We feel a bit guilty. When the Lebanese indiepop band Mashrou’ Leila performed in front of Arab-Americans from all over Los Angeles this winter, they admitted to Good Magazine finding it somewhat uncomfortable to play festivals with “world music” etched into their name.
“We don’t really make world music, whatever that means,” lead singer Hamed Sinno said. And he has a valid point: Ever since the band was founded in 2008 – originally as a hobby project among students at the American University of Beirut – it has become gradually harder to hear, pardon the expression, the exotic nature of their music.
Listening to Ibn El Leil, the quintet’s most accomplished record to date (which we’re celebrating with a release concert during the festival!), you think of Western art pop bands Wild Beasts, Arcade Fire and Perfume Genius rather than artists with a more conservative Lebanese sound.
The reason why Mashrou Leila is quite possibly the biggest band from the Arabic world at the moment – they sold out the great Barbican in London last year and have adorned the front page of the Middle-Eastern edition of Rolling Stone – is due to their refusal to fit the framework that persecutes many musicians from the region.
In the biographical track “Shim El Yasmine” Sinno sings about gay love, in a country where it’s practicallt prohibited by law to love someone of the same sex. A change is gonna come!
Text: Kim Klev