“We don’t plan to work together again at this time.” These are the words spoken by Hamed Sinno, the singer of Lebanese rock band Marshou’Leilain the Lebanese podcast Sardinian After Dinnerthis Sunday, September 11.
The group had not performed for several years, but had crossed the borders of the international scene at a speed big V since its creation in 2008.
“It coincided with a time when there was a real interest in the Lebanese scene“, analyzes the journalist of L’Orient-Le-Jour, Gilles Khoury.”They represented those beautiful years before the crisis. It was really one of the cultural symbols of that time.“
The group has been able to shake up the codes of Arab pop and seduce a young audience with its outspokenness for more than ten years. Four albums and dozens of international dates later, the band of friends has become, at their expense, the emblem of a whole generation.
In the Arab world, there is not this heritage of music that you listen to when you are a teenager and you are angry.
Hamed Sinno, singer of the group Mashrou’Leila.
Halfway between the “underground” and pop-Arabic music
Back in 2008. The four members, Hamed Sinno, Haig Papazian, Carl Gerges and Firas Abou Fakher are students in the design and architecture department of the prestigious American University of Beirut.
Passionate about music, they meet in a workshop and create the Mashrou’ Leila“one night project” in Arabic. A group name reflecting the expectations they had at the beginning of the “project“: they are not trained in music, and therefore do not even imagine having an audience.
For them, music responds to a need to exult, to express rage. “In the Arab world, there is not this heritage of music that you listen to when you are a teenager and you are angry, that you want to break everything“, confided Hamed Sino to Mouna Anajjar, in the documentary A Conversation With Mashrou’ Leila. “We were 20 years old and we wanted to make Arabic music that gave us this feeling, that resembled us.“
At the same time, they popularized oriental music (…). At the same time, they got involved, they took risks.
Gilles Khoury, journalist at Orient-Le-Jour
From this need, they give birth to music with electro-melodic sounds, halfway between music “underground“and pop-Arabic music, much more popular.”It’s a nice bridge between the twoexplains journalist Gilles Khoury. It’s still quite pop in a way, without being commercial and mainstream.”
What’s more, the band writes its own lyrics. “There is a very subversive side to the lyrics, sometimes very insolent“, he completes.
A meteoric rise in Lebanon
The members of Mashrou’Leila also shake up the codes in their discourse. “They did something pretty cleverconfides the journalist of Orient-Le-Jour. At the same time, they popularized oriental music by bringing a new look to this music. At the same time, they got involved, they took risks.“
The group is interested in all gender issues, but not only homosexuality, women’s rights as well.
Hamed Sonno, singer of the group Mashrou’Leila
In Lebanon, they are also among the first to initiate the culture of ‘band’, of music group. “Usually, it’s more solo singers. They really instilled this notion at a time when it did not exist“, adds Gilles Khoury.
Very quickly, the group seduced beyond the borders and began to perform abroad. Tunisia, Canada, Switzerland… In the fall of 2014, they are on tour in Europe and their success exceeds all their hopes. “Somewhere, in the end, Mashrou’Leila became much more than a music groupadds Gilles Khoury. It was a really very committed, almost militant group. It was almost out of their hands.”
Militants in spite of themselves
Singer Hamed Sinno quickly comes to terms with his homosexuality, making him an LGBTQIA+ symbol for many fans. But the group’s commitment cannot reduce the cause queeras the singer confides in a report for TV5MONDE.
“The group is interested in all gender issues, but not only homosexuality, women’s rights as well. I don’t know why the homosexual question is always sensational.”
Guitarist Firas Abou Fakher assures us that they were not looking “To provoke“, in his interview with Mouna Anajjar in the documentary A Conversation With Mashrou’Leila. “In reality we didn’t even think it could be a problem“.
But texts dissecting social issues are not to everyone’s taste. In 2015 and then in 2016, the group was banned in Jordan. And the following year, the impertinence of the group has new consequences.
He performs in Egypt one evening in September 2019. LGBTQIA+ activist Sarah Hegazi waves the rainbow flag in the crowd. A photo is enough for the government to find it. She was arrested, tortured and then forced into exile in Canada, where she finally decided to end her life. A particularly painful memory for the group.
Lebanese queer rock band Mashrou’Leila, popular throughout the Arab world, has disappeared after years of harassment.
A symbol of hope for LGBTQI+ people in MENA, the group was banned after the arrest of Sarah Hegazi who had hoisted one during a concert. pic.twitter.com/ikhZ7QHh1h
— Jasmine (@jasmineuphoria) September 13, 2022
For their part, the cancellations follow one another until that of a concert at home, in Lebanon, in August 2019. The authorities estimate that songs by Mashrou’ Leila hurt Christians.
In response, more than 1,500 people then gathered in the Lebanese capital to participate in a substitute concert, called “The music is always louder” (“Music is Always Louder”).
A mobilization in the image of what Mashrou’Leila represents for millions of fans, “something that has overtaken them themselves“, as described by journalist Gilles Khoury.