Music is not confined by language it breaks through the barriers and connects on a more spiritual level. Mashrou’ Leila have inspired me to write a post on their music that I adore even though I do not understand a word that is being sung so beautifully by Hamed Sinno.
Forming back in 2008 at the American University of Beirut when violinist Haig Papazian and guitarist Andre Cedid put a open invite to any and all to come down and jam, to relive the stresses of University life. It was a success with many people answering the call and eventually steeling on the seven members that would become the first line up.
Their name translates into a few different meanings ‘One Night Project’ or ‘Leila’s Project’. When asked earlier in their career the band joked and said that it was because they were collecting money for a girl named Leila (it is a popular name in their native Lebanon). But on their Facebook page it clarifies that Mashrou’ Leila means ‘An Overnight Project’ because of the many late night jam sessions that they have. Either way it’s a cool name for a band.
Onto the most important aspect to any band or artist their material. With the band’s career spanning eight years so far they have used that time well releasing one every couple of years. Which seems to be the going rate these days. The releases are: Mashrou’ Leela (2009), El Hal Romancy (EP, 2011), Raasük (2013) and Ibn El Leil (2015). The later will be the focus of this piece though.
Ibn El Leil is the groups latest batch of songs it was my first introduction to them through (yet again) NPR’s Tiny Desk. It is always interesting in hearing a band live and stripped back before the studio recordings because it can in some cases give a completely different impression of the band, so that when you go and listen to the album recordings be surprised by how it sounds. In this instance the studio versions where more poppy, with hints of synths. But both the live and non-live renditions of Djin, Kalaam (S/He) and Maghawir (Commandos) are all sublime in each case. Especially the rendition of Maghawir (Commandos) was heart wrenching and poignant as the group performed a day after the horrific Orlando Shootings. The song is about a shooting at a gay bar in Lebanon and so it was very fitting. The emotion and power on display form Hamed Sinno, who is himself openly gay, resonates with you, piercing through all barriers and brings a tears to your eyes- Tiny Desk Set.
Once I ad finished listening to their blinding set I instantly went on to the web and found Ibn El Leil to give it a go. Man was I in for an experience. That talent I saw and heard from the NPR set transcribed to the album. With the full sound and musicianship behind them Djin explodes and along with 3 Minutes they are some of the best pop songs you will get your ears on. Far better than a lot of charty stuff that came out in the UK/American charts in 2015. It ends in the serene Marikh which is built around the more traditional Arabic elements (they are layered through the collection of songs)
This band go beyond language for me and many other non-Arabic speaking people with their stunning music. To do that it takes talent but also a love for not only music but people. The willingness that Mashrou’ Leila show in the messages of the songs they craft are truly meaningful as well as challenging. For that I appreciate and admire these gentlemen even more.