Beirut indie band Mashrou’ Leila become the first regional artists to appear on the cover ofRolling Stone in our next issue. In the six years since they formed, Mashrou’ Leila have established themselves at the forefront of the alternative Arabic music scene. In our cover story, frontman Hamed Sinno and guitarist Firas Abou Fakher discuss their band’s origins, and address the struggles of being independent artists in the Middle East (“There isn’t really a ladder when you’re working independently here,” Sinno says. “Or, at least, there are a lot of missing brackets”), while suggesting that things are starting to change, as more and more young artists fight for freedom of expression.
“There’s a wide movement around the Arab world,” says Abou Fakher. “It’s not like we’re isolated; there are filmmakers, artists, photographers, musicians… we come from a society that has been moving in this direction recently.”
Sinno reveals that Mashrou’ Leila’s sound was founded more on what they didn’t want to do than anything else. All of them were sick of the music they heard on the radio. “We never heard anything in Arabic we could actually relate to,” the singer says.
“We wanted to make music that we would like to hear coming out of our city at this point in time,” Abou Fakher explains. “I think it was that simple.”
Sinno also talks about the pressures of being an openly gay man in the public eye in the Middle East. “I’ve always been very aware of the importance of coming out – and staying out – in public. I think that kind of thing makes it a lot easier for younger men who are just starting to discover these things to imagine themselves having a happy life, and not necessarily killing themselves. That’s important.
“But, at the same time,” he continues, “I don’t want anyone to feel that I ‘represent’ anyone. I’ve always been very clear about not speaking for anyone’s opinions but my own.”
Pick up the new issue of Rolling Stone Middle East on stands in the U.A.E. from April 6th. And look out for our digital version later in the month.