(Picture: Haig playing the violin at the Mashrou' Leila Raasuk concert in city Amman. Photo courtesy of Art Medium)
MVD: Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?
HP: I have personal projects. The band, Mashrou’ Leila, we cannot say we know where it is exactly going. We all are putting all our effort to make it go somewhere. Sometimes we have a huge show coming up that is followed by a couple of months of inactivity that leaves us a bit down as things aren’t moving as fast as we hope it would. My research and artwork feeds into the band as does the work of others. It happens in the form of exploring different sounds, instruments and techniques. Our music is becoming more and more complicated. The first time we played in Jordan we had very few pedals and guitars. During our last concert we had triggers for the drum, a lot of guitar pedals and we were able to hear ourselves perform through earphones.
We loved playing in Jordan as Art Medium did an amazing job with the setup. Everything was on time, the sound and the lighting. In another country we would have to wait five hours until they bring the drum set; and sometimes you end up with a broken or a bad drum. It is very tough to do music in the Middle East but we are trying to change things. Regarding music I am returning to school next year. My work is related to my Armenian background through representations of masculinity and heroism within the context of the Lebanese Armenian Diaspora in the 70s and 80s. I will delve into the lives of my people’s revolutionaries. It will deal with the issue of what happens to a hero when they have no cause to fight for. This is where my work intersects with Mashrou’ Leila because it talks about this transitional time. You don’t know what is happening right now and you are trying to see what the future will offer.
My work will also question the role of men in society at such times. In the end we all as a band affect each other. We take from each other. I don’t know if listeners realize this but every Mashrou’ Leila song has a context to it and relation to space. In our songs you have a lot of things happening from a very concrete traditional street view to an abstract idea where one can exist through imagination.
“…because of Hamed people think that the entire band is a gay band. They send us homophobic e-mails. It is part of the way society tries to simplify things. The lead singer has a particular sexual orientation so the whole band is probably like that. This isn’t necessarily true.”
MVD: We all know being a musician takes a lot of time, dedication and sacrifice. What would you tell anyone who wants to become a musician?
HP: You really have to work very hard. We are not all very great musicians but we’ve been working on ourselves for the last five years. To improve ourselves and our sound we do a lot of musical research. We see and hear what is happening around the world. We listen to a lot of music. We download a lot of software to play with to see what they can offer the band musically, and we try a lot of instruments. What doesn’t fit the band or the sound we are looking for we throw away! It is a trial and error process. Everything happens in a process. It will not just come in one day.
There is a certain evolution that happens from the first album to El Hal Romancy to Raasuk. It becomes different and a lot of people might not like what Raasuk is. These people are still stuck at the first album but we are moving forward and if people want to catch up with us they can either do that or stay with the first album. It really depends on their interest but we are not here to please anyone. We don’t expect people to be pleased by everything we are doing. If we do that we will repeat Fasateen over and over and people will be ‘oh my God they are so cool and we are happy.’ No, that is not how things work.
MVD: You’ve crossed a lot of red lines as Mashrou’ Leila. In fact you’ve obliterated these red lines by tackling issues like gender equality, sexuality, liberation, freedom, rebellion against the system and politics. Doesn’t that have a toll on your psyche as humans? In one of your videos one male band member donned a wedding gown! Angst feeds the creative fire but that comes with a price! What do you say about that?
HP: When it comes to music videos we work with different young directors, who have ambitions and ideas of their own that they want to show. They pitch in ideas and we decide if we want to move forward with a particular one. The wedding gown was part of the director’s vision. It really puts it out there. I mean Carl Gerges is a very macho and tough looking guy but at the same time if you put lipstick on his face it creates a ruptured picture of what a man is.
MVD: What about the negative comments that Mashrou’ Leila receives! As you said you cannot please everyone.
HP: In the Arab world people are not used to identifying with bands. They identify with figures; a single person. The hate or the love is towards one person. They have this star syndrome but when it is a group of people, and you don’t know who is who in the band, it becomes a little vague. For example, because of Hamed people think that the entire band is a gay band. They send us homophobic e-mails. It is part of the way society tries to simplify things. The lead singer has a particular sexual orientation so the whole band is probably like that. This isn’t necessarily true.
We are completely supportive of what Hamed says. We’ve been supportive to a lot of causes in the past couple few years. This one pops out usually in interviews but I guess that is the Arab world right now. Maybe you need heroes like that to show people that there is something else.