Mashrou’ Leila, the alternative rock band currently in the news for its recent music video “Roman”, is set on creating an ideal world – one where “struggle and conflict can be used as a starting place for progress.”
Known for its controversial songs and lead singer, the band has quickly become popular since forming in 2008. Mashrou’ Leila can be translated into English as “One Night’s Project,” clearly demonstrating their utmost goal. Their debut album consisted of themes such as political uprising, war, lost love, feminism, immigration, and homosexuality, among many others. The new song “Roman”, shows multiple hijabi and non-hijabi middle-eastern women performing in a way that “may be lost to Western viewers,” and encourage a fight. The women are shown walking into the ocean, symbolic of the improvements the band wishes to be made upon Lebanese society. The song is named after the ruling empire of the land over 1,000 years ago and is controversial both with its theme and historical context.
Even though many of their songs receive harsh critical responses in the media, the band continues to press on. Last month, they were officially banned from performing in Jordan due to the openly queer lead singer Hamed Sinno. The ban took place after a petition and social media campaign, which the government was quoted saying “could not be ignored”. This isn’t the first time either. They were unofficially banned last year twice.
Jordan is a huge fan hub for the band since crowds seem to gather from countries such as Syria where political issues prevent the band from playing. Music is a job for these men, and being banned from huge potential gigs hurts. “At the end of the day, we’re musicians, we want to play shows . . . This is our job.”
Ever optimistic, the band uses the ban to grow its international audience, and continue to spread messages there. Specifically, the fight to end Islamaphobia.” Over the last 3 years. . . we have repeatedly leveraged our position in the public eye to be particularly vocal about defending the Arab and Islamic community,”
Sinno says, “We go down those roads when we feel it’s necessary.”
Death threats have been thrown, insults made, and protests started, however, the band is still a current hit. Their Facebook page has over 20,000 likes, and their last album was crowdfunded by fans. While perhaps dangerous, this popularity isn’t only affecting Mashrou’ Leila. Middle-Eastern Bands such as El Morabba3 have recently emerged, and also generate an audience by their political-pop twist on music. Arab politics and culture have never quite perfectly fit, as demonstrated by other musical influences such as Al-Namrood, a black metal Saudi Arabian band.
Whatever may be in store for the band, it is no question that they will continue to fight, and spread their message – one of peace, equality, and freedom.