Mashrou Leila’s first hit song is not about dick, though the band is no stranger to songs about dick.
far, I’ve buried the Mashrou Leila lede, the fact that frames every
piece of music journalism about them, but before getting to it, some
brief biographical notes: In 2007, Mashrou Leila was a nameless school
side-project made up of seven members — Hamed Sinno (lead
vocals), Haig Papazian (violin), Firas Abou Fakher (guitar), Andre
Chedid (guitar), Ibrahim Badr (bass), Omaya Malaeb (keyboards), and Carl
Gerges (drums) — all belonging to the Department of Architecture & Design at AUB.
is an ease to their origin story, a youthful brashness: a group of
designers and architects jam in intermediary spaces between and after
classes, singing about everything that’s wrong with Lebanon, almost
complaining, but not without a wink, because we’re all in on this
Lebanese joke together, and somehow, we’re all still here. Their
flippant adolescence, propelled by the incisive intelligence of Sinno’s
lyrics, was contagious. They soon graduated from AUB events to concert
halls and festivals, capturing with them the voice of a Lebanese
generation that was tired of carrying the past generation’s war, and was
looking for a new identity.
Between its geography and history,
Lebanese identity in general is fraught. But for Mashrou Leila’s lead singer and lyricist
Hamed Sinno, a gay, US passport
holding Arab Sunni Muslim in Lebanon, identity turns a whole new
corner, becoming its own maze. In America, Sinno’s homosexuality is the first if not only,
talking point. He is often tokenized, and as a result, Mashrou Leila is
tasked with representing the whole Middle East, a reality Sinno pushes
against, “To take one band and say these five people speak for all the
disconnected political changes in the entire region, it’s almost
Today, the band is down to Sinno, Papazian, Abou Fakher,
Gerges and Badr, and they don’t shy away from identity politics. Rather
then accepting the identity imposed on them to act as a bridge between
the East and West
a binary they reject as orientalist, one that gives too much importance
to the West
— they’ve imagined a new identity, one that allows them to “bring Beirut
to London,” to overlay spaces on top of each other, to allow identity
to be textured.
Before all that though, before the headlines,
the think pieces and the Orlando shooting that saw Sinno reflect at
concerts, “this is what it looks like to be gay and Muslim,” Mashrou
Leila was just a group of designers and architects jamming in
spaces between and after classes.
Their first song, Raksit
(Leila’s Dance), has no geography, or identity, sonically it swings from
classical Mediterranean to Latin jazz, and the lyrics are mostly
is unintelligible except for its charm, its exasperation. Raksit Leila
is a sort of ode to distraction, an ode to a city and people distracted
and rattling inside a cage of binaries. The video is intimate, like
peeking into the life of precocious Arab kids writing the urban space to
My favorite moment comes in the middle, when
the electricity goes out. The messaging gets muddled, the song is
transitioning out of the Mediterranean and into southern Spain. The band
huddles together, lighting candles and laughing. Lebanon’s
infrastructure never recovered from the civil war, and even today,
electricity in Lebanon is available for only handful of hours everyday.
Most of the country spends its time in a darkness unknowable to us here.
That darkness, making itself known in the middle of a song about the
absurdity of identity, is the root from which the rest of the band’s