Marwan Abdelhamid joins Document to talk Burna Boy, Edward Said, and the release of his latest single, “One More Time”
Saint Levant, otherwise known as Marwan Abdelhamid, pulls his name from history. It’s derived equal parts from the legacy of YSL and the Levant itself—an archaic term, once widely applied to a swath of land covering the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, northern Africa, and western Asia. “It’s an homage to the whole sub-region that I’m from, as I’m not too big into borders drawn by colonialists,” Abdelhamid explained in a recent interview. Born in Jerusalem, he’s relocated to Gaza, to Jordan, and to California over the course of 21 years. “My music has allowed me to connect with people who share a similar experience of displacement, cultural ambiguity, and eclectic creative output,” he says. “To put it simply, feeling like I don’t have a home has allowed me to create one wherever I go.”
Abdelhamid has been active in the music scene since 2018, releasing genre-bending, trilingual tracks that lean into the orientalist fantasy, and then flip it on its head. From trap to drill to dancehall to rock, the sonic elements are disparate, but united by a dynamic beat and a common goal: to center the artist’s culture beyond its borders, and to put Palestine on the new world map.
Document caught the rising star this weekend to break down his creative methods, his cultural influences, and the release of his latest single, “One More Time.”
Morgan Becker: How’d you first get into music?
Saint Levant: One of my first memories is sitting in the back of a car in Gaza, listening to ‘Let Love Rule’ by Lenny Kravitz with my dad. He was a huge rock-funk-hip-hop head—always pirating albums, singing along with passion that I, to this day, have not seen replicated. My grandmother was also a pianist, so I grew up playing piano, and in middle school picked up the saxophone, as well. Music has been there from the very beginning.
Morgan: How would you say your sound has developed over time? Particularly, I’m wondering about how things changed when you started going viral—did you feel any pressure to change your creative approach?
“The song is about paying homage to the people in my life that have doubted me, and have constantly told me how they think I should be doing things… It’s only pushed me to get to where I am today.”
Saint Levant: I’d say I’ve just gotten more comfortable being myself with every song. Going viral on social media was just a form of social validation. Like, ‘Oh shit, people actually want to listen to this?’ I haven’t looked back since—making music was always the end goal. To be honest, I’ve never really felt pressure to change my creative approach, and what’s cool is I know a big chunk of my fanbase follows me because they see themselves in my journey, and are down to stick with me through the lows and celebrate with me through the highs.
Morgan: I know that you have a wide range of cultural influences, stemming from family and the various places you’ve resided in. Can you tell me about your roots, and about how they’ve affected your perception of home?
Saint Levant: Home is a weird one, to be honest. I was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Gaza to a French-Algerian mother and a Palestinian-Serbian father. [I was] speaking French at home, English at school, and Arabic with friends and at football practice. At seven years old, we had to leave Gaza and move to Jordan because of the unfortunate civil war, and I haven’t been back since. I’d be lying if I told you I don’t feel like I belong in Gaza—but at the same time, I know if I went back to live there I’d feel a bit out of place.
I moved to California when I was 17 for college and have never really felt like I fit in here, but at the same time, I’ve adapted well and made my presence felt. It’s not black-and-white. My whole life has been one big identity crisis where I have to integrate myself into communities because I don’t feel I have one myself. On the positive side, though, my music has allowed me to connect with people who share a similar experience of displacement, cultural ambiguity, and eclectic creative output. To put it simply, feeling like I don’t have a home has allowed me to create one wherever I go.
Morgan: You refer to ‘2048’ a lot in your lyrics—the year a century after the Nakba. What does that date, or the act of looking forward to it, signify for you?
Saint Levant: 2048 is the world that Saint Levant lives in—a world where Palestine is already free. As a Palestinian living outside of his homeland, I have a lot of privilege, and one of those privileges is the ability to imagine a future for my people: a future where there are no checkpoints, no borders, no patrolling soldiers. [It] draws heavily from Afrofuturism in the ways it tries to reimagine what kind of world we want for our children.
Morgan: Looking forward to the release of ‘One More Time’—what would you say this single is about, and how do you hope it’ll be received by your audience?
“To put it simply, feeling like I don’t have a home has allowed me to create one wherever I go.”
Saint Levant: This single is groovy! I’m really excited about it, because I’ve been getting into my funk bag and drawing from way too many inspirations to create new things that are true to who I am. I was a huge fan of C2C and Daft Punk growing up, and the second part of the song draws heavily from them. The first part is more of an Afrobeats bounce, more wavy. I’ve been a Burna Boy fan since 2018, and I’m super inspired by the Nigerian diaspora scene in general.
The song is about paying homage to the people in my life that have doubted me, and have constantly told me how they think I should be doing things. There’s been a lot of them, and I’m eternally grateful for their skepticism and negative energy, because it’s only pushed me to get to where I am today.
Morgan: What does the act of making music look like for you, in a day-to-day sense?
Saint Levant: We’re really running an operation out here. I think discipline and organization are two things that run counter to creativity in a traditional sense, but I place a lot of importance in them. I have a solid routine where I spend at least two hours a day in my home studio with [my producer] Henry and another two hours writing by myself. I also have daily calls with my manager Marek, as well as my videographer and photographer Diego.
Morgan: Who are your biggest inspirations, musical and otherwise?
Saint Levant: Sonically, my inspirations are all over the place: Wyclef Jean, Marwan Moussa, Michael Jackson, Carla Prata, Shabjdeed, MIKA, A$AP Rocky, Greentea Peng, Hamza, Ama Lou, 451, Knucks. I love the UK scene with all my heart. Just in life, I take a lot from my mother and father, who have different but complementary qualities. Also Edward Said and Jürgen Klopp, who is actually my father’s doppelgänger.
Morgan: What do you see in your future?
Saint Levant: To be super honest, I made a 10-year vision board for myself last month. It’s a lot more than just music—one of my main goals is to build a university in Palestine.
The music, which is honestly what gives me joy in life, will hopefully allow me to live out my countless ideas and projects—like becoming the biggest exporter of Sauvignon Blanc in the Levant. I don’t want to reveal too much, but just know that I’m really trying to build the 2048 empire.