Mehdi Rajabian once served two years, of a larger sentence, in prison in Tehran, Iran, for making music. The oppression the government shows artists in the country is immense but some people, like Mehdi, continue to create beauty despite the threat of incarceration.
His latest work needs to be shared by the rest of us who are not facing the same hardship. This beautiful album, which can be streamed below, features artists from 12 middle eastern countries and includes songs recorded during war and during an escape on a boat by a refugee.
30 years ago, on the 23rd of August, 2 million people from three neighboring nations, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, locked their arms together and formed a human chain that stretched across the three countries.
The people demanded freedom from the Soviet Union and did so in a peaceful way. In Tallinn, Estonia, people gathered regularly at the a music festival ground bursting into spontaneous mass singing. From those events the term ‘Singing Revolution’ was coined.
More commonly known as ‘The Baltic Way’ this revolution saw millions of people organizing for their freedom and finding common grounds between each other through, among other things, music.
Boris Reznik composed the song below for this occasion and it is sung in the three languages, a somewhat of a mutual anthem for the three countries.
On the 13th of June, 2016, the staff at the NPR Tiny Desk concert series could not have planned the emotional show that would be recorded that day. The band, Mashrou’ Leila, had just arrived the day after the shootings at the gay nightclub Pulse, in Orlando.
With everyone still in shock, staff and invited band, Mashrou’ Leila changed their set list and performed 3 beautiful songs, including the opening one called Maghawir (Commandos) which is about a similar shooting that happened in Beirut. The following concert is raw, emotional and full of grit.
The singer of Mashrou’ Leila, Sinno, is openly gay which is quite the task in a country like his native Lebanon. The band has therefore much experience with threats, bans, oppression and judgment from both government, religious organisations and people on the streets.
They have always carried on though but the latest in their story is bringing in support from bands from other countries in the form of concert cancellations. Dutch metal band Within Temptation just cancelled their upcoming show in Lebanon in support of Mashrou’ Leila.
The Byblos International Festival was also to feature Mashrou’ Leila but recently the band found out they had been pulled off the bill for security reasons after the festival organisers received threats and demands of doing so stating that the band is “offensive to religious and humanitarian values and Christian beliefs”.
In a statement on Facebook from the band they write: “We have been tried on the street, everyone who wishes to be a judge will make judgments, and do it against us. This is a way out of the logic of the state, a departure that hits the core of any sense of security we have and any ability to art and creativity.” (Google automatic translate).
Furthermore the clarify that they have utmost respect for any religious beliefs anyone might have and that they are not out to offend anyone. They love their home country, their fellow people and making music.
In the face of oppression of the arts, other artists, like Within Temptation in this case boycotting a show, is a much needed and powerful stand to take.
Besides these terrors Mashrou’ Leila faces regularly as a band they are a perfect fit for Shouts to shine a light on. They regularly use their voice as a tool for activism, all the while knowing full well what dangers that can cause to their physical safety.
Check out their 360° music video they made in cooperation with Greenpeace and their latest music video called Cavalry which is about the cruelty and machismo of militarized oppression:
“Best stop brandishing that sword of yours Lest you fall right off of your throne If I fail, if I die I’ll come back every time Till I’ve seen you through Every head you cut turns into three I burst into armies of me”