Mashrou’ Leila is a Lebanese four-member indie rock band that rose amidst controversy for their satirical lyrics.
The band has a rooted and growing fanbase in Lebanon, and also across the Middle East where their popularity is expanding despite the rejections that they keep facing.
Their popularity was almost instant at the onset of their musical journey. Fans would line up to attend their shows in Lebanon. When the band was banned from performing in 2019 at Byblos International Festivals, their fanbase grew even larger.
And it did more so when they teamed up with the Lebanese-born British singer/songwriter Mika to raise funds for the Lebanese Red Cross and Save The Children foundation in the aftermath of the Beirut Blast.
The band’s journey, though, hasn’t been easy. Surging from a conservative culture where freedom of expression remains controversial, they have been facing dire challenges, in Lebanon as in the region.
Founding member of Mashrou’ Leila, Haig Papazian, told The Guardian about the persistent pressure the band was under during its forming in Lebanon. They suffered criticism from the Lebanese society and the political system.
Haig shared about the infamous incident of their event in Cairo in 2017 that harmed the band’s reputation and caused the arrest of local fans from the LGBTQ+ community and supporters on social media.
Soon after, the band was set in Beirut to write their 5th album in 2018. That was when it all started to went down; war, economic devastation, currency devaluation, pandemic, and the Beirut Blast.
“We are stuck in an emotional rewind, unable to move forward, one crisis after another, with no time to grieve. I knew there was no future for me in this city,” Haig told The Guardian.
“My thoughts often wandered to Sarah Hegazi, the Egyptian activist who had suffered tragic consequences after waving the rainbow flag at our Cairo gig and was later exiled to Canada,” he added. “We want our queer stories to have a happy ending, but the reality is often much harsher.”
Haig says they’ve tried to seek shelter in foreign countries yet were met by new challenges and aspects of discrimination.
The band was banned from different countries, including Jordan which reportedly claimed it is “inciting a revolutionary feeling in people.”
Haig finally emphasized their goal to gain and project queer voices in hope of a future where freedom dominates.
Mashrou’ Leila has been an activist band in its own right, carrying the voices of the muted and the marginalized in the Middle Eastern cultures through the lyrics of their songs, and they have recently received support from a variety of groups all over the world.
What is deemed by some governments and institutions to be “revolutionary inciting” has been, however, well-received by the more open-minded generation and activists of human rights as “freedom of expression.”
The band, which is currently working on a documentary called “Beirut Dreams in Colour”, counts today over 600K followers on Facebook, 200K followers on Instagram, and over 60K on Twitter.