some the dreariness of previous lyrics, as ‘la’ translates to ‘no’ in Arabic.


Image source: Alex Amoros


Live, Samman translates his indulgently self-flagellant lyricism into words that the crowd sings back with unpretentious joy. The release party for Hard to Say at Paper Dress Vintage did exactly what it said on the tin: create a high-energy, communal experience that discarded the head-nodding conventions of London’s current alternative music scene. 


Entering the strobe-lit stage in a diamante boilersuit and, of course, the giant Ziyad head, Samman opened with a defiant unreleased track, ‘Sunshine’, consisting of warped, throbbing guitar and chanting vocals. His entrance was wonderfully disconcerting, involving a ritual-like procession of removing his mask and passing it around to each band member to some great, bombastic tuba track. It all felt satiric of the pomp and pageantry of fame and stardom in the music industry, but it was in no way mean nor pessimistic: Samman is evidently an artist that values unadulterated fun.


Image source: Artist


His stage presence is gilded with slapstick charisma and melodramatic theatricality, received warmly and energetically by a small yet evidently dedicated fanbase: lyrics to ‘Hard to Say’ echoed through and between the audience despite being released a mere three days prior.

He played his other bouncy, catchy debut singles: ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Madness’, accompanied by various unreleased works. Both of his singles maintain his signature hypnotic synths and meditate on the transient, mutable nature of relationships, both platonic and romantic, manifesting into animated live performances thanks to Samman’s onstage magnetism. His final song punctuated the show with unashamed silliness – its title (and most of its lyrics): ‘Yeah Habibi.’ Heavy on the kick-drum and funk basslines, the audience was entertained to no end: even once the curtain was drawn, cheers and chants of ‘yeah Habibi’ migrated to the smoking area.


As an artist that reflects on themes of guilt and separation without ever feeling excessively downtrodden, Ziyad Al-Samman’s musical repertoire thus far is bold, fun and peppered with a bit of cathartic melodrama. With a sound that feels like being drunk at a funfair and universal lyrical foci, Samman’s released discography thus far provides a little cinema and romance for our ears. We do not know if there is an album or tour in the works, yet just tasting the beginnings of work, we can only eagerly look to the future.


Featured image source: artist.