Mashrou' Leila has been called "the voice of its generation" in the Arab world.
One of the Middle East's most outspoken rock bands is spending a whirlwind three days on campus, culminating in a Saturday performance at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.
Mashrou' Leila, whose name roughly translates to "overnight project," began as a loose collective of students who began jamming together in 2008 at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Current performers are vocalist/lyricist Hamed Sinno, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Firas Abou Fakher, violinist Haig Papazian, and drummer Carl Gerges.
CNN describes Mashrou' Leila as "the voice of their generation," and the Financial Times calls the group "the Arab world's most influential independent band."
Tarek El-Ariss, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies and chair of the Middle Eastern Studies Program, who holds an undergraduate degree from Beirut's American University, says he first heard the group in Lebanon. He's an avid fan of their music and their social activism.
"They captured the public's attention with their lyrics, with their style, and with their vitality," says El-Ariss. "Beirut had recovered from the civil war and there was great art and music coming out, filling a gap after many, many years of siege and displacement."
El-Ariss says the band spurs hope and resists social oppression in a region still roiled by political and social unrest. "Mashrou' Leila talks about being gay, about women's rights, about free speech, about race and xenophobia—you know, the things that people live with on an everyday basis."
For example, in Tayf (Ghost), a defiant tribute to a Beirut gay bar that was shut down by Lebanese authorities in 2013, vocalist Sinno sings: "My life spent with rights mortgaged off to your sentiments / My history erased from our books like they were yours to claim."
Mashrou' Leila's visit is well-timed, says El-Ariss, as the College's newly created Middle Eastern Studies Program expands its faculty, courses, and opportunities for off-campus study.
"We are trying to teach Dartmouth students about a Middle East that is comfortable with itself. A Middle East that is not stuck in tradition, yet not completely globalized, either. It is a Middle East that creates the possibility of reaching the other and communicating with the other, without erasing the other's difference."
Some of El-Ariss' students have been talking and writing about Mashrou' Leila's importance to Middle Eastern culture and politics.
"It's a force for change in a region that often attempts to eliminate the presence of nonheteronormative sexualities and genders," says Dina Rabadi '20. "As this group is making waves in the Middle East, it is also resonating with students and activists across the globe."
For Clay Foye '22, Mashrou' Leila is "the model band, which centers its own personal messages and stories in universal and revolutionary music."
Lamees Kareem '22, says, "Whenever any of my non-Arab friends at Dartmouth ask me about contemporary Middle Eastern music, Mashrou' Leila is my first suggestion."
All four events leading to Saturday's concert are free and open to the public, and concert tickets are still available.
Charlotte Albright can be reached at [email protected].