In a sentence:
Spanning 10 years, three albums and an EP, ‘The Beirut School’ is an excellent snapshot of what makes Lebanese indie-pop activists Mashrou’ Leila so compelling.
Lebanese outfit Mashrou’
Leila have been gaining traction with Western indie listeners in recent
years. Formed in 2008 in Beirut, the quintet currently consists of Hamed Sinno
(vocals), Firas Abou Fakher (guitar), Carl Gerges (drums), Ibrahim Badr (bass)
and Haig Papazian (violin). Thus far, the group have been described as “The
Arab world’s most influential independent band” by the Financial Times and “The
voice of their generation” by CNN – and there’s a very good reason for that.
Although their fans in the West will most likely not be able
to understand Sinno’s Arabic lyrics, what they represent is something anyone
can relate to. While a plethora of Western artists have given their takes on
political and social issues encompassed in this region of the world, Mashrou’
Leila focus their attention more on what is happening in the Middle East. Their
charged lyrics mainly discuss LGBT+ rights, freedom of self-expression and
religious conservatism amongst other topics like immigration, war and
Unfortunately, the band’s collective views have landed them and their fanbase in hot water with conservative authorities in the MENA region on two notable occasions. In June 2016, a concert they were going to perform in the Jordanian capital Amman was cancelled by the state’s Ministry of the Interior, whom the band later criticised in a lengthy Facebook post. Furthermore, in September 2017, while performing in Egypt, several of their audience members were arrested for waving rainbow flags, and one man was even sentenced to six years in prison. Either way, their music and what it represents is having an impact.
Over the course of their decade-long career, Mashrou’ Leila
have released three studio albums: their 2009 self-titled debut, Rassük
(2013) and Ibn El Leil (2015) as well as the 2011 EP El
Hal Romancy. Their latest release The
Beirut School, while labelled a studio album, is more of a celebratory
compilation album since all but one of the tracks come from their previously
released discography. The only original track is ‘Cavalry’, a groovy,
electro-pop affair that contains infectious synth patterns in the chorus. The
same electronic sensations can be felt on the opener ‘Ashabi’ whose sonic artistry
is propped up by Papazian’s violin and catchy sound effects. ‘Radio Romance’ is what Depeche
Mode would sound like if they came from the Middle East, with regards to the
punchier beats and gloomy texture of the song.
The first track off their debut album ‘Fasateen’ is testament to the band’s Middle Eastern, acoustic sensibilities where Sinno’s vocals vibrate subtly with passion. But Sinno is at his peak performance on ‘Shim El Yasmine’ (or ‘Smell The Jasmine’), a song about tolerance of homosexual relationships, and ‘Inni Mneeh’ where he pulls the listener in with his prolonged, sustained vocal passages. The shorter and more upbeat ‘Raksit Leila’ sees Papazian’s violin playing shining once again with irresistible melody.
Throughout the 50-minute runtime, there are lots of varying
sounds and textures to enjoy on The
Beirut School. Slowly but surely, Mashrou’ Leila are getting their
political messages out into the world. They do so charmingly, but their sense
of fun in no way makes undermines their fervent core beliefs. (7/10) (Harry Beynon)
Listen to The Beirut School by Mashrou’ Leila here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, Carl Gerges, compilation, Haig Papazian, Hamed Sinno, Harry Beynon, Mashrou' Leila, review, The Beirut School
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