Mashrou’ Leila Getting Banned In Jordan Is The Ultimate Validation Of Their Art

Mashrou' Leila - Jordan

Lebanon’s most prominent indie band Mashrou’ Leila, who were embarking on a tour to promote their most recent and exquisite album Ebn El Leil, had a concert planned for April 29th at Amman, Jordan’s Roman Hippodrome.

Today, only a few days prior to the concert, they were informed that their concert was canceled for, as “official” reasons cite “[their] performance would have been at odds with what the Ministry of Tourism viewed as the “authenticity” of the site.” In other, more hidden words, the Jordanian authorities view Mashrou’ Leila’s progressive message, by Arab standards at least, as an agenda they don’t want to advance on their territories. Obviously, that scary message is one of sexual equality transcending genders and orientations. How frightening.

Mashrou’ Leila issued a lengthy statement on their Facebook page which you can check here (link), of which I quote the following:

We denounce the systemic prosecution of voices of political dissent.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of advocates of sexual and religious freedom.
We denounce the censorship of artists anywhere in the world.
We apologize for having thus far failed at creating a cultural environment that allows our children to speak their minds. We believe whole-heartedly that we have only ever acted with the intention of making our world a more equal, and just place, even if “only through song.” We pledge to our audience that we will continue to place the integrity of our art as our foremost priority, and to never succumb to the pressure to compromise our message, or to waive our freedom to speak. We promise to continue to write out of love, and with the desire to spread love. We will fight, as we have always done, for our right to freely play our music and speak our mind.

The ironic thing is that Mashrou’ Leila had been allowed to perform in Jordan, at that specific site, before. Their Jordanian concerts serve as a vehicle for their fans in that country to watch them perform and, more importantly, for many Palestinians to make their way into Jordan in order to attend those concerts.

Not only have Mashrou’ Leila been stopped from holding this particular concert, but they’ve been banned from performing in all of Jordan at all times.

Of course, for the feisty Lebanese who will proclaim Jordan as a backwards-thinking land because of this, please remember how Zouk Mikhayel had a problem with Mashrou’ Leila performing there only two years ago simply because their lead singer Hamed Sinno was openly gay. Leila getting banned in Jordan is not a reflection of Jordan, but about the collective Arab culture that favors oppression over acceptance.

I have to wonder though, how is this reflective of a country whose king and queen proclaim to be champions of modernity and progression in a regressing region?

 

It’s a shame that Jordanian and Palestinian concert goers won’t get to watch the awesome Mashrou’ Leila in concert. I’m terribly sorry that Arab governments are so scared of music imbued with messages that challenge what they know, in a way that they can’t really fight because, ultimately, progression is inevitable whether it takes a year, ten or a hundred.

In being banned from ever performing in Jordan, Mashrou’ Leila are not just winners. They are triumphant.

In being banned, they’ve reached the echelons of those entities in the Arab world that challenge the status quo so profoundly with what they do that they’re shaking governments, systems and belief foundations to their core.

In being banned, Mashrou’ Leila have proven that their music is not just an assortment of notes strung together to construct a catchy phrase, but rather a message for Arab youth to rise above what they know, what they’ve been brought up to believe and accept that diversity in the heart of their own culture is to be embraced not feared. Today, Mashrou’ Leila are victorious because their message of no fear is causing governments to be afraid.

Mashrou’ Leila’s music will not be silenced if their concert is stopped. In them being forced to be silent, they’re louder than ever, and their music will gain more audiences than they’ve dreamed possible. Today, they are victorious. Today, they should be proud of the walls they’ve broken and of the boundaries they will break with every note they sing.

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Mashrou’ Leila’s Ibn El Leil; Ab: Beit Byout; Film Ktir Kbeer: When Lebanese Art Is Great

Amidst the very dismal situation in the country, of which I’ve written and nagged your head about plenty, there are currently three emblems of Lebanese art shining bright of which I think we should all take notice. The three acts/events I’m about to highlight have not paid me to support them and probably don’t need my support anyway, but I’ve found their offering to be so impressive that I think it should be highlighted.

Ab: Beit Byout:

Ab Beit Byout

Ab: Beit Byout is the Lebanese take on August: Osage County, the award-winning turned-movie play, which you probably know because of both Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep who received Oscar nominations for their roles.

It’s the story of a very dysfunctional family meeting around their matriarch at the event of the disappearance and eventual death of their father. What ensues is sheer acting brilliance, a mouthful of dialogue that is as biting as it is seething with anger, regret, sadness and joy.

The adaptation to a Lebanese audience is great. It manages to carry enough of the punches of its American counterpart without feeling like a word for word copy or a subpar rip off. There are enough Lebanese aspects to it to make the play feel very relatable, very “I’ve seen such a thing take place in my hometown.”

Catch it at Babel Theatre in Hamra.

Film Ktir Kbeer (Very Big Shot):

Film Ktir Kbeer Poster

Nothing about this movie encouraged me to watch it. The title didn’t make sense. The poster felt like yet another Lebanese action-movie-wannabe. Confession time: I was extremely wrong.

Film Ktir Kbir is the kind of movies you’ve been wanting Lebanese filmmakers to make but as they were too busy making “Bebe” and movies about the civil war or about Christians hating Muslims and vice versa.

“Very Big Shot” is the story of 3 siblings who, after growing up in lower socio-economic standards, find themselves in deep trouble after getting involved with a drug lord, causing them to devise an ingenious way to save themselves.

There’s plenty of curse words, plenty of “every day” banter, and few cliches that are mostly spun as jokes. The acting is great. The script is extremely tightly written albeit the ending felt a bit rushed. It’s a movie that is equally fiction and equally a criticism of Lebanese society and politics.

Keep an open mind to it and give it a shot. I bet you won’t be disappointed.

Mashrou’ Leila’s “Ibn El Leil”:

Ibn El Leil

The opening song of Mashrou’ Leila’s newest album “Ibn El Leil” is an ethereal, mostly instrumental track called Aoede and it sets the tone for an album that is both more mature, more cohesive and more sonically impressive than anything they’ve offered before.

If you’re a fan of what they’ve done before – their song “Lil Watan” is excellent – then this album will be right up your alley. If you’ve been iffy about this Lebanese band, give this album a shot: there are some tracks there that are so nicely done they might change your mind.

After launching this album at London’s “Barbican,” The Guardian wrote about how this Lebanese band might be on the brink of finally exploding and filling stadiums instead of smaller venues. Perhaps that will happen one day, but what is sure for now is that “Ibn el Leil” is one hell of an album filled with songs that not only defy Arab and Lebanese stereotypes, but are eons above and beyond anything that is offered musically in the region.

In their latest offering, Mashrou’ Leila are breaking the confines of what Arab music was allowed to say. It’s a joy to listen to.

 

 

Listen to: 3 Minutes; Kalam; Tayf; Ashabi; Marrikh.