Mashrou' Leila
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Mashrou' Leila

Beirut, Beyrouth, Lebanon | INDIE

Beirut, Beyrouth, Lebanon | INDIE
Band World Rock


This band hasn't logged any future gigs

This band hasn't logged any past gigs



Analysts might have missed it, but anyone who went to see Mashrou3 Leila’s concert at the Byblos Festival on Friday could not fail to observe that a new divide of sorts has come to separate the Lebanese – a cultural isolation between generations.

Hamed Sinno, the band’s lead singer, could not keep himself from shouting “We’re in Byblos!” throughout the show, leading some to wonder whether he was reassuring his audience, his band or himself that this was truly happening.

Mashrou3 Leila’s meteoric rise to notoriety, culminating in this festival booking, does not stem simply from its unique fusion of musical elements. When the band set out to conquer the Lebanese indie scene in 2008, it brought with it a solid fan base recruited from their fellow students at the American University of Beirut.

Through word of mouth, Mashrou3 Leila lured more than a thousand people to their gig in Demco Steel Factory at the end of last year – impressive for a Lebanese underground band.

Since then, the audiences have steadily grown, though it’s still largely comprised of students and Gemmayzeh bar-hoppers. As a consequence, the atmosphere at the Byblos concert was that of a high school gig – albeit a very sophisticated one – that had somehow been transplanted into Byblos’ quaint surroundings.

When the seven-piece collective let the first notes of a song ring out, it’s fans immediately recognized them and began to sway along to the tune.

A distinct blend of rock, acoustic and electro-pop, with Balkan and Gypsy accents as well as traditional Armenian and Arabic cadences, their music strikes a note with their listeners, many of whom have spent some time abroad and are well aware of what is going on in the broader musical world.

At the same time, the band’s decision to sing solely in Arabic – which might sound like an obstacle to gaining the goodwill of an audience used to a fast-paced medley of three languages – has become a recipe for success.

This might also be because unlike some mainstream Lebanese singers, Sinno takes streetwise local slang and trans-forms it into an entirely new kind of poetry. Combining soul-wrenching lamentations with megaphone-enhanced outbursts of angry staccato rants, he sings about issues that few Arab artists have dared to approach. The daily nuisance of military checkpoints is as much a topic as strip clubs, homosexual relationships and political instability.

For his fans, Sinno has become the voice of a generation, addressing problems alien to their parents. For the older members of the Byblos audience, Mashrou3 Leila’s insouciance when it comes to traditional boundaries must have been a tad provocative.

After a song peppered with swear words, Prime Minister Saad Hariri – who, rumor had it, had attended because he hadn’t been able to make it to the Wadih al-Safi tribute concert the week before – felt compelled to leave the show after half an hour.

The politician’s absence left the band and their enthusiastic fans to their own devices, although it would have been interesting to see Hariri’s reaction to Sinno’s next move.

After one audience member handed him a rainbow flag (the international symbol of the gay pride movement), the singer draped it around his head, waist and microphone and did not shed it until the end of the show. If anyone in the audience disapproved of this gesture, they kept it to themselves.

The group went on to celebrate their invitation to the festival with a tribute to the Gorillaz song “Clint Eastwood,” preparing the stage for Damon Albarn’s indie mammoth that will invade Byblos this weekend.

The band members come from varied sectarian backgrounds, and these differences can be the butt of a joke or two. When violinist Haig Papazian, overcome for a moment, burst out: “We love you!” Sinno cheerfully mocked the remark as typical Armenian sentimentality. The comment provoked applause and laughter, rather than parochial sensitivities.

You could not help but feel that, for Lebanon’s young generation, Mashrou3 Leila represents something almost resembling optimism.
- Daily Star

In the clubs and music venues of Beirut, something big is happening. Mashrou3 Leila, a seven-piece collective with a unique hybrid sound, are leading a new wave of home-grown talent that's revitalising the local music scene - by capturing the sounds and voices of Arab youth. Kaelen Wilson-Goldie meets them. In the weeks leading up to the release party for Mashrou3 Leila's self-titled debut album, the seven members of the band made bets with each other on how many copies they thought they would sell at the concert, which took place in a steel factory on the edge of Beirut last month. The keyboardist, Omaya Malaeb, was by far the most optimistic, wagering 800. Her colleagues played it safer, estimating between 300 and 500. As it turned out, even Malaeb was conservative. In less than an hour, 1,000 fans bought the Mashrou3 Leila album (exhausting the entire run of the first edition), and hundreds more were left empty-handed, wanting their own copies of the band's nine-track, exuberantly genre-defying CD.

For any local band to lure 1,000 people to a live gig is an achievement in Beirut. The city boasts a population of just 1.5 million, and the audience for home-grown alternative music is dramatically less than that. But the crowd that gathered for Mashrou3 Leila's album release party was all the more impressive given the fact that the band members, all in their early 20s, have been together for less than two years.

Mashrou3 Leila's sound is a boisterous combination of different elements of rock, pop, electro, folk, jazz, blues, gypsy swing, Balkan brass, Armenian classical music and tarab, a genre of Arabic song that connotes an emotional engagement leading to a state of ecstasy or transcendence. The band's lyrics include bursts of gritty, streetwise Lebanese slang, evocative sociopolitical critique and surrealist imagery that is both inventive and poetic. Some songs appropriate lines from well-known children's songs and nursery rhymes, investing them with new meaning and tethering them to disturbances and instabilities in Beirut, Lebanon and the larger region. Others delve into the emotional complexities of romance and wrecked relationships. For many young Beirutis, Mashrou3 Leila's music speaks to them about their lives and circumstances more vibrantly than any other outfit to emerge from the city's underground music scene in recent years.

Of course, that is not to say that the underground music scene has been unproductive of late. Mashrou3 Leila belongs to what could be considered the third wave of Beirut-based alternative music. The first consisted primarily of the band Soap Kills, which experimented with Arabic interpretations of trip-hop and techno in the 1990s. The second, longer lasting wave involved post-punk and power pop groups such as Scrambled Eggs, Lumi and the New Government, all of whom are still active. The third and most recent wave includes bands such as Mashrou3 Leila and the young hip-hop collective Fareeq al Atrash.

This admittedly simplified lineage runs parallel to, and occasionally intersects with, other musical narratives, such as the development of Beirut's instrumental free improv scene (populated by the likes of Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehnaoui and Raed Yassin), its experimental electronic music scene (including Tarek Atoui and Jawad Nawfal, also known as Munma) and its remarkably robust history of hard-hitting local hip-hop (from the inimitable Rayess Bek to Kita'youn, Kita' Beirut and Katibe 5).

Fareeq al Atrash, whose sound is reminiscent of the Philadelphia hip-hop heroes The Roots, really belongs to two local stories at once, that of rock and that of hip-hop. Until now, only the hip-hop side of things has been done exclusively in Arabic. Rock has been more of an English-language effort, in everything from the bands' logos to their lyrics; even the music tends to borrow more heavily from, say, The Velvet Underground and its latter-day derivatives than anything explicitly Arabic. Fareeq al Atrash and Mashrou3 Leila, by contrast, write everything, down to their liner notes, in Arabic.

Another similarity is that when performing live, both bands pack a veritable crowd of musicians on stage. Previous hip-hop groups in Beirut have appeared with DJs and decks, but rarely, if ever, with strings, brass or a live rhythm section. So in a way, Fareeq al Atrash and Mashrou3 Leila have brought the rock and hip-hop strands closer together. That they've done so in Arabic signals an interesting turn in the cultural production coming out of Beirut. And perhaps due to the bonds of a common language, both bands have earned a quick and sizeable fan base in the region, whether through word of mouth or via more viral links to online platforms such as YouTube and MySpace.

In Arabic, Mashrou3 Leila means roughly "a night project" (the "3" indicates the Arabic letter "ayn"). When the band started making music together, they were all students at the American University of Beirut's faculty of architecture and engineering - five architects, one engineer and one graphic designer. Like architecture students anywhere, those at AUB spend vast amounts of time on projects that are invariably completed overnight and in the early hours of the morning. Because the band considered music a project on a par with architecture, they insisted the word "mashroua" (project) be part of the name. The word for night, "leila", made sense given their nocturnal habits. It also added a hint of mystery and suggestion. But more importantly, the name tied the band's musical ambitions to the history and culture of the Arab world.

"It's a play on words," says Haig Papazian, the band's violinist. "Leila means 'the night' but at the same time, Leila is this Arabic woman who is everywhere in the literature, in the history, even in the children's stories and poetry. She's the equivalent of our Arabic culture in the form of a woman's character. It's as if this project belongs to her, not just to us." That project started out, modestly enough, as a workshop. Malaeb, Papazian and their classmate Andre Chedid had all been musical as children. Malaeb, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, started learning the piano at the age of six. But her family moved around - to Jordan when she was 13, Lebanon when she was 15 - so she fell out of formal training. When she started university, she started listening seriously to jazz and started playing the piano again.

Papazian, meanwhile, began studying the violin when he was 10. "I started taking lessons in classical and Armenian music. When I got to the second year of my architecture studies, which was the eighth year of my violin studies, both required so much of my time that I knew I had to choose one over the other, but I wanted both." Chedid became interested in music a little later, as a teenager watching the TV talent show Studio al Fan and playing guitar in Radiohead-obsessed cover bands. But like Malaeb and Papazian, Chedid was also struggling to balance architecture and music. So together they decided to make the latter a more formalised extra-curricular activity. They posted flyers in their department at AUB, seeking other musicians to participate in open jam sessions. The workshop would be committed to the creation of original music. No cover versions would be allowed. About a dozen students showed up for the first session in early 2008. But as the term wore on, the number of participants dropped to seven. Consistently joining Malaeb, Papazian and Chedid were the vocalist Hamed Sinno, guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, drummer Carl Gerges and bassist Ibrahim Badr. For their first show together, they were billed in advance as "The Architecture Band". This was much too dorky for any of them to bear, so they quickly agreed on a new name. After playing a few promising shows at disparate venues across the city, Mashrou3 Leila did something that few other Beirut-based bands have done: they toured Lebanon, performing not one but several nights in smaller cities such as Sur, Saida, Zahleh, Jounieh and Deir al Ammar in an effort to get out of the capital and test their sound before more unfamiliar audiences (the Beirut crowd for alternative music tends to be the same, no matter who's playing). They did the same thing in Cairo and Amman before returning to Beirut to get to work on their first album, opting to record with a new studio, B-Root Productions.

Established less than a year ago by Raed al Khazen and Jana Saleh - both of whom attended Boston's Berklee College of Music and earned a decade's worth of professional experience in New York - B-Root is a rare thing in Beirut; an artistic initiative with a business plan. As a full sound production house, the company runs parallel commercial and creative tracks. On one hand, Khazen and Saleh do sound design for advertising. On the other, they produce film scores and albums. Mashrou3 Leila is the first band they've brought in. "There's a limit to the amount of exposure musicians can get in an environment like Lebanon," says Khazen, "especially in terms of finding their voice. With Mashrou3 Leila, they already had that voice, in raw form. What we felt that we could do was take that raw form and fine-tune it. These guys are all really smart. And they're stubborn." "And they're seven," adds Saleh, laughing at the challenge of getting the full band in a room together. "But it was always about them growing, not us dictating. It took a long time for them to adopt us, and a long time for them to trust us. But they're such a cool band in that they take what you give them. They're willing to learn, and they're willing to use what they learn."

In March 2009, the band breezily won a new music prize sponsored by the local radio station Radio Liban. Suddenly they had a following. People started attending their concerts wearing T-shirts reading "Ana Leila (I Am Leila)". A full-blown mythology was born. "You can hear Leila, cascading melts of masculine vocals- suspended within thrusts of violin, beats and bass- through the music, you can hear where Leila has been, in bed sheets, on sidewalks- This is from the band's official biography, posted on their blog and their MySpace page, and it captures the spirit of Mashrou3 and the notionof the music belonging to someone else, or something more, than just the seven musicians. "We all have a certain position about Arabic pop music," says Papazian, "because there is a real problem with this music today. How did we go from [the earthy Egyptian diva] Um Kulthoum to [the saucy but superficial Lebanese pop star] Haifa Wehbe?" "The pop you see on TV is not really music," adds Malaeb. "It's for money and it's all the same. There's a huge gap between where the music was, which was a really high place, and where it is now." "The quality of the music and the content of the lyrics have really changed," says Papazian. "Before, people used to sing about everything - their lives, music, religion. Now it's all about this perfect world where a guy meets a girl and they live happily ever after, or they overcome some challenge to reach eternal happiness. But that's not reality. That's not how we live our lives in Beirut. And I don't think that's how Arabs elsewhere or anyone anywhere in the world lives their lives. When we write our songs, we want them to be simple, very realistic, very down to earth, based on our experiences, either collectively or individually. I think people who live in other cities, in other parts of the Arab world, they can identify with these experiences." Composing lyrics in Arabic offered Mashrou3 Leila the opportunity to explore genres such as tarab, which - in the golden age of Um Kulthoum, Asmahan, Abdel Halim Hafez or Mohammad Abdel Wahab - appropriated the classical maqam, the modal structure, for secular music. It also gave the band a chance to consider even earlier art forms, such as the intellectually daring (and sexually open) conventions of Abassid poetry. But for Hamed Sinno, who pens most the words to Mashrou3 Leila's songs, writing in Arabic posed challenges as well. "Because there's so much politics in the region, we don't really have our own cultural language. There's so much coming in from outside," he says. Literary Arabic is tough because, as opposed to spoken dialects, it's the language of news and speeches. The problem with formal Arabic is that growing up in the region, you're always plugged into a news station. So formal Arabic sounds like war. I like the sort of grand language of literature, but I feel that maybe it should be softer. That's one of the reasons why we used children's songs but changed some of the lyrics. In some of the songs there's a story, but others are just about venting. There's a lot of unresolved angst that surfaced. But we're good with that. The one thing you'll find across the Middle East is that we're good with stories."

- The National

The seven-member Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila takes pride in the mystery surrounding its name. In English, it’s known as either “Project of the Night” or “Leila’s Project.” But Ibrahim Badr, the band’s bassist, wears a t-shirt reading “I want to be Leila.” So what, or who, is Leila? That’s a question that the band is happy to leave ambiguous – for now.

Ever since Mashrou’ Leila emerged onto Lebanon’s music scene during the 2008 Fete de la Musique, it has sparked controversy for its unabashed lyrics on love, sexuality and politics. This year, at the same festival, Mashrou’ Leila played before a vast audience, with fans moshing to their music beside the ancient Roman Baths in downtown Beirut.

The band has come a long way in the two years since several AUB students first advertised for interested people to come to informal jamming workshops.

The seven-piece band evolved out of the subsequent sessions, where it developed its own distinct musical style and lyrical emphasis.

Their biggest breakthrough came when they were awarded both the jury and popular awards at the Radio Liban Modern Music Contest held at Basement in March. The first prize was a record deal with Incognito.

“It happened really quickly and we didn’t expect we would get this far,” said guitarist Andre Chedid.

“We are all different people; we have different influences in life and music, and everyone brings in what they have - and so something new is going to come out of it,” added violinist Haig Papazian.

The unusual prominence given to a violin in popular music, as well as the use of a megaphone to alter vocalist Hamed Sinno’s voice, represent just part of the “something new” Haig refers to.

In addition, the band is vocal about the problems associated with life in Beirut, which are not addressed by mainstream Arabic music – and they are liberal when it comes to swearing in their songs.

“Maybe because we were architecture students, we have this thing, this different perception of relations with the city. Beirut gives you a lot of inspiration,” Haig explained.

“Inspiration… and frustration,” Andre added quickly.

“When we started, the music that was more accessible, more mainstream in Arabic, was not really dealing with things that we were dealing with. It is always about love and it is always done in such a superficial manner. It is highly impersonal,” Hamed said.

With lyrics that ask young people if they would rather talk “about politics or f**king,” Mashrou’ Leila’s music has an emotional immediacy that crosses boundaries still not openly discussed in Lebanese public life.

“I like that it is controversial,” Ibrahim admitted.

Hamed agreed, “You need to be open minded to listen to our music.”

Yet, given the popular support for their music, it is clear they are saying something people want to hear.

“We are in our 20s at this point, and we have been watching the transformation of Lebanese society for 20 years, and it just doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere,” Hamed said.

“No one seems to be doing anything in terms of personal rights or sexual rights, things that are so obvious,” he added.

The song “al-Hajz” or “The Checkpoint,” which talks about encounters with security personal at checkpoints near politicians’ houses, is an expression of frustration about the way the country’s political and security situation affects everyday life.

Mashrou’ Leila is not the first band to discuss Lebanese politics in its lyrics; musicians have been consciously discussing politics in Lebanon for a long time. A key difference is that earlier politically-inspired musicians, including Fairuz’s son Ziad Rahbani, were primarily concerned with the formation of Lebanese identity.

Hamed said his generation is more concerned with critiquing the flaws that still exist, because they have grown up “without having a hand in creating the mess we have to deal with.”

“We also just happen to be a bit angrier about it,” he said.

There is a debate among band members, however, over the degree to which they feel their music is subconsciously political, or if they are simply trying to reflect society. “We want to talk about things because we thought they were issues, not because we wanted to change them,” Andre said.

Hamed said that, as musicians, he and his band mates can do no more than “get people to start talking about stuff.”

“I know that music has the ability to get the people who are concerned with these things to start talking, or at least to reflect a genuine disenchantment with a situation,” he said.

“You are not going to blow up a road block by pressing play, but you press play enough times and you being to gather some collectivity around something,” he added.

Ibrahim said that, despite the controversial subject matter, at the end of the day the band is “not trying to do anything other than play music that sounds cool.”

The band played its first gig outside of Beirut over the weekend, as part of the Tyre street festival, Zalghoutet el Corniche.

They joked about how well their music and controversial lyrics would be received outside of Beirut’s liberal music scene - particularly as the free open air concert was expected to draw a diverse Tyre crowd.

Despite the uncertainly, the group was adamant: “We are not going to change anything.”

Mashrou’ Leila consists of violinist Haig Papazian, guitarist Andre Chedid, vocalist Hamed Sinno, guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, bass player Ibrahim Badr, Omaya Malaeb on the keyboard and Carl Gerges on drums.

The band is expecting to release its first CD in October.

Mashrou’ Leila’s upcoming concerts:

June 3, 2009 | Parc Joseph Skaff - Zahle
August 8, 2009 | Estivales - Deir El Qamar
September 19, 2009 | Kfifan Festival

- Lebanon News - NOW Lebanon

Summer deserves its own soundtrack — for the beach, for warm nights and for the road. But don't worry if your travel budget is tight: This summer, All Things Considered and NPR Music will take you on a global journey through music. We're checking in on DJs, musicians and writers for the songs that define summer in some of the world's most vibrant cities. We're calling it The Spin.

When it comes to summer in the Arab world, no city does it better than Beirut. It's often called the Paris of the Middle East — for its style, cuisine and fashionable nightlife along the Mediterranean. Beirut is home to some of the biggest Arab pop stars, but it's also home to a thriving independent music scene.

Ziad Nawfal is a DJ with Radio Lebanon, and also hosts a series of live shows across Beirut. His choice for the city's song of the summer is Mashrou' Leila's "Embembelela7," which borrows its main lyric from a Lebanese nursery rhyme and sets it to a harsh drumbeat. Nawfal says the song is a commentary on materialism in Lebanon.

"The band] wanted to turn this nursery rhyme around and turn it into some sort of satirical comment on materialistic tendencies in Lebanon," Nawfal tells All Things Considered host Michele Norris. "How people are driven by greed, by money — how a nursery rhyme, using the same words, can be turned into something quite dark and brooding rather than soothing and lyrical."

There were explosions and truck bombs. A popular Prime Minister and a dozen young, anti-Syrian politicians and journalists were assassinated. Over a million Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut in response, ushering the withdrawal of Syrian forces after two decades of occupation. There were random explosions and bombs set off in public near restaurants, shopping centers and residential areas, echoing tales from Baghdad. Then the month-long war erupted between Israel and the southern-Lebanese group, Hezbollah, followed by rebuilding, then civil unrest and, finally, a week-long civil war in the streets of the capitol.

There was also homework, project due dates, and the stress that comes with being in college. After an assassination, the American University of Beirut (AUB) would close for a day or two. It closed throughout the Israel-Hezbollah War. But most of the time, life went on. Students studied, spent nights in their art studios or the library “overnighting” before a deadline, and partied on weekends and weekdays, in Beirut fashion. And some of these students started an alternative Arabic pop rock band called, Mashrou’ Leila.

“We had all the bombings,” says Haig Papazian, Mashrou’ Leila’s violinist. “There was a lot of work at university. We were all stressed. So we thought, why don’t we start this music workshop to just vent for a while?”

The rapid popularity of Mashrou’ Leila, set up by AUB students in early 2008, has surprised the band, aswell their fans and observers in Lebanon and the wider region, but they still have a long way to go.

Mashrou’ Leila means “An Overnight Project,” according to the band’s official Facebook page, but the band members themselves enjoy the play on words. The word Leila is either a popular Arabic name for a woman, or it means simply, “tonight.” The page also describes the band as “an experiment” and its members as “feeding on its lack of genre.”

Mashrou’ Leila’s music is a mixture of rock, pop, jazz, Latin, and Oriental melodies. The lyrics, written in Arabic, are poetry-meets-good-old-fashioned venting. There are echoes in the music of the eclecticism of today’s Beirut, a mixture of Near Eastern, Mediterranean and Western cultures.

This past summer, the group had its breakthrough concert at the prestigious annual Byblos International Festival in Northern Lebanon, playing on the same stage and in the same event, as The Gorillaz, the popular British band.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was in the front row at the concert, along with about five thousand cheering Lebanese representing all ages and regions. Five thousand may seem like a small number in comparison to large American concerts, but for a country with a population of only 4 million, that’s about as big as it usually gets. The largest concerts, led by world-renown European DJs like Tiesto, reach a crowd of about 16,000, but that is not a common occurrence.

The band of students started as an unofficial music workshop. Papazian and Omaya Malaeb, the keyboardist, both architecture students at AUB at the time, put up posters around the Department of Architecture and Design, inviting anyone interested in playing music to join them for a jam session.

The workshop brought together seven AUB students in their early twenties. Three other architecture students joined: Andre Chedid and Firas Abou Fakher, both on guitar, Carl Gerges on drums, as well as a graphic design student, Hamed Sinno, the vocalist and primary lyricist. Gerges then brought in Ibrahim Badr, the band’s bassist, an AUB engineering student.

After hearing them play informally, their friends encouraged them to perform for an audience. They put on a small show, as the opening act for a larger concert on campus. They were the only group who were writing original music.

“Since we’re all designers (except for our bassist) we thought, let’s try to create new music the same way we create new designs,” says Papazian. It was the first time the audience, all AUB students, heard the septet play. According to Papazian, everyone related to the music and identified with something that was being said, especially because it was in Arabic. Evidence? They had a standing ovation.

That was when the band was introduced to their fan base. They had a few more concerts around AUB. People started telling their friends. The band’s first milestone was performing in the annual “Fete de la Musique,” a music festival supported by the Beirut municipality. Their second milestone was winning a competition organized by a local radio station and some local record labels. The prize was supposed to be a record deal, which they did not get according to Badr.

Currently a graduate student at MIT, Badr, the bassist, flies back and forth two or three times a year for concerts. Badr talks like an engineer, strategic and with a specific focus: to “get signed” by a record company with a recording contract. He is clearly frustrated by the lack of support from local or regional record labels and lack of public or private endowments for the arts in the Middle East, as is common in Europe and the United States.

Even though they worked with a local record label for the release of their first album, that relationship later fell through. The seven students and now young professionals have to do everything on their own: Planning their own concerts, designing the stages, recording their own music (they are working on an EP now) and distributing it. They arrived on iTunes in the beginning of November this year, eleven months after the release of their first album. Before that, the only way for people from outside of Lebanon to access their music was by downloading a pirated version online, which the band encouraged.

“In Lebanon, we don’t have a distribution label,” explains Badr. “So it’s basically us. Most of our sales happen through Café Younis, [a hip café in Hamra, the neighborhood of Beirut around AUB]. Our album is not even distributed in Lebanon. It’s distributed in Beirut, in Hamra.”

“It’s not about selling CDs. It’s about spreading the music. I don’t mind if people download it for free,” adds Papazian. A true designer, he continues, “To be able to be known you kind of have to spread your music. You know, your music is like your portfolio. You put it out there so people know that this is what you do.”

The band aimed to go on tour this past summer outside of Lebanon, but all the shows got cancelled. They had no booking agent or representative helping them coordinate events. Instead, the group toured extensively inside Lebanon becoming the first Lebanese alternative band to play shows in various cities and towns across the country. Badr describes a concert they had in Soor (Tyre), a large city in the South.

“We got big crowds. The first night was strange. People didn’t understand what we were doing. They’d make fun. By the third night, they were singing along. People aren’t used to it, but I think they can be. They just need to get used to it.”

Both Badr and Papazian are optimistic about a tour outside of Lebanon next summer because they now have a booking agent. They would like to go to Amman, Jordan, Egypt and Dubai to start with. It isn’t easy, they point out, nor is it cheap, to move seven musicians and their instruments. This October, they were invited to perform at the opening ceremony of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar.

“That was really cool,” says Papazian, “because it’s a completely different kind of crowd that invited us to play in this huge festival. It’s good to know that a lot of people in different parts of the Arab world have heard of the music and still identify with a lot of things that we say because they’ve experienced similar things as well in their countries. Someone who is living in Egypt still can identify with these issues when it comes to security, sex or in general love stories.”

People in Lebanon, the surrounding region and around the world learn about the band through word of mouth. That is still the primary way for them to spread their music, with help from social networks like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Their Facebook Page currently, has over 11,200 fans, which is significant for a Lebanese alternative band that uses Arabic lyrics. They neither fall into the typical Western, English-speaking pop rock band model. Nor do they fit the norm of most Arabic “musicians” today, who Papazian calls, “women with plastic faces and giant…[long pause] features.”

“Most of the stuff you have right now is the pop music,” explains Papazian. “The things you get on TV, the music videos, everything is so plastic, fantastic. Talks about this really perfect world that doesn’t exist.” He is referring to popular stars in the Arab world, performers rather than singers or musicians, that make Britney Spears and Lady Gaga look like conservative dressers or serious composers.

Mashrou’ Leila all originate from different musical backgrounds, ranging from progressive rock to oriental jazz to classical Arabic music, tarab.

“Everyone is trying to add their something,” explains Papazian. “It’s this mixture that kind of makes the music what it is. And I like the fact that it sounds familiar. When you hear it, it’s a music that gets stuck in your mind. It’s not generic duj, duj, duj… there is something, whether it’s the vocal line or the main melody line of the music, it makes you remember things, but you don’t know what it is, you know? Because you feel like it belongs to a place or a time that you’ve been to. Personally I like music that makes you feel like it comes from somewhere. Because music has become too universal, especially right now with electronic music that’s all only tse, tse, tse…”

“The old days, they kind of had really good music, but they don’t relate to stuff we’re living right now. They sing poetry. They sing things that are so abstract at this point,” says Papazian, referring to famous Arabic musicians like Oum Koutloum or Fairouz, the equivalents of Judy Garland or a female Frank Sinatra.

“That’s why a lot of people our age, they turn to rock music from the States and Europe when they’re kids, like Nirvana, Guns and Roses, and even new stuff. You know, you’re 18, you’re 19, you’re 20, and you want to listen to something in your language, but it’s not there. They’re not talking about things that you can relate to. So that’s why we wanted to invent these stories, these experiences.”

Papazian gives the first track of their first album, which they released last December in a huge underground concert at a steel factory in Beirut, as an example of the modern Arab experiences the band is trying to put into music. The song, “Fasateen” which means “Dresses” begins: (translation)

Remember when you told me

That you were going to marry me

Without money and without a house

Remember that you loved me

Even though I wasn’t from your religion

The song is about a boy and a girl from two different religious sects who are in love. In the beginning, nothing matters, but then they come to reality and face the society in Lebanon and their families.

“You’re pressured all the time to go out with people from your religion, people from your socio-economic status, and these things really affect our lives as youth,” says Papazian.

“I mean it’s not normal for you not to be able to go out with two thirds of the population of Lebanon because you have to go out with only people from your religious sect. It’s kind of stupid.

“I mean there is no civil marriage in our country and a lot of people end up eloping [in Cyprus], and they end up kind of banned from society. Their families stop talking to them. A lot of my friends have had similar issues. After they just run away with their lover, when they come back, they’re like sinners. You know, they cannot exist. It’s like they’ve committed a crime that is equivalent to murder, which is a bit absurd.”

Another popular Mashrou’ Leila song is “Shim El Yasmini” meaning “Smell the Jasmin.” A “Yasmini” in Lebanon is a common vine that grows everywhere, on the gates of most traditional homes or restaurants, for example. The song begins, sounding a lot like most of the love songs on the Twilight Saga Movie Soundtracks by bands like Collective Soul or Florence and the Machine. But the words are in Arabic, and they are from one boy to his lover, also a boy.

“Regardless if the listener is a homosexual or not, and they listen to the song, they really feel something because it’s very emotional. Most of the people I know, our age, even people in their 30s and 40s, they listen to the music, to this song, and they really identify with it because it’s the first time that someone is singing about a relationship in Arabic, in a very real, down-to-earth way where everything isn’t perfect. And it’s very contextual, it’s very Beirut-y, it’s very sad and it’s very true.”

This song does seem to be a favorite among Mashrou’ Leila’s online community. There are frequent requests on their YouTube page for an official music video of the song. Across their YouTube and Facebook pages, there are fans from all over the Arab and wider world asking them to visit their countries (Egypt, Canada, the US, Italy, Tunisia, Dubai) or asking how to purchase their albums (in France, the UK and the US among others).

One of the group’s YouTube fans wrote in November: ‘Great work! Hope you'll never have to quit! You got some seriously valuable stuff in there!!! Proud to? be part of that culture! Thank you…”

Papazian describes their fans as supporters, but also as people who in some ways depend on them.

“In the beginning we were doing this for ourselves, for us to vent. Now that we see that a lot of people are identifying with the music and following us. It’s like a cause they’ve adopted. They’re spreading it to all their friends, to all their social networks. And, we can’t stop at this point. Even though we don’t talk about one specific cause. We just talk about our experiences and they’re real. And that’s what matters to these people.

“And like a very small gesture like the one that Hamed did during Byblos where he waved the [rainbow] flag in front of the Prime Minister, it made a difference to a lot of people to know that at least there are other people who are not afraid, who are trying to do something,” Papazian adds. Homosexuality, associated with the rainbow flag, has long been prohibited in Lebanon.

“It just happened,” Papazian explains. “It wasn’t thought of. It just happened on the spot. But maybe it would have had bad consequences…Just the fact that the flag was there, it created a lot of feedback for example from Lebanon and a lot of places in the Arab world, that something like this is happening.

“Our music it’s about the youth: how we want, how we live, and how we want things to be. We want to try to spread good music that people can relate to- that, for example, a 21-year-old would listen to because it’s something that they can understand, first of all because, it’s in their own language, it’s in Arabic, and secondly because it talks about things that they have lived,” says Papazian passionately.

“We are trying to spread our music. We do sing about useful things. We do support free-thinking, religious freedom and gay rights…We can make a difference,” Badr agrees, but adds in a sober voice:

“To make a difference, we need the right connections, which we don’t have. We need money and contacts to fund a Middle East tour. We need labels to be interested in local acts.” He adds that even though their fan base is growing, it isn’t growing fast enough.

“At this point we’re looking to get signed, so some professional person can take on some of our work,” he says. “If we don’t get signed by next year, it’s hard to tell what will happen.”

But Papazian dismisses this statement, joking: “Ibrahim is kind of a pessimist. He’s the only engineer.” He laughs, then adds more seriously, “What we’re doing now, it’s not just about the music. It’s beyond that. It’s something great. A lot of people are expecting things from us, and the ultimate goal is to be signed by a big record label. That’s what we want to do of course. It’s not time to give up yet. The thing is, we all agree that this moving on a lot. It’s not going to stop anytime soon.”

Badr, was wearing a t-shirt that said “I want to be Leila” at one of their concerts. On Mashrou’ Leila’s social networking sites, fans have written “I am Leila” and “We are all Leila.”

One online fan wrote on their Facebook page in the late summer, “hello we wanna see you in some concert in sour city south Lebanon please thanks w? mashro3kon mashro3na.” Mashrou’kon mashrou’na: your project is our project.
- Helo Magazine

Mashrou’ Leila was chosen to perform at one of the most prestigious festivals in Lebanon; Byblos International Festival on July 9th with the presence of many of their fans, politicians and local music enthusiasts.

This local band could be seen as an image of the current Lebanese generation combining cultures and different influences reflecting their environment and reacting to their every day lives in the city of Beirut. You could hear the sound of the streets of Beirut in their music especially when Tarab is combined with a hint of rock, some jazz and electro. However, there is no contrast in their music, but simply originality.

At first, you’d think you’re listening to the beginning of a pop rock song and suddenly the talents of these individuals arise to create something so unique yet familiar. Their creativity dazzled and impressed many at the festival making Mashrou’ Leila deserving of an international arena like this one.

The band consists of Hamed Sinno on Vocals, Ibrahim Badr on Bass, Carl Gerges on Drums, Haig Papazian on Violin, Omaya Malaeb on Keyboards, Firas Abou Fakher and Andre Chedid on Guitar

The festival was crowded with young generations; a scene that is somewhat new to Byblos. Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other familiar faces were amongst the crowd.

- Daily Star

Mashrou' Leila is not a band's name. It is not a proper noun per se; Mashrou' Leila is Arabic for ?an overnight project' lusting out a microphone, a violin, a bass, two guitars, drums and keyboards. It started out as a music workshop at the American University of Beirut in 2008, an open platform for students of architecture and design, somewhere to experiment with sounds and make things audible. Haig Papazian, Carl Gerges, Hamed Sinno, Omaya Malaeb, Andre Chedid, Firas Abou Fakher and Ibrahim Badr have enjoyed this sound fetish savoring its façade of nonchalance and feeding on its lack of genre – sustaining their collective as Mashrou' Leila, an experiment.

You can hear Leila, cascading melts of masculine vocals only suspended with thrusts of violin, beats and bass – attacked by neurotic melody that means no harm – sometimes tender, even sometimes on pause. Through the music, you can smell where Leila has been, in bed sheets, on sidewalks, jasmines in ri?es and spilled coffee on dresses as she made you play with aubergines, dancing her dance. Music has constantly been their place to play with things, to match and mis-match, a project.

In the various performances, Mashrou' Leila is a constant attempt to taste and produce, more than happy to harvest anyone from the audience as a guest in their encores. They have performed around Lebanon since 2008, playing in various venues in Beirut, taking over supposed public piazzas as well as clubs, pubs, hybrids and the such – they also played in Zahle, Sour, Jounieh, Saida and Deir el Qamar, each of which pushed forward their thinking about how to go about their music, lyrics and performance. It is only when Mashrou' Leila goes live, that you can actually catch a glimpse of Leila. As it talks to you of Beirut, the city that tastes of the absurd, the product of its day-to-day experiences, its stubborn security and lack of the latter, its musical bombshells, incoherent sexuality and thrusting pleasure…narcotic pain – as it brings forward hints of Arabic Tarab, rock, to folk pop, electro, you can see Leila in every man and woman in the silent- come-raving audience. In this trajectory, they participated in music workshops and concerts in Amman and Cairo to maneuver their way into a pan-Arab music scene, to know and to announce, more importantly to grow, musically.

In March 2009, Mashrou' Leila won the Lebanese Modern Music Contest jury prize and public vote organized by Radio Liban in partnership with CCF, Incognito and the Basement. They are currently recording their debut album with B-root Productions, to be released in December 2009. The music in the album is a reclamation of the aftertaste; sequel-ing a dose of Beirut.

written by Raafat Majzoub
- Culture Leb


"Mashrou' Leila" 2009

The album has enjoyed airplay on:

DW Germany
Rotterday Radio Germany
Norwegian National Radio



Mashrou' Leila was born on a university campus between three architectural students at AUB, Beirut. From a music workshop in 2008, it evolved into the "most wanted band in the Middle-East" and is set to export its unique sounds, melodies and amazing lyrics worldwide. Seven friends are now sharing the experience of a lifetime. There is no satisfactory way to describe their sound as it's so fresh and totally innovative.

It is only when Mashrou' Leila goes live that you can actually catch a glimpse of Leila. As it talks to you of Beirut, the city that tastes of the absurd, the product of its day-to-day experiences, its stubborn security and lack of the latter, its musical bombshells, incoherent sexuality and thrusting pleasure, it also brings forwards hints of Arabic tarab, rock, folk, pop, electro and within the myriads of harmonic explosion you can see leila in every man and woman in the silent-come-raving audience.

Mashrou' Leila came to prominence in their home-grown town of Beirut when they won the Lebanese Modern Music Contest jury prize and the public vote as organised by Radio Liban, Since then they have played over 50 gigs in the region, culminating in 2010 with the Byblos Festival, where they were headlining alongside Gorillaz. From there, they have appeared at the World Music Festival in Dubai, are performing at The Big Day Out in Doha, will be featured at the Mawred Theatre in Cairo as well as the Cairo Jazz Club, and are lining up several shows in Jordan, Syria, Tunisia and Montreal. In May this year, they will go to the New Morning in Paris to showcase the real scene of present-day Arabic talent.

Their lyrics are unabashedly sexual, political, revolutionary. Their energy on stage is unequalled and their charm unparalleled.