Mashrou Leila: Raasük
Alternative & Indie
Ahmed El Dahan
Lebanese band, Mashrou Leila, are back with their third studio release, Raasük. Since forming in 2008, the band released a self titled album in 2009 and El Hal Romancy in 2011. Over the years, the popular group has performed relentlessly both in their homeland and throughout the Middle East, building an impressive following and solid reputation for pushing cultural boundaries.
In classic rock tradition, Mashrou Leila continues their rebellious struggle against the powers in control of the Arab art industry. Striving to avoid a corporate hand in their own music, earlier this year, they resorted to crowd funding through the popular website Zoomal, aiming to raise a minimum of $66,000 to cover studio fees for their new album, music videos, promotion and several shows around the world. Having grown sick of the state of mainstream Arabic music, and with the release of Raasük, Mashrou Leila work to spread the slogan #OCCUPYARABPOP to hype up their ideology.
Literally translated, the album’s title means ‘they made you dance’; a phrase used throughout, both as a political metaphor and in the literal sense. Spanning 39 minutes, Raasük is the longest album release from a band that barely passed the 20 minute mark in El Hal Romancy.
Despite being recorded in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Montreal, Raasük retains an unexpectedly similar sound to their preceding albums. Stylistically speaking, while the structure of the songs largely remains the same, the new album features an increased use of keyboards, electronic sounds, multi-layers and previously non-existent horns.
Opening the first track, ‘Prologue’, Swiss–French trumpeter, Erik Trufazz, caresses listeners with a mellow, minute and a half solo. He appears again on the airy, dreamy closing track blowing an edgy sound to ‘Bahr’. Evoking scenes of wind and water, the words are a lament dedicated to a brother lost at sea, who is now “owned by the waves, where inside them he bewails.”
Predictably, the band doesn’t break away from their iconic lyrical subjects of love, sexuality, and remarks on a troubled society. Political struggle is another theme that is prevalent throughout the album; the title song itself is a vintage anthem drenched with Moog tones, symbolically infused with authoritative figures that choreograph the masses to do their bidding.
Openly gay singer, Hamed Sinno, never ceases to touch on the sensitive issue of homosexuality. Starting with some clowning country fiddle, ‘Skandar Maalouf’ gets raunchy with its bass and organ-driven groove, smothered with falsetto vocals telling of a lustful man’s wish to attract another, only to feel shunned by the public.
Played in Mashrou Leila’s familiar Balkan style, ‘Abdo’ is a melancholic tale about an everyman who falls celibate after facing rejection from a widow, all whilst becoming the talk of his neighbourhood. The music, particularly Haig Papazian’s reminiscent violin, descends to sound like the manic accompaniment to a dark circus. On similar grounds, metaphorically intense and desperate, ‘Ma Tetrikni Haik’ is a man’s plea not to be abandoned by his lover. Minimalistic, the song features nothing more but a sombre synthesizer lending its services to Sinno’s morose voice.
Although it’s clear Mashrou Leila have made a conscious effort to push their boundaries in Raasük, the band fails to truly break free from their comfort zones. Praise remains to the fact that, whatever twists they add to their music, Mashrou Leila’s spirit stands firm; filled with immense pain from staring at the face of harsh Arab reality.