mashrou3 leila during their album release concert in december 2009. from left to right Ibrahim Badr, Hamed sinno, Andre Chedid, Carl Gerges, Firas Abou Fakher, Haig papazian, Omaya Malaeb
Mashrou’ Leila (Arabic: مشروع ليلى sometimes transliterated as Mashrou3 Leila or Leila’s Project) is a Lebanese five-member alternative rock band. The band formed in Beirut, Lebanon in 2008 as a music workshop at the American University of Beirut. The band has released three studio albums, Mashrou’ Leila (2009), Raasük (2013), and Ibn El Leil (2015) and an EP, El Hal Romancy (2011) while causing many controversies due to their satirical lyrics and themes.
Background and name
The band was formed in February 2008 at the American University of Beirut, 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. During the event, Mashrou’ Leila proved to be the only band that composed and performed their original compositions. 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 (the yearly Music festival held by the Beirut municipality) sparking controversy for their unabashed and critical lyrics on Lebanese society, failed love, sexuality and politics.
Mashrou’ Leila’s members enjoy the wordplay and ambiguity surrounding their band’s name. In English, the name can be interpreted as either “One Night Project” or “Leila’s Project”; Leila being a very common given name in Lebanon. When asked during an early interview about the origin of the name Mashrou’ Leila, band members teasingly retorted that the band is a project started to collect money for a girl they knew called Leila. According to the band’s official Facebook page, Mashrou’ Leila means “An Overnight Project”, named for the nocturnal nature of the project characterized by all-night jam sessions.
Mashrou’ Leila (2009) front cover
In 2009, Mashrou’ Leila participated at Radio Liban’s Modern Music Contest held at Basement (club) winning both the jury and popular awards in part due to their breakthrough single “Raksit Leila” (Leila’s dance). The first prize was a record deal. Mashrou’ Leila’s self-titled debut album produced by B-root Productions was released in December 2009 at a steel factory in Bourj Hammoud (a suburb of Beirut) where an unprecedented number attendees crowded the factory yard. The gig turned out to be Beirut’s biggest non-mainstream event in recent years and has been a big hit among Indie and Rock fans in Lebanon. 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. The concert was one of the most anticipated events of the summer and was attended by scores of fans as well as the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri.
El Hal Romancy
El Hal Romancy (2011) front cover
In 2011, Mashrou’ Leila released the El Hal Romancy EP, a recording the band describes as “tackling lyrically more intimate, personal, and theatrical subject matter that is less about the city and its politics proper, and more about the social residue of the city. This is a collection of songs that happen in a weathered bedroom with ruffled bed sheets, stained carpeting, and a book shelf of references, while a string section plays on a rusty vinyl player to a couple of young lovers trying to survive the city”. One week before the release concert in Beirut Hippodrome, Mashrou’ Leila announced that the album was available for free download on the band’s website.
In 2012, the band headlined Baalbeck International Festival. The concert was filmed and released as a live concert.
Raasuk (2013) front cover
Mashrou’ Leila’s anticipated 3rd release Raasuk was recorded at Hotel2Tango in Montreal. It was described as “an arresting, heady mixture of retro-Beirut music – the signature sound being Haig Papazian’s razor-sharp violin”. The album was released in August 2013. The video of the lead single “Lil Watan” (“for the nation”) was awarded the gold prize at the Dubai Lynx 2015 festival. To promote the album, the band managed to crowd fund over $60,000; an unprecedented feat for a Middle East art project. On April 6, Mashrou’ Leila became the first Middle Eastern artist to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
On November 25, 2013, Mashrou’ Leila played the Red Bull Soundclash with Who Killed Bruce Lee in the Forum de Beyrouth.
During a show at The Middle East club in Boston, Sinno introduced “Abdo” off the Raasuk release by explaining that, “This one is about something typical in Beirut which is people selling stuff on trolleys in the street. It’s about a flower salesman called Abdo.”
Ibn El Leil
Ibn El Leil (2015) front cover
The first hint of new material arrived when the band started a campaign asking the members of their social media pages to submit lyrics and video ideas to be incorporated in the band’s upcoming single. “3 Minutes” was released on March 17, 2015.
Contrary to their common method of writing and producing songs, the band decided not to test their new material in live concerts, opting instead for secrecy and mystery about their fourth album. The band recorded the 13 tracks in studio La Frette in France over the summer with French-Lebanese producer Samy Osta, and worked on orchestral and brass arrangements with the Macedonian Radio Orchestra in F.A.M.E’s Studios in Macedonia. The band has said that this album is their most pop album to date, and deals with topics that range from the euphoric to the destructive and depressive, all taking place in the politically, socially, and sexually charged spaces of Beirut’s night.
The band experimented with drum machines, loops, samples, and several synthesisers in a new method of composition, trying to accommodate for the departure of keyboard player Omaya Malaeb. “Maghawir” narrates a possible version of a club shooting in Beirut, drawing on references to real Lebanese case histories from two different shootings that took place within the same week, both of which resulted in the deaths of extremely young victims, each of who was out celebrating their birthday.” During a show in Boston, the band explained that the song “Tayf (Ghost)” is about a shuttered gay club, and “Bint Elkhandaq” tells the story of a friend who learned, “as hard as it is to be a woman in Beirut, it’s just as hard to be brown in the West.”
The album is heavily loaded with allusions and references, both to contemporary figures of pop, and to mythological figures of gods and demons.
On the November 28, the band released Ibn El Leil at the Barbican in London with live broadcasting on MTV Lebanon available to the entire world to positive reviews. “In the seven years since Mashrou’ Leila formed at the American University of Beirut, the quintet – whose name, in fact, means ‘overnight project’ – have won comparisons to everyone from Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead to Roxy Music and Wild Beasts.”
On December 1, Ibn El Leil debuted at the number one spot on local iTunes channels, and charted as number 11 on the international world Billboard charts. “It’s such an impressive performance that stadiums seem not only possible but imminent.”
The band released a music video for their single “Roman” on July 19, 2017. The single was included on the deluxe version of Ibn El Leil released July 21, 2017.
Hamed Sinno as the lead vocalist.
Haig Papazian on the violin
Carl Gerges on drums
Ibrahim Badr on bass guitar
Firas Abou Fakher on guitar
Omaya Malaeb on keyboards
Andre Chedid on guitars
Themes and style
Mashrou’ Leila performing at Baalbeck Festival 2012
Mashrou’ Leila’s 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 nine songs 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), a song reminiscent of Jay Brannan’s “Housewife”, 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 is 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.
After syncing for a while, the public started to dissect the band, member by member. Hamed Sinno got his first solo magazine theater cover in 2012 when he fronted the December issue of the first LGBTQI magazine in the MENA region, My.Kali. A year after, Papazian fronted the same publication for the same month, landing his first theater cover in 2013. Carl Gerges landed his first solo cover on the November issue of L’Officiel Hommes-Levant, 2013.
Egypt is banning Mashrou’ Leila from performing in the country
Because of a rainbow flag.The country’s Islamist Al Nour Party also called for action against the band.Late on Sunday, Egypt’s Musicians syndicate said it will be banning Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila from performing concerts in the country.
In a statement made on live television, the syndicate’s lawyer Dr. Reda Rajab spoke against the band, saying their concert should have been ‘forbidden.’
Towards the end of his statement, Rajab said: “We have already made a decision on the matter, Mashrou’ Leila will be banned from performing in Egypt. We just need the support of the country’s general security on the matter.”
This comes a few days after the successful band performed to a sold-out crowd of 35,000 in Egypt’s Cairo Festival City.
Images of fans purportedly carrying the LGBTQ pride rainbow flags during the show sparked controversy in Egypt.
A social media frenzy targeting Mashrou’ Leila ensued, with many calling for a blanket ban on all the band’s future performances in the country.
However, thousands of fans also hit back at what they labeled as a ‘regressive and unacceptable’ attack on the band.
StepFeed reached out to one of the band’s members, who said the group will not be issuing a statement on the matter at the time being and will officially respond once the full details are out.
He also added that the band is currently busy preparing for their upcoming performances.
Mashrou’ Leila at the Roman theater in Amman, Jordan August 2015
Mashrou’ Leila’s satirical lyrics and themes regarding politics, religion, sexuality and homosexuality has sparked several controversies, which once led to an unofficial ban on performing in Jordan on April 26, 2016. The band claimed on their Facebook page that their planned concert was denied approval by the Amman Governorate. However, the ban was reverted by the relevant authorities two days later. On June 13, 2016, the band again posted a message on their official Facebook page that claimed their upcoming concert in Amman had been cancelled by the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior: “The inconsistency of the Jordanian authorities in this respect (inviting us, then banning, then cancelling the ban, then inviting us again, then banning us again – all within the course of 14 months – has culminated in a clear message, that the Jordanian authorities do not intend to separate Jordan from the fanatical conservatism that has contributed in making the region increasingly toxic over the last decade.”