The Arab success of the band was with its second album, “The Romantic Solution” (Karim Sahib/AFP)
Hamed Sinno’s announcement of the end of Mashrou’ Leila group was not surprising, it was only an official announcement of a well-known news for more than two years. The Lebanese band, which began its career with controversy and uproar, finally closed the door on its music, in complete silence, without any fuss or noise: we will not work together anymore. So only Hamed Sinno said.
This expected end has several direct reasons, most notably the closures that followed the outbreak of the Corona virus, the impact of the epidemic on the music industry and its productions, and the decline in the incomes of its workers… But for the story of Mashrou’ Leila from its inception until today, a path that has not been spared from artistic, social, religious and political mines, was the end of The path is clear, albeit repeatedly delayed.
Musically, Hamed Sinno and his companions knew how to create from Mashrou’ Leila, a special case that was not known to the Lebanese music scene, not even to the Arab world. Since the first album, Mashrou’ Leila (2009), the identity of the band has been clear, its musical choices are clear, and Sinno’s sexual choices are also clear. The young musician, who has repeatedly declared his homosexuality, sang in the first album “Sham Al Yasmine” about a same-sex relationship between two men. The sexual choice itself was not surprising as much as it was publicized, at a time when Lebanon knew a wide margin of artistic and personal freedoms, a few years after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the exit of the Syrian army from Lebanon. The album was the son of those years full of emotions, indifference and big dreams in Beirut, so the work came completely Lebanese in terms of dialect and treated themes.
But the Arab success of the band was with its second album, “The Romantic Solution” in 2011. Arab streets were ready to receive the musical style presented by Mashrou’ Leila, with the rise of young bands in various Arab countries: in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Palestine. It was the beginning of the Arab Spring, and the beginnings of Mashrou’ Leila’s stardom consolidation, as a well-defined and direct musical, social and gender experience. Snow’s unconventional sound with market concepts, melodic and rhythmic arrangements, color and visual games, the band found their place. In the crowd of what was known (randomly) as underground music, Hamed Sinno and his companions set out their path. They toured the world, and topped the covers of newspapers and magazines. Their third and most successful album, perhaps “Raqsouk”, came in 2013, making “Mashrou’ Leila” an exceptional experience, which some extremists from the band’s audience went as far as describing it as iconic.
But while the Lebanese band was chanting “in us we wait for the dawn to finish counting the stars, and we repeat and repeat and repeat, in us we carry the rock over the mountain and throw it, and we repeat and repeat and repeat” violence was rising in the Arab world, and apostasy against revolutions flooded the streets from Cairo to Aleppo with blood.
Although the end milestones were delayed years after that album, and although the band released its last album, “Ibn El Leil” (2015), the band’s path has since begun to face crises greater than its successes and greater than its members’ ability to absorb them. In parallel, Sinno’s stardom, and his transformation into a symbol for an entire segment of the audience, overshadowed the band’s success as a group offering artistic content. His statements and his beloved theatrical performance at various parties began to overshadow everything else.
But the real tragedy that marked Mashrou’ Leila’s march will remain the suicide of the Egyptian LGBT activist Sarah Hegazy. The details of the story are well known, and its tragic ending is well known: a young lesbian attends a Mashrou’ Leila concert in Cairo in 2017 and raises the rainbow flag, in a moment of ecstasy and frankness. Thus the story began. In 2020, this young woman committed suicide in her Canadian exile, after she was arrested for 3 months after the party, and was tortured and harassed. This is the end of the story. And between the beginning and the end, the name of the band stuck to the young woman and her fate.
After that, the siege of Mashrou’ Leila continued, and their concerts in Jordan and the Gulf were banned, reaching Lebanon, which began in 2019 with a rapid deterioration towards the bottom of artistic, cultural and media freedoms. That summer, activists on social media were summoned wholesale, and on another front, a group of Christian political and religious parties were inciting against Mashrou’ Leila and against holding her concert within the Byblos festivals, because of “insulting the Christian religion.” And because the angry religious crowds always have the loudest voice in Lebanon, the concert was canceled “to prevent bloodshed”.
However, it is difficult to separate Mashrou’ Leila’s track from a musical scene as well. The Arab music scene has witnessed many changes since 2011: stars appeared, especially while youth groups, and stars disappeared. The different styles of music experienced changes in form, rhythm, and speech, from pop to rock, then rap, dirt, and festivals… Even the form of music changed: production, star-making, and sponsorship of parties. Over the years, bands (made up of mostly young men and men) came out of the underground, courtyards and small theatres, towards the big theatres, the main Arab festivals, and the advertisements of telecom companies, banks and exhibitions. Mainstream is no longer restricted to Amr Diab, Tamer Hosni and Ragheb Alama… This reality that most of the major teams in the Arab world entered, specifically in Egypt and Jordan, did not suit Leila’s project, or did Leila’s project not fit this reality, so her concerts in the Arab world began to decline, Its activity was limited to Europe and the United States, and its production began to decline.
The above may have made it easier to reach the end, then the epidemic came and announced the end, and the decision may be a personal decision for the members of the “Laila Project” only, but far from all possibilities, the uniqueness of this experience will remain with its music, its members and its reverberation, one of the most essential stations when telling the path of Arabic music in the new millennium.
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