DUBAI: “Every time we think ‘this can’t get worse’ it gets even worse. Singer-songwriter Paola Ibrahim – who goes by the artist name Pol – talks about the situation in her native Lebanon.
Along with “global unrest” and COVID-19 lockdowns across the world, the “tragic fall of my nation” inspired his latest EP – released in August with a deliberate fanfare (more details later) – “Pacts and confinements ”.
All three tracks are a showcase for Pol’s crystal-clear voice (she is a classically trained singer and currently works as a vocal coach). Pol collaborated with Beirut-based producer Samer Etienne Chammi (aka ETYEN). This is the second EP the couple are working on together. “I think he’s one of the best here in Lebanon; he’s underestimated, ”Pol says of ETYEN. “For what I wanted – for my vision – I thought he would be the best candidate.”
On “Of Pacts and Confinements,” that vision, she says, “is a little different from my previous stuff – less electronic, more organic. It’s more what I love and more what I listen to. It took me back to my musical training years, when I was singing opera. I love the sound of the church organ, and I wanted more (stuff) like that. Even if it’s not suitable for radio or commercial, this is how I wanted it. It’s not for everyone, of course, and you probably couldn’t listen to it every day. She laughs. “You would become depressed. But at the end of the day, if I’m not going to do it the way I like it, I’d rather not do it at all.
It took a long time for Pol to make music the way she likes it. The 36-year-old has performed in Beirut and the wider region for years, but until recently she only sang covers. It was not until 2017, when she followed a singing teacher training which forced her to go to New York, that she rediscovered her teenage passion for poetry, which led her to compose her own songs.
“This is the period when everything changed for me. I was going through a breakup, so it inspired me to write, (just like) being in New York to do something new, ”she says. “I used to write poems when I was 14 or 15 – you know, teenage stuff – and I found it flowing again. I felt it was a new chapter, a new phase.
It was not an easy phase for her either. Although she is a seasoned stage performer, Pol says she has “stressed a lot” to unveil her own music. “When I do covers, I really don’t care; I am very confident. But it’s very different when you make your own music. Even my musicians said to me, ‘What’s wrong? You’ve been playing for over 10 years. ‘ But no, it’s different. My first gig was very stressful.
As one might expect for a dossier on the various crises afflicting Lebanon and the isolation of containment, “Pacts and Confinements” has a certain melancholy resignation towards it. But there is also an air of hopeful optimism about it.
“I would say it’s like a hymn to healing and empowerment. If you are going through things, you are healing, and in the end there is victory; there is glory, there is hope, ”she said. “It’s a very personal record. On my other records, I also told my story, but in a different way. This one is more personal, more daring, more revealing. I said things I don’t think I would have said two years ago.
Two years ago, it was no accident that Pol started therapy. “It changes me a lot,” she says. “But it’s an ongoing process. The record is like a healing journey. It’s all about the lockdowns and digging into the past. And in the end, of course, there is hope. Despite everything that is happening, there is still hope. I can’t give up. I must continue to work for this.
Its next major step is an artist residency in France in the spring of next year. “It gave me hope, of course, because I can work on my music,” says Pol. Like so many others in Lebanon, she says she doesn’t want to leave the country, but thinks she may have to if she wants to achieve her creative ambitions. “No electricity, no gas… what can you do? I can’t even work.
Despite Pol’s obvious pride in his latest record, his release – as mentioned – has been distinctly low-key. Aside from a concert in Beirut in mid-September (a collaboration with Beirut Music Initative and the NGO War Child) Pol did little to promote the EP’s release, even online.
“I feel like I can’t really (push him). Some people don’t even have food. Everyone is focused on meeting their basic needs, so I’m not really motivated to (promote myself). But I needed to release this album because I needed to move on. I don’t know when there would be a ‘good time’ so I just had to do it, ”she says. “That’s what keeps me going. If I quit, I would give up.