BEIRUT: Mashrou’ Leila’s campaigns for social change are not just about LGBTQ rights. Playing at Ehdeniyat, they teamed up with Greenpeace and Recycle Lebanon, to send the message home by bombarding the audience with their own rubbish.
I interview Mashrou’ Leila about green politics:
“When we checked out the venue we were so impressed by the greenness,” says front man Hamed Sinno. “We thought we’d juxtapose the beautiful cedars behind the stage with a tonne of garbage on the stage.” It is very effective; Recycle Lebanon know better than anyone that there is no shortage of plastic bottles if you know where to look. Headed by team-leader Joslin Kehdy, they have created four giant towers of bottles, which open throughout the performance until the band is playing in a disorienting sea of refuse.
The scale of the waste matches the scale of the music, which is colossal and pulsating, layering synths and melodicas with more traditional instruments like the violin. At one point Sinno has been mimicking a guitar through a small handheld Tannoy.
But the deluge doesn’t end there. At the end of the gig, my camera is almost knocked out of my hands by a gigantic ball of trash. Within minutes it becomes impossible to ignore the devastating presence of our own rubbish as audience members cower before this unexpected wrecking ball. The balls have been specially designed by architecture students of AUB.
Previously, Mashrou’ Leila has been in the spotlight for their support of LGBTQ rights. “Arabic nouns are either masculine or feminine,” Hamed says, in a brief pause between songs. “The next song is about being in between.”
He is talking about a song called Kalaam (‘word’ or ‘speech’, in Arabic), with the haunting refrain: jesdi, jesdak, or ‘my body, your body.’ Digitalised alabaster statues describing the male and female form gyrate slowly behind the band. They are perfect apart from a mosaic of tiny hairline cracks and grotesque masks obscuring their human faces. Sinno continues: “It is about the way language and gender play out to define nationalisms.”
It is hard to miss the significance of such a song in a country where, in 2017, the law is still unclear on LGBT rights. In Lebanon, police have the power to arrest transgender and homosexual individuals, but judges are increasingly unwilling to pursue such cases. Despite all this, Lebanon is a regional trail-blazer; Mashrou’ Leila has been banned from playing in Jordan two years running. “It was especially upsetting for Sinno because he is half Jordanian and wasn’t able to play in his own country,” I am told by band mate Firas.
“We never set out to be LGBTQ icons,” continues Sinno. It seems that, despite the issue’s importance for the band, Mashrou’ Leila is constantly in danger of being pigeonholed as the queer Middle Eastern group. They may have become inadvertent poster boys for the movement, but Mashrou’ Leila are representatives for much wider social and political causes, as they made clear after the concert. “It’s not like there aren’t global models for problems like sustainable living. It’s a question of priorities and right now, the government’s priorities are all wrong.”
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