Mashrou3 Leila - talk20 |3|

Another article featured in the Daily Star about Mashrou3 Leila, who played in both the second and third editions of talk20. Mashrou3 Leila is a band formed by a group of AUB students, most of them from the Architecture and Design department: Firas Abou Fakher, Ibrahim Badr, Andre Chedid, Carl Gerges, Omaya Malaeb, Haig Papazian, and Hamed Sinno.

Exercise in fun and self expression turns into record deal
Mashrou3 Leila finds receptive Beirut audience
By Karah Byrns Special to The Daily Star Wednesday, April 01, 2009

BEIRUT: "Mashrouaa" means "project." "Leila" means "night." It also inspires the orientalist imagination to wander back through the centuries, conjuring up beautiful women named Leila, creatures of mystery and seduction. Put the two together to get "Mashrou3 Leila," and it becomes a seven-member band - average age 22 - that is shaking up the Beirut music scene with a new fusion of Arabic and Western musical influences that can only be labeled "alternative."
At first, it seems the only thing that violinist Haig Papazian, guitarists Andre Chedid and Firas Abou Fakher, keyboardist Omaya Malaeb, drummer Carl Gerges, singer Hamed Sinno, and bassist Ibrahim Badr can agree on is being "100 percent Lebanese" - echoing one of the consumer-insurrection branding exercises brandished during the carnival-esque demonstrations of 2005's Beirut Spring.
The fruits of their collaboration - and the alacrity with which they finish one another's sentences - suggest the musicians have more in common than their nationalities. They have harnessed their different musical influences to the task of writing songs seeking to bridge East and West - which they feel speaks to the complicated, tragic, yet hypnotizing spirit of Beirut.
"We're writing our own music and referring to different genres, while at the same time being none of them," said Papazian and two or three of his band mates. He defines the objective of the band to "cross the line between underground and pop music to deliver good music to a wider audience without categorizing [ourselves], to reach as many people as possible."
The band members claim they never intended to get themselves recognized, or to be taken seriously, or to win a record deal last month at a battle-of-the-bands-style contest held at Basement last month, sponsored by a local FM radio station.
The band started jamming together as part of an experimental workshop at the American University of Beirut's Architecture and Design Department. The band members say they merely intended to have fun and express themselves, to tap into another creative outlet.
Mashrou3 Leila had its first big break being at the Fete de la Musique - the francophone musical celebration of the shortest night of the year - on June 21, 2008. "Many people started writing about us in their blogs," said Papazian, "and it was then that we started to take this more seriously."
With many fans waiting in eager anticipation of their first album - scheduled to be released before the end of the year - and with the band members on the verge of graduating from university, Mashrou3 Leila is as eager as everyone else to see where all of this will lead the band.
So far, the seven band members have composed 14 narrative songs, depicting various facets of daily life in Beirut. The band isn't striving to communicate themes of idealized love - like you sometimes encounter in conventional Arabic pop music - but a grittier urban reality that, as Papazian said, "provides lots of opportunities while at the same time holding you back in a lot of ways."
"There is no way we could write songs out[side] of Beirut," said Chedid, highlighting the bright thread that seems to string the band together.
"A lot of our creative energy comes from being in Beirut," Abou Fakher agreed.
Like many local alternative groups, Mashrou3 Leila composes its lyrics in Arabic. Like them, the band's mosaic of colorful cultural and musical inspirations draws a wide base of fans loyal to different genres. The choice of having the band's hybridized music speak Lebanese Arabic captures the spirit of Beirut and the people who call it home.
The band wants "to reach people in a more direct way," Papazian says, joking that maybe this is "an alternative approach to what Arabic music should be like in the 21st century."
As for what it's like to work together, diversity is not always an advantage. The band members agreed that although the greatest challenge lies in finding time to practice together across seven schedules, the next difficulty is their differences of opinion over the direction a song should take.
"We have productive arguments," said Abou Fakher with a smile, adding that they also occasionally bring in outside observers with "an objective ear, to help iron out the wrinkles."
A series of successful Beirut concerts have brought out ever-larger crowds of vocal fans, something that bodes well for the success of Mashrou3 Leila's debut CD, but no one in the band is holding his breath.
Assuming an upbeat tone that belies the uncertainty of the times ahead, band members joked that this is what it's like "living in exciting times."
"Let's graduate first," said the pragmatic Badr, "record an album first, and then let's see."

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