Why would I care about my existence instead of my becoming?
All things live to end as new tunes.
The difference between freedom and submission is a choice.
(tlat daka’ik, 3 minutes)
That moment they walked in with scuffed shoes, perfectly messy hair, running wild in a sea of people, their energy steering the room. The smell of a crowd and lilac air filled the atmosphere as hands waved up in the air and the music floated above the crowd. Energy, pure raw and youthful energy filled the space, and there was music.
Emerging from Beirut’s underground indie scene, Mashrou’ Leila have continued to carve out their own distinct space within Arabic pop. Singing in Arabic about LGBT rights, political freedoms, race, religion and modern Arabic identity, they have crafted melancholic ballads and raucous anthems in contemporary alternative Arabic music.
Mashrou’ Leila means “An Overnight Project”, named for the nocturnal nature of the project characterized by all-night jam sessions.
They formed in 2008, at the AUB, when violinist Haig Papazian, guitarist Andre Chedid, and pianist Omaya Malaeb posted an open invitation to musicians looking to jam to vent the stress caused by college and the unstable political situation. Out of the dozen of people who answered the call, seven would remain to form Mashrou’ Leila. Band members were encouraged by friends to perform in front of a live crowd; they put on a show as the opening act for a concert on the AUB campus. The band continued to play small venues and gain ground on the underground music circuit until they emerged onto the indie music scene during the Lebanese 2008 “fête de la musique” event sparking controversy for their unabashed and critical lyrics on Lebanese society, failed love, sexuality, and politics.
Shortly after the release of their first album, the band burst into the spotlight of the Lebanese music mainstream when they were announced to be headlining the Byblos International Festival on July 9, 2010. In 2012, the band headlined Baalbeck International Festival. The concert was filmed and released as a live concert.
The band has released four albums to date: Mashrou’ Leila (2008), El Hal Romancy (2011), Raasük (2013), and Ibn El Leil (2015). Infused with an electrifying pop spirit, the new album Ibn El Leil brilliantly reinvents the sound of the band into the sound of contemporary Beirut: dark, reckless, and fiery with young blood.
Mashrou’ Leila’s entertaining themes and satirical Lebanese lyrics reflect the many faces and flaws of Lebanese society which are not addressed by mainstream Arabic music. The band is critical of the problems associated with life in Beirut and they are known for their liberal use of swear-words in some of their songs. Their debut album’s 9 songs wittily discuss subject matters such as lost love, war, politics, security and political assassination, materialism, immigration and homosexuality. “Latlit” one of the Mashrou’ Leila album tracks is a caricature of the Lebanese society overridden by gossip. “Shem-el Yasmine” (literally Smell the jasmine), was described as an ode to tolerance for same-sex love where a young man wants to introduce his bride to his parents but the bride turns out to be a groom. “Fasateen” (literally meaning “dresses”) is a ballad that tackles the issue of marriage. The song’s music video shows the band members deconstructing nuptial symbols and defying the pressure of romantic relationships. Some of the distinctive features of the band’s music are the prominence of the violin in passages redolent of Armenian folk music and the use of a megaphone in some songs to alter lead vocalist Hamed Sinno’s voice.
“Whenever you dare to ask about the worsening situation, they silence you with their slogans about all the conspiracies being woven for us.” lel Watan (“for the nation”)
Their magnetic rhythms and powerful performance is now considered to be the voice of a lost generation. A generation lost between the destruction of the past and the hope of a modern Lebanon. They have managed to create magic on stage and in their albums, catapulting them to national heroes of the young, a sensitive voice with raw power.
These children of the sun take flight in their rhythms, dancing in a crowd of sweaty strangers on the shoulders of hopeful dreamers. Everybody in that specific moment in time looks like beautiful angels, as the music plays, the air fills with a melody, a voice by the young for the young to rise against a world they don’t fit into.
“Showered with this city’s bullets, I chorused with ghosts
Bathed by traffic lights, I danced our bakeh
Till I was high on the marrow of electric pole
And I poured tears, neon, on swollen pupils”
Some of my favorite: