BEIRUT: “Mashrou’ Leila!”, “Mashrou’ Leila!”, “Mashrou’ Leila!” the large crowd of fans and supporters chanted angrily as the band’s controversial songs blasted throughout the speakers of a night that was supposed to take place in Byblos Festivals.
Instead, the crowd assembled in Aresco Palace Theater Friday night, the same night of Mashrou’ Leila’s canceled concert to send out a message of support, anger, and frustration.
The event was titled “Sawt al Musika Aala,” which translated to “The Sound of Music is Louder,” in Arabic which fits the event perfectly as Mashrou’ Leila music started blasting early on Friday, August 9.
The event was held for free and lasted for seven hours, with a lineup of over 35 musicians, comedians, and influential figures such as Gizzmo, El Rass, Khansa, Blaakyum, Lilyan Chlela, and many more who came together to combat art censorship and show solidarity with Mashrou’ Leila.
They were not alone in their movement that started with an Instagram page and a hashtag of one of the band’s most popular songs “Lil Watan”, that criticized the internal affairs of the government.
A number of pubs, restaurants, television channels and radio stations also played the band’s music, in addition to cars and people on certain streets blasting their favourite Mashrou’ Leila tunes.
One of the seven main organizers of the concert, Ayman Raad, told Annahar: “We saw that there was a need for us to do something on August 9th to defend the freedom in Lebanon.”
Raad also spoke about the difficulty of finding a venue to book the concert in and their venue selection. “Aresco Palace provided the venue free of charge. Our request was declined by several other places who did not want to be associated with the cause,” he said.
The artists that performed came from different artistic backgrounds such as dance, comedy, music and many more. Two of these artists were famous Lebanese actors Nada Abou Farhat and Badih Abou Chakra, who are known for their activism support.
The duo performed a shared spoken word piece meant to criticize Lebanon’s deteriorating freedom of speech state, and living conditions.
“We are every man and woman who feels that there is no room left for them in this country,” exclaimed Bou Farhat, as the crowd cheered.. “This concert resembles the country we dream of, a country that has room for everyone. A country that has room for Mashrou’ Leila.”
Abou Farhat also spoke exclusively to Annahar about her passion towards this case as she compared freedom of speech to “the oxygen I breathe, and the oxygen of citizens striving for a better life, a wider imagination, to express their opinion in all matters whether they be religious, political or social.”
As for Badih Abou Chakra, he expressed to Annahar that this concert is personal to him: “I am a part of this issue. I am a part of defending myself and my freedom and the freedom of others,”.
He explained the problem with boycotting artists as he continued, “you cannot ban something in art, you just give your opinion on it, you discuss it, you watch it and maybe you spit on it but you can’t stop it”
Another performing artist, Zyad Sahab echoed what Abou Chakra delivered.“What is happening is very dangerous. It is very dangerous for the church or mosque to become the entity that censors art,” he said, with a disappointed tone.
Criticizing politicians for their contradictory nature, Sahab continued: “It’s considered blasphemy to play music, but it’s not blasphemy when you’re living in trash.”
Mashrou’ Leila expressed their sadness and devastation that filled them as they could not be present during the night, but they surprised attendees with their never seen before music video which was played during the night.
People of all ages sympathized with Mashrou’ Leila whether they were familiar with the band or not, and many flags were raised including the Palestinian and LGBT flags which represent the issues the band deeply discusses in their lyrics.
Elie Baaklini, one of the attendees, told Annahar the reason he attended the concert; “I didn’t even know Mashrou’ Leila but the idea is that you can’t stop us from listening to the music we want to listen to.” he said, “ We are supposed to be a democratic country, we are not in a dictatorship. I am a Christian and their lyrics don't affect my Christianity.”
Baaklini was referring to the Christian groups that banded against Mashrou’ Leila last month, leading to threats of violence that resulted in the cancellation of their Byblos International Festival concert.
The ban came as a surprise to many as the album containing the songs was already released four years ago, with “Djin” and “Asnam” that sparked a heated backlash against the band, leading to their removal from all official social media platforms.
Chiri Choucair contributed to this article.
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