Band: Mashrou’ Leila (rough translation: “overnight project”) Founded: 2008 Base: Beirut Albums: 4
Few bands have faced more controversy than Mashrou’ Leila. Over the past decade the Lebanese indie rockers – known for their candid lyrics that grapple with Arabic identity, homophobia and religion, among other things – have been banned in Jordan, faced threats of violence and been the source of fierce backlash from conservatives across the Middle East. Recently seven fans were arrested by Egyptian authorities after they were photographed waving rainbow flags during the band’s Cairo show.
Yet Mashrou’ Leila don’t think they’re the ones who are contentious. “I mean, is it controversial that someone is queer-identified or controversial that that’s an issue to begin with?” asks lead singer Hamed Sinno, who is gay. “The fact that this is the direction the world seems to be going in is controversial.” The fallout of such hostility does take its toll. “Between the Jordan ban and the Egyptian fiasco it’s been tough,” says guitarist Firas Abou Fakher. Drummer Carl Gerges nods in agreement: “When Hamed deals with threats of violence it affects us all.”
That’s why Mashrou’ Leila – violinist Haig Papazian and bassist Ibrahim Badr complete the quintet – say the fact that they feel more like a family than co-workers helps them overcome every hurdle. Not that it’s always so easy to get along: “Five guys working together – I mean things can get masculine,” says Sinno. “Ten years in we know how to work together without stepping on one another’s toes.”
Over a jet-lagged lunch at The Source resort in Marrakech, a few hours before they perform a gig celebrating the opening of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, the guys reflect on how crucial it is to have a team they trust – not just the band but also their sound and management crews. With tour dates in North and South America, as well as in Europe, it helps to have key people in different time zones, such as London-based manager Ed Cartwright and operations manager Hind Azennar, who lives in Montréal.
“We were doing everything for so long we couldn’t really focus on the music,” says Abou Fakher. “Building this team has allowed us to concentrate on the music and expand our audience.”