Mashrou’ Leila, fronted by openly gay Hamed Sinno, are a politically-charged band hailing from Beirut.
Mashrou’ Leila are one of the biggest alternative rock bands to come from Beirut, Lebanon, having released three successful studio albums. Not only are the band known for their satirical style of lyrics, but their front-man just so happens to also be openly gay – a rarity for Lebanon.
Hamed Sinno leads the five-piece band as their songs, sung in Arabic, delve into politically charged, anti-homophobia, and pro-feminism messaging. For these reasons, the band have not been without their controversies.
A performance scheduled in Jordan was pulled due to the political and homosexual themes within Mashrou’ Leila’s songs, and even resulted in an unofficial ban in the Arab state. This ban also resulted in another concert, this time due to be held in Amman, pulled by the Jordanian Ministry.
A recent performance in Egypt saw members of the audience arrested for demonstrating a rainbow flag during the concert. One man was sentenced to six years in prison for “practising debauchery” after the concert.
But, it’s these very themes of protest and attacking of the norm that appeals to fans of the band. The group appeals to a demographic who want to support a changed mind, and want to be part of the fight for equality.
Speaking to Reuters back in 2013 about the reasons for the band and the themes they discuss in their songs, Sinno said:
One of the things that got us together was that we agreed on a lot of things. We agreed that gay rights was a big problem in the Middle East, that women’s rights, sectarianism, fanaticism were big problems. There were basic political understandings that we saw eye-to-eye on, which tends to mean you see eye-to-eye on how you go about things as a band.
Mashrou’ Leila’s revealing lyrics on the Western misconceptions of life within the Middle-East have also helped to earn the band a loyal fanbase around the world. The band have performed in Europe and North America numerous times, a move which has undoubtedly helped to raise awareness about the situation towards homosexuality in Lebanon.
The band’s 2015 album Ibn El Leil was released to critical acclaim and reached the top spot of the local music charts. The album even managed to make the top 20 on Billboard’s International charts. A repackaged, deluxe version of the album was released last year, with a forth studio album well on the way.
Last year, the band performed at the Music Park Festival in Cairo, alongside two other Arab rock groups, to crowds of well over 35,000 people. Sinno has even appeared on the cover of the Middle-East version of Rolling Stone.
It seems like the continued success of Mashrou’ Leila, supported by their discussion of gender identity and women’s rights, will only help in spreading awareness throughout their music.