Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila energises the audience
Menna Taher, Sunday 8 May 2011
With an inclusive and infectious stage presence, the Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou' Laila gave their Cairene audience an unforgettable performance on Saturday night

The Lebanese band performed on 7 April at El Genaina theatre in Azhar Park as part of Al Mawred Al Thakafy's summer program.

What is most distinguishable about the band is its spirit: natural, unabashed and vigorous, helping the audience to interact with the music and its flow.

The invisiblecurtain that usually separates a performerfrom their audience was negligible throughout the performance, with individual audience members joining the stage to dance, until it dissolved completely at the end. The stage was filled with people dancing and jumping around and having their picture taken with the band members as they played their instruments.

The performance interchanged between the heavy and experimental music and the soft and mellow such as their song Shim El Jasmine (Smell the Jasmine). Their style, while being difficult to pinpoint, included a lot of experimentation with different sounds. This included intentionally playing around with the sound distortion produced by the close proximity of the radio and the mike or by bouncing the bow of the violin. Hamed Sinno (vocals) also used a megaphone in one of the songs.

Later that night the band posted the following on their Facebook page: “Tonight what happened in El Genaina was out of this world - people in Cairo are one of the most amazing people we've met, full of energy and optimism.”

The six-member band is mostly comprised of architecture students, with one graphic designer. The band was established in 2008 when an open call was announced by the three founding members Haig Papazian (violin), Andre Chedid (guitar) and Omaya Malaeb (keyboards). The idea was to start a band to release stress, especially with the ensuing political instability in Lebanon.

“Our first songs all discussed issues relating to the political situation in Lebanon,” Firas Abu-Fakhr (guitar and percussion) told Ahram Online.

Aebwa (bomb), inspired by Fayrouz’s Tick Tick Tick ya Om Solayman, talked about the constant bombings, while Hagez (Barrier)referred to the large number of checkpoints found everywhere in Beirut.

Other topics that the band discusses in their music are sectarianism and civil marriage.

“We have a lot of friends, who come from different religions or sects, that had to travel to Cyprus to get married,” said Papazian. “When they came back their parents refused to talk to them.”

The pressure that is put on getting married is also tapped upon in their song Fasateen (Dresses), while Shim El Jasmine was presented as an ode to same-sex relationships.

The band's belief in the topics they cover has also compelled them to hold many fundraisers in Lebanon for causes such as HIV awareness.

“We don’t have the culture of live music in Lebanon,” said Abu-Fakhr, “it’s in live performances that you know what the bands are about.”

As for the underground music scene in Lebanon, Abu-Fakhr thinks that it is not in touch with what’s happening in Lebanon and its culture, especially since the lyrics are mainly sung in English.

“We also don’t have many venues to perform in Lebanon, it’s mostly (in) bars and festivals,” he continued.

“There was a record label [called] In Cognito, specifically for underground bands,” said Abu-Fakhr, “yet they closed down because of lack of financial resources.”

One of the most important festivals in which the band participated is the Byblos InternationalFestival in Beirut that also hosted Gorrillaz. Their song Ghadan Yamn Afdal (Tomorrow is a better day), a remake of Gorrilaz’s Clint Eastwood, was conceived by the band specifically for the festival.

This song reflects the hope in the future and, as the band admitted, they also sing it in solidarity with Egypt and Tunisia.

“We can relate to Egypt,” they said recounting the events of their first day during their visit.

One very interesting feature about the band, other than the great energy they inject into their performances, is the importance they put in the aesthetic value of the set, as seen in their performance in the Byblos InternationalFestival where they decorated the stage with television sets.

It is also evident in their music videos, made by fellow young graphic designers. They are well-shot, quirky and colourful, perfectly capturing the band’s spirit.

This spirit, which highlighted El Genaina’s concert, was received so well by the Egyptian audience that a Facebook page has been set up to call for the band to perform in Alexandria.