Showing posts with label Arabs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arabs. Show all posts

October 17, 2013

THe Band Bringing Pop to the Arab Music Loving World

The band's frontman Hamed Sinno spoke to the BBC about their work

Music has long been a vehicle for protest and dissent, but the Middle East's popular music scene has been accused of being staid and formulaic.

Hamed Sinno in concert
I sleep and conjure you in my dreams... why do I come back to you, when you just choke me?
Why do I plead for you, why do I surrender to you, when you burn me?
Tell me I make you happy the way he does…
 (By Jastinder Khera)
(posted) at:

Now a Lebanese band with an eclectic sound, an openly gay frontman and politically charged lyrics is trying to tear up the conventions of Arabic pop culture.
"This next song is about really good sex," lead singer and lyricist Hamed Sinno announces part way through the debut London gig for Lebanese indie outfit Mashrou' Leila.
It is hard to imagine many other contemporary Arab musicians introducing a track with quite this frankness.
But it gets an enthusiastic reception from the febrile crowd as Sinno launches into Ala Babu (At His Door) - a song about desire, but also about longing and loss, explicitly addressed to another man, as many of the band's love songs are.

It is just this willingness to broach topics that few other Arab pop musicians have explored - homosexuality, emigration, politics, Beirut checkpoints and everything in between - that has brought Mashrou' Leila a loyal following in Lebanon and beyond.
And it is that following that has made it possible for them to distribute their latest album Raasuk, due out in November.
The band are not signed to a record label as they feel a label would want to "mould us into something that's easier to market in the Middle East than we are", Sinno explains.
So instead the band turned to "crowd funding", appealing for support from the fans using the Twitter hashtag #occupyarabpop in order to achieve "the biggest independent music release the Arab world has seen". They raised $66,000 (£43,400) in a matter of weeks.
Raasuk is another serving of the unique, musically omnivorous sound that made their first two albums a success in Lebanon, with influences numbering rock, jazz, electro and the Arab tradition of tarab fusing into an unmistakable whole.
And listening to the album's lyrics, you can hear why their music has connected with so many young people in the region.
Fans at one of Mashrou' Leila's London concertsThe band had to add a second London date on their tour after the first sold out
'Still standing'
On one track, Wa Nueid (And We Repeat), on top of a crescendo from violinist Haig Papazian, Sinno defiantly sings verses that could have been taken from the protests of the Arab Spring:
"We can shake the cage we found ourselves in, until it collapses. Tell me, what are we are afraid of?

Hamed Sinno on the cover of TetuSinno was on the cover of French gay magazine Tetu before their Paris gig
"We can resist until the nightmare that we fought dies. Tell them we are still standing."
The frustrations of young people in Lebanon, shared by many across the Arab world, have been one of Mashrou' Leila's recurring lyrical themes since being formed in in 2008 by Sinno and six fellow students at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
They comprise: classically-trained Papazian; drummer Carl Gerges; keyboard player Omaya Malaeb; guitarists Andre Chedid and Firas Abou Fakher; and bassist Ibrahim Badr.
The band's name is a pun in Arabic, translating either as Leila's Project or A Night Project, a nod to the band's origins in evening workshops crammed in around their studies.
Wa Nueid was originally meant to be a love song, Sinno explains, but politics intervened with an explosion in Beirut's Sassine Square and continuing upheaval in Egypt.
He decided to rewrite it, and another track on the album, Lil Watan (For The Nation).
"I was looking at the different reactions to what was happening in Lebanon and in other places in the Arab world and it was very inspiring for me.
"For the first time I felt like I belonged to something, a larger movement that's happening across the region."
But even before the upheavals of the past two years, Mashrou' Leila has been taking its message to those in high places - sometimes at unexpectedly close quarters.
When the band headlined Lebanon's prestigious Byblos Festival in 2010, the then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri happened to be in the crowd.
Not only did they not tone down any of their act, Sinno took the opportunity to address one of their tracks, 'Al Hajiz (At The Checkpoint), to Mr Hariri.
The expletive-laden song recounts the frustrating experience of many Beirutis at the hands of overbearing guards at security checkpoints in the streets around the homes of the great and good.
"I live right across the road from him. So before we played that song I pointed out that this was because of him, and what his people do to me on a daily basis, and how absurd I thought that was," Sinno recalls.
"That might have ticked a few people off."
Guitarist Firas Abou Fakher and violinist Haig PapazianAbou Fakher and Papazian, two of Mashrou' Leila's "musical omnivores"
No going back
Mashrou' Leila are also broaching new ground for Arab music with their honesty about sex and sexuality.
Sinno is one of the few public figures in the Arab world to be openly gay and to discuss his sexuality.
Lebanon has a reputation as being one of the region's more liberal countries in regards to its treatment of sexual minorities, playing host to the Arab world's first gay rights organisation, Helem. Even so, gay people can still be prosecuted under a law banning "sexual intercourse contrary to nature".
Did Sinno ever hesitate about being open with regards to his sexuality when the band started gaining a public profile?
"I've been out since before the band. I don't think it actually matters whether or not I'm gay but at the same time it's always been an issue for me that I think there should be more out public figures in the Middle East at this point," he says.
While growing up, the lack of public figures to identify with was "alienating", Sinno says.
"That's the part that's really scary about being queer and young, is that you're alone." It is this that he hopes to help change for young Arabs.
But even in relatively liberal Lebanon, Sinno says he is acutely aware that some gay people - normally those who are working-class and without the protection that money can afford - are still sometimes targeted by the authorities.
In some high-profile recent cases, Lebanese police have raided establishments frequented by gay men and subjecting them to procedures including anal examinations, denounced as "rape" by Helem.
Sinno admits he is still worried that his visibility as a public figure could one day work against him.
He points to the example of Canadians Dr Tarek Loubani and filmmaker John Greyson, held by Egyptian authorities for seven weeks without charge, as an example of what can happen to those who fall foul of authority.
"These people had all sorts of international support, people behind them rallying - literally - across the globe. And it took this long to release them.
"No-one actually wants to be incarcerated. But I don't think that's enough of a reason to take back any of my positions on anything."

April 27, 2013

Is This Man Way Too Sexy to be From Saudi Arabia?

I know the answer well. To awaken at the Waldorf in NYC with someone like the beaautiful man above and not remember what  went on in bed except I was naked and my clothes were thrown all over the espacious suite. It’s been so many years but to this day I feel guilty  I can't remember what we did . Something on my drink? Per haps, but doubt it. It was too many Whie Russians from Kevin a friend bartender, All I saw in the morning was a man in a suite, a polite assisrtant  and said that my requests to see him again could not be done. To be young is to reach the stars but not having the knowledge of picking  the star that it’s light will keep  you away from darkness and will fuse you to it and having you and the star illuminate anything  or anyone that sees it.(Not written by Omar)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ }  *  {                              
Omar is a poet, an actor and a photographer from Dubai
Omar Borkan Al Gala

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~                 }  * {                    

He gazes directly into the camera: all dreamy brown eyes, smouldering good looks and chiseled features. A camel dominates the background.
It's certainly a striking image, but is Omar Borkan Al Gala, poet, actor and internet sensation, one of the men who was too sexy for Saudi Arabia?
Earlier this week, three men were forcibly removed from a culture festival in Saudi Arabia after religious police deemed the men "too handsome".
According to Arabic language newspaper Elaph a festival official said the three Emiratis were taken out on the grounds they are too handsome and there were concerns that female visitors could fall for them.
Until now the identities of the three illegally handsome men has been unknown, but web speculation now suggests that one of them at least could be Omar Borkan Al Gala.
Though far from being confirmation a post on Facebook has prompted widespread speculation.
On his page Al Gala posted a link to an article about the deportation with the comment: "This is what written in newspapers in over the world :)"
Elsewhere, in a typical post the handsome poet writes: "The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides."
If Al Gala is not the handsome man mentioned he has done nothing to dampen the rumours that he is - instead choosing to continue to post his smouldering photographs.

February 17, 2013

Outcast Gay Arabs Struggle with Terrible Backlash

By Natasha Dado
DEARBORN — “I’m not afraid. Somebody has to start the conversation,” said Chris Ramazzotti, who’s Lebanese and agreed to reveal his name while discussing homosexuality among Arabs here.      

Other gay Arabs didn’t disclose their identities citing safety risks as a reason, and to prevent their families from being criticized by Dearborn’s close-knit Arab community.   

Ramazzotti is the executive director of Al-Gamea, a group  formed in 2006 to address the growing needs of local gay Middle Eastern Americans. In 2009 it became a 501c3 nonprofit organization.   

Ramazzotti says the Arab community’s progress towards having more tolerant attitudes about lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LBGT) people has been slow.   

Arab Americans comprise more than 40 percent of Dearborn’s population, which according to a 2010 U.S. Census report was 98,153.  

Two Arabs from Dearborn said in parts of Beirut, Lebanon it can be less difficult for an Arab to be openly gay than it’s here.  Lebanon is one of the few Arab countries on the forefront of organizing for LBGT rights. 

Ryan, a 23-year-old gay Arab from Dearborn who was kicked out of his house after coming out to his family, says there haven’t been any real conversations among community leaders about gay Arabs.      

“People are afraid to step up, and then there’s people like me who are out and ready to start the conversation, but the question is where do we start? We don’t know who supports gay Arabs, and sometimes I am afraid for my safety,” Ryan said.  

Ramazzotti says a lot of people living in Dearborn follow conservative customs and beliefs they brought with them when emigrating from Arab countries to the United States, making it more difficult for second generation Arab Americans to come out. 

He says Dearborn’s religious Arab community has got in the way of progressive attitudes about the LBGT community moving forward.    

It’s hard for Arabs here to be openly gay  because they’re afraid of being judged, and disowned by their families, neighbors and friends in the community.

 Ryan says people who support gay Arabs often fear speaking in support of them publicly because conservative Arabs and Muslims will commit hate crimes, or incite riots against them.  

Faisal Alam, a nationally known Muslim gay rights activist  spoke at the University of Michigan Dearborn last month where he presented the program, Hidden Voices: The Lives of LBGT Muslims. 

The lecture was interrupted by a false alarm, and Alam along with other activists were escorted to their cars by security after their views were challenged. 

Faisal Alam spoke about the struggles of gay Muslims and Arabs at the University of Michigan - Dearborn last month where he presented the program, ‘Hidden Voices: The Lives of LBGT Muslims.’ More than 200 attended, including several Arab Americans.
The program attracted more than 200 people, including several Arab Muslims.   

Ramazzotti has been threatened because of his sexual orientation. He says one gay Arab woman from Dearborn had to move out of her house after her brother went through text messages and emails and learned she had a girlfriend. He threatened to kill her. She’s in college, and now on her own struggling to make ends meet. 

The founders of Al-Gamea also wanted to reach out to Chaldeans, who’re Iraqi Catholics, but don’t identify as Arabs. Several gay Chaldeans have found refuge in Al-Gamea.  

There are more than 120,000 Chaldeans in metro Detroit. The community is very close knit and conservative as well, making the challenges of gay Arabs and Chaldeans parallel.    

Al-Gamea hosts weekly gatherings, and every month has an Arabian Night social event where gay Middle Eastern Americans gather.   

In 2011 Al-Gamea raised money for eight Arab men and women who were disowned by their families after coming out. 

The group provided money, food and shelter to all eight who were from Dearborn except one. 

In 2010 the group helped two Arabs who were kicked out of their homes. Ramazzotti says Al-Gamea was able to help more people last year, because the fundraising was more  publicized.  

Many gay Arabs involved in intimate relationships with their partners live double lives. 

“They have to sneak a kiss here and there, or a card. They have to even be cautious about accepting a flower from their lover,” Ramazzotti said. 

He says people who’re secretly gay have to constantly make up stories and lies to their families, and friends. 

“A lot of gay Arabs live a double life,” said James, a Lebanese college student from Dearborn who’s openly gay.  “It makes me sad. It’s not easy to live a double life. I never wanted to live a double life.” 

He was never thrown out of his house, and says his family accepts his sexuality.  

Although he’s openly gay, James didn’t use his real name, saying he wanted to protect his mother from becoming the subject of ridicule in the community.    “There’s a lot of pressure,” he said. 

He says a lot of gay Arabs date outsidetheir race including him, and he knows two Dearborn Arab women who’re romantically involved.  

Both James and Ramazzotti say it’s much more difficult for women to come out than men. Women face greater challenges because Arab families are more strict on them, and they’re expected to remain very conservative. 

During the program, Alam discussed what led him to become a prominent voice for LBGT Muslims. 

While attending an Islamic school at age 14, he had a two-week course about how Islam condemned homosexuality, with no exceptions.  

“It didn’t make sense why God would give me these feelings only to send me to hell, it just didn’t make sense logically,” Alam said. 

By 16, Alam had already won several awards from Muslim organizations, and was a youth leader in the community, all while struggling with his sexuality. 

“So every aunty and uncle wants his or her child to grow up and become like Faisal,” he said.   He thought that if he prayed and fasted enough it would go away, but it didn’t, and he started living a double life, but not for long.  

The pressure of hiding his sexuality gained control of him, he  lost 30 pounds in six months and was hospitalized for two weeks. 

“I couldn’t live like that anymore. I had to figure out how I could be gay and be Muslim. The two have to somehow come together. I didn’t want to leave my faith, and I couldn’t change my sexuality. I knew I couldn’t be the only gay Muslim because I literally thought I was the only gay Muslim on the entire planet,” Alam said.  

After being hospitalized he vowed to make helping other struggling gay Muslims his life’s mission.   “I made a promise to God that I would never let what happened to me happen to other young people especially in my community,” he said.  Alam now tours the country speaking about Islam and homosexuality. 

After coming out his mother initially stopped speaking to him, saying she had to pick Allah (God) over her son. 

In college Alam started an email list to help and find other gay Muslims. “Several thousand people started to join in minutes, because that’s how much silence there is about this issue in the community. That’s the level of fear that existed and continues to exist,” he said. 

Within the last 15 years there’s a growing movement of LBGT Muslims who are coming to the forefront and acknowledging their sexuality and saying they can be LBGT and Muslim, with no contradiction between the two identities.

Alam says Islam is going through a reformation, and in five to 10 years a major shift in it towards greater tolerance for LBGT Muslims  around the world; Muslim women being allowed to lead prayer at mosques and   openly gay Imams being more welcomed is expected.

Alam says there are already several mosques in the United States that are safe and accepting of the LBGT community. 

The organization, Muslims for Progressive Values believes women should be allowed to lead prayer. Alam says the first few public prayers led by Muslim women at mosques in the country were controversial. 

Gay Imams have also emerged as leading voices for LBGT Muslims, such as Imam Daayiee Abdullah of the Masjid An-Nur Al-Isslah in Washington D.C. Abdullah has been counseling gay Muslims for more than 12 years. 

Ramazzotti says people are afraid of being affiliated with Al-Gamea because the community could find out they’re gay, and a lot of its board members and volunteers have distanced themselves from the group for that reason.  

Ramazzotti was living in Dearborn when he first came out to his family. His brother  chased him three blocks after finding out, and tried to attack him. He didn’t return home until eight years later.  

“Being gay was the last thing I wanted to be, I tried to suppress my feelings and make them go away, but they wouldn’t,” he said. 

Ramazzotti says he’s witnessed gay Arab men and women marry the opposite sex, and still struggle with their sexuality.  

He’s never regretted coming out, or met anyone who has. Over the last decade  Ramazzotti says there’s been a major shift towards gay Arabs coming out and being more accepted, but there’s still a great deal of progress that needs to be made.  “It doesn’t happen over night, but it’s getting there," Ramazzotti said. 

To contact Al-Gamea, email  

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