On a Higher Note > Mashrou’ Leila > LEBANON’S MUSICAL REVELATION
by Maha Majzoub
When you first hear them, you think they have been at it for six million decades. It is hard to believe that they only joined forces a handful of years ago with the sole goal of having some serious fun, and accidentally cranked up the Lebanese indie music scene. For Mashrou’ Leila, it was a jam, bam, thank you ma’am kind of affair. Without even trying, they became an overnight sensation. They are like nothing to come out of Beirut in many years. It was what the city was missing – and only knew it was missing when it found it.
“I think it was good timing,” says frontman and one-seventh of Mashrou’ Leila Hamed Sinno, when asked about the factors that propelled the group to fame. “I think success is much more than making good music. When we were first writing music, we were doing it for imagined audiences at AUB,” he says, referring to his and his band mates’ alma mater. “We never thought what we did would resonate with audiences in the Middle East and Europe, so I can’t pretend that we have some checklist of things to do. There was no plan. It just took off,” he explains, before adding, “I’m fairly sure that 98 percent of it is not stuff that we’ve done. I mean we wrote our music and everything else was not us. It was people listening to the music and sharing it.”
Strumming their pain
In 2008, Sinno answered an open call addressed to students looking to vent through music the natural stress induced by university as well as Lebanon’s supernatural political instability. And since then, he’s been lending his voice to Mashrou’ Leila’s music in addition to penning the songs’ lyrics. After the seven-piece ensemble performed at the la Fete de la Musique street festival in the summer of that year, people started blogging and raving about the noise the young band has made. A few gigs in public piazzas as well as more clubby venues later, Mashrou’ Leila was handed an additional ego boost, scooping in 2009 the Lebanese Modern Music Contest jury prize and public vote organized by a local radio station. The winter of that year saw the release of their debut self-titled album at a steel factory in the Beirut suburb of Burj Hammoud where 1200 fans flocked to cheer for the emerging troupe.
Having amassed an impressive following, with performances at sold-out venues at home, in Cairo, and in Amman, and taking Europe in their stride by featuring at Serbia’s the Exit Festival, Amsterdam’s Paradiso Club, and Paris’s La Maroquinerie Theater, Mashrou’ Leila cannot conceal their shock at the breakneck sequence of events. “It is always surprising and continuously overwhelming, because things haven’t started to fizzle down yet,” remarks Sinno, his angelic face masking his imposing voice. The string of surprises the band was dealt included being picked in July 2010 to headline the Byblos International Festival, as offering a Lebanese band a headlining post in the festival was without precedent. There was also the not so small matter of being called the voice of the generation by a local paper after their Byblos act. “We also got such incredible emails after we played in Cairo where people commented on how much they identified with our sound and content and that was very gratifying,” beams Sinno, who like fellow band members is under 25 years of age.
To read the rest of this interview, grab a hold of our latest issue - Issue 20 out now in stores nationwide
Download the digital version of Oasis Magazine for your iPad, iPod, & desktop at: