Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila echoes Beirut nightlife

The Montreal-connected band tells us about the new sound on their next record.


Lebanese rockers and Montreal favourites Mashrou’ Leila are no strangers to our city – they last played here at POP Montreal in 2013 – but this latest visit will come as part of their first tour in the United States.

When I recently caught up with guitarist Firas Abu-Fakher by Skype, he was actually an hour away from his flight from Lebanon to our side of the world.

“Ever since the beginning we’ve had a strong following in the U.S. It’s been gaining ground steadily,” he said. “We have a lot of friends in cities around the U.S, so it’s finally nice to go and do a proper tour that’s not one or two cities.”

The tour already seems charmed: the fiercely independent and political band had no trouble getting the proper paperwork filed. “They were very nice,” Abu-Fakher adds. “They recognized our ambitions, what we’ve been able to achieve so far.”


Although he couldn’t divulge any info at the time, it’s now official that their follow-up to 2013’s Raasük — titled IBN EL LEIL — will drop Nov. 28. Abu-Fakher thinks fans will be very surprised with the band’s new sound, which you can hear in their new disco-and-strings single “Maghawir.” Unlike Raasük,  the new album wasn’t made entirely at Hotel2Tango with Jerusalem in My Heart’s Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, but one song that made the cut was recorded here.

“It’s very different from what we’ve done before,” explains Abu-Fakher. “We’ve abolished the notion of individual roles, so no one person is the guitarist or drummer or singer. Everyone is striving to create music that’s bigger than the sum of its members or instruments. We worked with brass sections in Macedonia, with symphonies in Lebanon and France. We recorded for three weeks in a studio in the north of Paris that’s absolutely beautiful.

“It’s a long one, about 55 minutes. It talks about a subject that’s very dear to us, which is the nightlife of Beirut. We want to immerse people who haven’t been to Beirut. For people who have, we want to show them our Beirut.”

The upcoming album, which Montrealers will get a small preview of at the show this Saturday, could be a big mainstream breakthrough for them in both the Arab and Western worlds.

“The reception in the Arab world was great and it’s getting bigger,” Abu-Fakher says. “TV and radio stations that don’t usually pay attention to indie or alternative bands like us, have recently started to take notice of what we’re doing.” In a live sense, he notes that while their European shows were at first mainly attended by Lebanese expats, they’ve gradually been replaced by a more international mix. They even receive correspondence from music fans who may not understand the Arabic lyrics, but still feel an attachment to the music.

“We’ve been focusing on making music that’s good to us, and I think that resonates with people,” says Abu-Fakher. “I don’t believe in a product that can satisfy the market, I’ll leave that to TVs and phones. For music, it’s a different thing that makes it good. It has to be true. People can smell fake very quickly.” 

Mashrou’ Leila play with openers Wake Island at le National (1220 St-Catherine E) this Saturday, Oct. 24, 9 p.m., $32.50