Questioning Oppressive Systems: This Is What the Revolutionary ‘Mashrou’ Leila’ Is All About

Music is one of the magical tools to break barriers, taboos, stereotypes, among others, and this alternative Lebanese band is the living proof of it. From starting as a small project in 2008 at the American University of Beirut, to large tours nowadays in Europe, North America and, of course, the Middle East, Mashrou’Leila is one of the most provocative and talented Arab bands of our times.

A few months ago the group was invited to perform at the Euro Pride Festival in Gothemburg, Sweden and Mvslim had the opportunity to briefly interview them!

What makes them unique?

Through their songs, the band has created music about defeating the patriarchy, equality, gender roles and government repression. The band has even rewritten and recorded one of their most popular songs: Falaykon, for a special participation for the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior in the Mediterranean Sea. Another significant collaboration was their song Salam, a protest against the Israeli occupation, part of the album ‘Block 9 Creative Retreat Palestine’, that was recorded at Banky’s ‘Walled Off Hotel’ in Palestine.

And if that isn’t enough, this year, their young music video director, Jessy Moussallem, was awarded with gold in the category Changing the World Frame by Frame, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, for the recording of Roman. The video captures women in different clothing: from hijab, chador, a fierce woman riding a horse in a burka to, one of the most inspiring frames, a contemporary dance performed by a young girl wearing her hijab.

The challenges of Mashrou’Leila

Probably one of the most controversial topics the band has been linked to, is homosexuality, even though the only openly gay member in the band is their lead singer: Hamed Sinno.

It is a fact that the band has put into words and music the struggles of the LGBTQ community in Middle Eastern societies, where same-sex relations are considered a crime. Sinno expressed to Mvslim that he refused to be ashamed of his sexuality, afraid that it will become the only thing that people can see in them. On the other hand, he is very hopeful: “what we’re trying to do more than anything, is getting those messages for younger queer Muslim kids and others in the region and abroad, and they [will be] glad to see that this is happening because I didn’t have that when I was young”.

Picture by Ared García

One of the concerns for Mashrou’Leila’s vocalist are oppressive systems; “The people in power, the patriarchy, has quite invested to maintain certain systems of ethics, that will perpetuate their power”, the music band tries to question these systems of oppression through their music, that is full of poetry and symbolism.

However, their music and message isn’t always welcomed. The conservative government in Jordan proved this, when they banned a concert of the world-known band.  Despite this, the band continues with a high spirit and proud of their latest album: Ibn El Leil.

Picture by Ared García

As a viewer, I witnessed how the performances are filled with enthusiasm, energy, dance and love from the band to their fans and back. The original combination of Arab rhythm with the touch of indie rock, surrounded by the magic touch of the violin and a vibrant voice, are the perfect combination that Hamed Sinno, Ibrahim Badr, Carl Gerges, Haig Papazian and Firas Abou Fakher, offer us on stage.

This article was written by Ared García 

Written by Mvslim

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