As part of our October 17 mini-conference on covering the Middle East, Mashrou' Leila, the immensely popular band from Lebanon, which plays to sold-out crowds throughout the Middle East, Europe and Canada, is making its United States debut with a panel discussion and concert at Columbia University!
From MTV (Shirine Saad, '05 & '10): Their “fierce determination, hopeful activism and enticing mix of dancey pop, loud rock and incisive lyrics have made Mashrou’ Leila a symbol of a sweeping grassroots movement dreaming of a brighter future in the Middle East. Such is the power of art: to confront obscure forces and offer gleams of hope and freedom.”
The band formed against the backdrop of a Lebanese music scene that was failing to explore or reflect the lived realities of young Lebanese or that of many young Arabs throughout the region. The band members sought to create something distinctly Arab in both the sound and substance of their lyrics but that was completely different both musically and lyrically from the standard Arab pop formula or classical Arabic music. They wanted music that resonated with them and the only way to get it was to make it themselves.
Their songs have a bite to them. They are angry, strident, defiant, yet poetic and sometimes playful. They express the frustration of living under the constant threat of war, of random bombings, of economic insecurity, sectarianism, and ineffectual corrupt governments. They rail against normative gender roles and embrace sexual identity pluralism.
And they are wildly popular. Recently they were the cover story of Rolling Stone’s Middle East edition. The timing is right. The youth of the Arab world continue to be in the throws of revolution and post-revolution unrest. Many find inspirational fuel and a sense of belonging through the exuberant melodies of Mashrou’ Leila.
The panel, to be moderated by journalist and adjunct professor Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, will explore the intersection of music and identity politics; the usefulness and perils of examining art, music or politics through an East vs. West lens; the question of whether it is possible or desirable to be both an artist/musician and apolitical, the benefits and perils of being an Indie band without a label, the role that social media has played in their success, and the band’s feelings about being accidental actors within the changing landscape of the Middle East