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Interview: Mashrou’ Leila



Before we start to talking about your music, I have to ask the atmosphere in Lebanon? I’ve been reading articles about a possible civil war… How serious are those?

We’ve become immune to these kind events here in Lebanon. The country has just started booming again culturally and economically within the past couple of years after the Hariri assassination and the Israeli assault in summer 2006, and its aftermath, Now there is some sort of indifference to the current situation, collectively speaking – but still, fear is inevitable. Every once in a while there is a possibility of something happening, a threat, gunmen shooting each other, a civil war, explosions – There is a lot of tension at the moment, but I think it will stay at this level. Things happen when you least expect it, and everyone’s eyes are on the news at the moment expecting something disastrous – I don’t think it’s time for it yet.

Politicians from seven countries–including Turkey- came together for some “peacemaking”. How was it reflected in Lebanon?

Peacemaking is a joke – at least with regards to the situation in the Middle East – it’s more of a game play where the influential countries in the region showcase their power status to the rest of the world. There are no good intentions as long as outside powers try to interfere with the country’s politics – no need to name the different parties – it’s already on the news 24/7 – the middle east section.

Although I don’t think it’s related to what’s happening in Lebanon today, what do you think about the civil rebellion in Tunisia?

Tunisia is a different story. It’s very interesting what’s happening there – this might as well be the only revolution in the Arab world during the recent years. Online social networks are playing a major role for people to communicate and organize this revolt – for the first time it’s the people of a country standing together – not a foreign superpower forcing it to happen. I hope something good comes out of this, without it being bashed under slogans of terrorism, religion, etc. This would open doors to the coming generations – not just in Tunisia, but the whole MENA region.

How do you picture the Middle East? Can you see a total peace any time in the future?

That’s a tough question. Violence is inevitable. There is a lot of hate, a lot of anger – I don’t think it will just go away – even if you have people signing papers, treaties, for things to get better. There’s blood everywhere – and people don’t forget. We move on with our lives, always separating between us and them, the good and the enemy; as long as there is this kind of a separation, there will be no peace.

How about Lebanon? Do you think Lebanon will be able to stay away from this?

Lebanon is a small country – with too many leaders, too many sects, too many political parties – and too many people following the news. Decisions are made for us, not by us. As long as there’s conflict in the neighboring countries, it will overflow and reach ours somehow. I don’t want to sound pessimistic. At the same time the youth in this country are doing amazing things culturally – and I hope this might flip the coin, and change things.

Let’s talk about your music now… I know you guys started as a college project in 2008. For those who don’t know the band tclosely, could you tell the interesting history and also the naming story of the band?

It all started out as a music workshop in 2008 between Architecture and Graphic design students at the American university of Beirut. It was a way of venting, from our studies and the political situation in the country back then. We would meet up, people from diverse cultural and musical backgrounds, and just jam. Think of music as a design project, where we would try to come up with new creative ideas, rhythms following melodies playing with words that speak our mind and our language. The workshop was never intended to turn into a band initially– until our first performance – in front of a rather small crowd on campus. With a standing ovation, and a buzz created through word of mouth and online social networks, we decided that the overnight project should go on. From concerts on campus to concerts all around Beirut, and later on many different towns and cities in Lebanon that don’t have access to any other music than the pop Arabic music on Tv and Radio we moved to having concerts in Jordan and Egypt. In 2009, we won the jury and public voting of the Lebanese modern music contest and released our first album. The name, Mashrou’ Leila, in Arabic means an overnight project – but Leila is also referenced as the woman who is always present in Arabic literature, poetry, children’s books – more or less being a representation of the Arab youth and their stories.

Your beautiful lyrics have caused quite contorversies. If I ask you what is it you are talking about, could you explain us with a couple of examples, please…

Our songs talk about our experiences in Beirut – and we’re honest in depicting our realities. We talk about the city, sex, love, security, war, sexuality, religion, sectarianism, politics, migration and other small things that make up how we live Beirut. A lot of the following that we’ve had after our numerous concerts were because people identified with the situations we describe, the images our lyrics create – and for the first time, they feel that there’s something within their culture that represents them, and their thoughts – and that’s amazing for us to hear, with all the feedback we get. But at the same time, many conservative people are bothered by the honesty of our words – and would like to keep these issues not discussed – they want the silent treatment, just like the media does here – not talk about anything. We swear in some songs, we sing about intimate sexual details, we talk about unconventional love – people need to come to terms with the real world – it’s not perfect.

Do you ever feel under some serious pressure because of your lyrics?

During many concerts in Lebanon, more conservative cities outside Beirut, we were asked to censor our songs. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t – depending on how we feel about the situation – and how we feel the crowd would react. In Jordan and Cairo, we had to censor as well. I feel people in Beirut are more tolerant, but once you go outside to the rest of the Arab world, it becomes tricky – you need to be careful what you say, how you say it, who to address, etc. I hope this will change with time.

Considering all these controversial lyrics and the music genre itself, is there any similar music to yours in Lebanon?

When we first started the workshop, we wanted to play a music that was different than all the pop Arabic music we had on radios and TV – songs that talk about perfect love, perfect world, with plastic women and pseudo macho arab men. At the same time, our different musical backgrounds, and our choice of language and lyrics made our music sound original. Most bands in Lebanon back then either covered western bands, or composed original music but in english or French. It all sounded similar. There were few bands that made an effort to sing in Arabic amongst their English/French songs, but they were very short lived experiences. One of these bands was Soapkills in the late 90s/ early 2000s. They paved the road for us to take these bold decisions, and were big influences when we were young.

How are you welcomed in Beirut? I mean, the young generation and the whole music scene. Have you been getting enough support from them?

We’ve had great support from the young generation here in Lebanon. They shared our music with everyone they know, online, through word of mouth – many have come in large numbers to each and every concert we’ve had, to support us, and to support the causes we play for. Our album release concert in December 2009, where we performed in Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian neighborhood in Beirut, at a huge steel warehouse, around 1800 people came and our first batch of albums were sold out that night. It was the biggest alternative music concert in Beirut, and for such a small country, It’s a great number compared to the 100 /200 people crowd that alternative bands get. We feel very lucky that many people from the alternative music / cultural scene support us, as well as a lot of people who listen to the plastic fantastic Arabic pop music and wouldn’t generally listen to any alternative music – alternative meaning different.

Globally speaking, you could have sung in English in order to reach bigger mass. Why Arabic?

We sing the way we speak. Arabic is our language. The stories we tell in our songs cannot be told in another language. There are expressions we have in Arabic, and specifically the Lebanese dialect, that cannot be translated to English. It was a choice for us – we never had any break up song in Arabic we could listen to when we were young, songs that were real, that would speak of our culture, our experiences. We ended up listening to western rock / jazz/ electro instead. We wanted to make a difference – we wanted to tell these stories – Arabic was the only way for people to identify.

I have to ask this: Who would you suggest from the Beirut music scene? Who are your recent favourites?

There are a lot of great bands in the Beirut music scene. Soapkills was a trip hop duo with a lot of bold lyrics in English/French and Arabic, but they broke up couple of years ago and the members are working on different musical projects now. Another great duo is Lumi – electro rock band with English lyrics – their music has a lot of originality for its genre. There’s a collective of musicians who do improvisations [Mazen Kerbaj, Sharif Sehanoui, Raed Yassin] who make sounds, noise and rhythm using different instruments. And there are many bands/musicians worth mentioning now, from Zeid and the wings, Tania Saleh, Scrambled Eggs, Fareeq el Atrash, and a lot of young up and coming bands with great potential – people expect a lot for them in the Beirut music scene for the next couple of years.

You have recently released your debut album and played at Byblos Festival. What is the next step now, what are you up to?

We were the first local band to headline the Byblos Festival. It was great to play on the same stage where Gorillaz played few days later. 3500 people showed up at the concert among them The prime minister back then. It was the concert that a lot of young people were waiting for, to express themselves, their beliefs, their choices. It was greater than just the music, or just the concert. It was like a youth movement.

At this point, we’re more interested in moving forward with our music, trying new sounds, new textures. Since we’ve taken over the production of our new songs that we’re recording, we’re stepping up musically with all the knowledge we’ve had throughout the past two years. We’re not full time musicians – we all have our professions are architects/ graphic designer and an engineer – since we can’t support ourselves yet with music in Lebanon. We try our best to juggle between architecture and music, back and forth. Both offer a process of learning and evolving – we change – our music changes. We’re not the same kids we were 2 years ago when we first started – and that showed in Byblos.

Parallel to the previous question; what are your greater future plans at this point?

After Byblos, and the great feedback we had, we feel obliged to keep it up – we’re currently recording new songs, working on a new music video, and getting ready to tour in the MENA region this spring, and hopefully Europe by summer – and then the new releases. We just had our album on iTunes, and we’ll be having physical distribution in the MENA region and Europe soon.

One of our authors, Özge, would like to ask your permission to copy your iPod archives! She thinks that you guys must have quite a big collection.

It’s true. We’re 7 different people with 7 different musical tastes – that’s why our jam sessions are full of arguments sometimes – but that’s what makes it super fun. The not knowing of what the music would sound like. That’s the way of the future :). The music on our ipods vary from Arabic Tarab, Asmahan, Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim, to Muse, Tool, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Bjork, to Balcan music, Armeinan music, to classical music, to jazz, to blues, tarab, electro – almost everything if you have all our ipods combined – won’t name everything.

Let me ask you a funny question about one of your videos! What’s the meaning of the eggplants in ‘Raksit Leila’? :)

Raksit Leila is a very particular song, because it talks about Beirut in an unconventional way. It’s more of an absurd surreal interpretation of the city, whereby the song as a whole doesn’t mean anything, but every phrase describes a particular aspect of life in Beirut, from pop culture to politics, to proverbs, etc – so the aubergine references the aspect that people sing about anything these days, even about aubergine – so it’s become like an eggplant culture – where there’s a secret recipe for everything.

You must have lots of fans from Turkey. Getting any feedbacks on that?

We have around 120 people from Turkey on our facebook page – if you look at the statistic page – some have been to Lebanon, and I suppose they’ve spread the music to their friends. It’s good to know that our music is spreading all over the MENA region, and parts of Europe and the states – and it would be great to have opportunities to go and perform in all these places. We get all this insanely crazy feedback on facebook and youtube from many cities around the world asking us to come and play. It’ll be great to do so. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to perform in Turkey as well – we share a lot of things in our cultures, music, food, stories – and most recently the Turkish dramas though dubbed with Syrian dialect has taken over the hearts of Lebanese mothers. So would be great to have a concert there soon.

Interview with: Haig Papazian/ Violin

Mashrou’ Leila: Blog page, Myspace, Wikipedia, Facebook page



2 Yorum var! : “Interview: Mashrou’ Leila”
  1. Carol Watfa diyor ki:


    I represent Mashrou’ Leila worldwide as an agent and would love for them to tour Turkey. Would you kindly recommend promoters and festival directors who may be interested in having them over?



  2. Emre Yürüktümen Emre Yürüktümen diyor ki:

    Hi Carol,

    I have got your e-mail address, so let us stay in touch via mail, please. I will let you know if I can arrange something. Thank you so much for your intention.

    Best from us,
    Emre (

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