Over one year ago, one of the top indie-rock bands of the Middle East came to America for their first major tour, and quickly became the intersection and go to media interview, here in the U.S., of LGBTQ, Islam, and Arab issues, due to the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. You see, Mashrou’ Leila, feature gay band members, and are fronted by the charismatic and openly gay Hamed Sinno. So, a band that deserves worldwide recognition for their fantastic music and message, were thrust into the national spotlight because of the worst mass shooting in American history. Now, the band has returned to New York for three nights (two at Le Possion Rouge (LPR) and one in Brooklyn) and their presence is still as needed, now as it was back then.
Opening the night, were the poetic civil rights oriented performers, Suheir Hammad and Narcy. Both brought deeply-personal sets that were calls to action and reminders about people struggling across the spectrum, from their home lives to the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hammad touched upon her Palestinian upbringing weaving in humor, sadness, and resolve, while Narcy (formerly known as the Narcicyst) used all his MC skills to bring an even more political message about resistance to the crowd. Narcy ended his set asking the crowd to share, over social media, his final act disputing Radiohead’s Thom Yorke’s stance on the BDS movement.
Then it was Mashrou’ Leila’s time to send the sold out crowd at LPR into a frenzy. The band has a loyal legion of followers that has expanded beyond Middle Eastern ex-pats and Arab-Americans. A quick scan of the crowd revealed faces of fans from all ranges of the spectrum. As the cool blue downlights hit Sinno, and the band broke out into “Aoede,” a fluid and ethereal feel washed over the audience. The sort of vibe that makes you feel like you’re about to witness something special.
Mashrou’ Leila’s music has a universal quality to it. The kind, that coupled with their lyrics, beautifully written in Arabic, will move you – even if you don’t speak the language. And if you don’t, plenty of sites offer translations that will show you that no matter where you live, where you call home, what political party you belong to, who you love, what god you believe in, that we are all one and the same. We all can feel lost, oppressed, sad, joyful, and more. We all look for that light in our lives, and this happens to be a band that has a beautiful sound to remind you of that.
Sinno made sure to explain as much of the music and lyrics he could the audience for those who don’t speak Arabic. And he called to light the plight of a forgotten group of victims of Syria’s civil war: trans refugees.
Sinno, continues to echo a Freddie Mercury-like presence, with his serpentine-like moves and handle bar moustache. A view I heard from a few different concertgoers that night. Your eyes and ears are continually drawn to him throughout the set, and to the sexual tension on display between himself and violinist Haig Papazian. And, as choreographed as that may be, it serves to reinforce the band’s onstage charisma. And while much of their interplay takes center stage, the rest of the band continues to stand tall, from guitarist/keyboardist Firas Abou Fakher, drummer Cafrl Gerges, and bassist Ibrahim Badr – each one, a towering musician in their own right.
Before coming to New York, the band was once again banned from performing in my home country of Jordan. The same fate befell them last year before coming to America. When I spoke to friends and family back in Jordan, you could feel their frustration and disappointment with the government’s decision. And as Sinno joked to the crowd, the Jordanian government continues to give them a great story to tell at their shows.
And every time Mashrou’ Leila plays, the crowd is going to have a great story to tell about this defiant young band with a message we all need to hear.
Article: Omar Kasrawi