This wonderful Lebanese band will be playing Pride Toronto 2016 as part of a landmark celebration of Middle Eastern culture, where traditional meets modern at Yalla Barra (Arabic for come out/get out). Mashrou’ Leila is an outfit of impeccable artistry, earning international praise for their unparalleled sound, unflinching sociopolitical convictions, and searing live performances.

theBUZZ chatted with the band in this exclusive interview.

Please explain to our readers the meaning of the name of the band?

Mashrou’ Leila could be translated directly into ‘Leila’s Project’, but in the Arabic language, the word Leila is a homophone (spelled differently but sounds exactly like) of the word Night. We came up with the name originally as ‘A night’s project’ in reference to the nocturnal and informal nature of the experiment. But, soon enough, we had requests to play to ears other than our own! And so we chose Leila, a name that references historical literary figures, but also a name that is very common today.

Tell us about the bands history, how long have you been together, how many members are in your band?

We started in 2008, so that makes it 8 years now! We are five Hamed, Haig, Carl, Ibrahim and me, Firas.

You were banned in Jordan, can we chat about that for bit?

About a month ago, we were scheduled to play in Amman in the Roman amphitheatre. That would’ve been our 6th show in Amman and our 3rd in that venue. A few days before the show, we received a letter from the ministry of tourism in Jordan that denied us license to play in the venue stating that our music ‘was at odds with the authenticity of the historic site.’ We quickly found out that the issue was deeper and more problematic than that. We had received unofficial statements claiming that we would never be allowed to play in Jordan ,and in the next few days, officials from government as well as religious authorities waged a smear campaign against us in the media. They claimed that our music, lyrics, and album visuals were “against the traditions and values of Jordanian society,” and that we were practitioners of Devil Worshipping and our concert would contaminate the Jordanian youth. They used to lyrics of one particular song to justify their position, taking the words out of the context of the song and disregarding the intention of the authors (us).

We posted a statement on our channels, claiming that this contradicts with all the basic beliefs of the band, and our strong belief in the freedom of cultural expression, and our faith in the Jordanian Government that has avidly pursuing to further establish an equality of genders etc. When this information was made public, the local, regional and international media exploded, there was a tremendous amount of support from our fans within Jordan and beyond, and suddenly, this ban became a symbol of the cultural control in the Arab world, and the dangers associated with such acts. And within a few days, the ban was revoked, but it was already too late to play the show. We are currently planning our next show in Amman.

Myself I am of Lebanese origins but have been in Canada for 29 years. I would love to ask you how is the music scene in the Arabic countries these days? Is it any different than three decades ago?
There is still, in the Arab world, a very strong monopoly on the general pop market by 2 or 3 massive production companies. These same companies own tv stations, radio stations, distribution, licensing, basically its a closed system. And they have been producing the same idea of pop music for a long time, 20 years maybe. The artists change, the production changes, as all trends, but at the core, the ideas, in music and lyrical content are the same. And we reject that. As do many acts from the Arab world. The independent scene is diverse and spread, and a lot of this is very worth investigating. Current personal favorites are Hello Psychaleppo. and Alsarah and the Nubatones!

What do we expect on stage at Pride Toronto?

The show in Toronto is part of our album launch tour, its a show that highlights the new material. We have been preparing a large visual spectacle as well.

Are you excited about this event?

Very, and not just because of the Pride of playing at one of the largest parades in the world, but also because Canada is a country that played a big part in the live of the band. We have recorded there, it was the first country across the atlantic to invite us for shows, and so there is a strong emotional connection with the place! And that usually produces a great dynamic on stage and makes for a great show!


Mashrou’ Leila perform as part of Pride Toronto’s Yalla Barra event taking place at the Wellesley Stage, starting at 5pm.

Filling out the bill is recent import DJ Louay, who arrived in Canada under the current refugee resettlement program, but only after making a name for himself with LGBT events in Syria and Lebanon. DJ Sylosurf, having mesmerized Pride crowds in years past with her beat-driven reworking of traditional sounds, is back at it again.

Also gracing the stage is The Narcicyst (Narcy), a hip hop, Iraqi-Canadian emcee, journalist, educator and activist from Montreal. As well, Arabesque Dance Company, Troupe Joy and the Earthshakers will present several dances in Egyptian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Iraqi and Whirling Dervish styles, directed by Yasmina Ramzy, along with performances by the Arabesque Drummers led by Suleiman Warwar.

Pride welcomes all newly arrived queer refugees with a special VIP section to enjoy the showcase. Yalla!

Facebook Event Page – www.facebook.com/events/1074223205954042

Mashrou’ Leila Facebook Page – www.facebook.com/mashrou3leila

About the Author

Antoine Elhashem is the owner of Inspired Media Inc (www.inspiredmediainc.com)

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