Gay Lebanese singer with 'Freddie Mercury' edge fronts band

Mon Oct 28, 2013 1:08pm EDT
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By Shadi Bushra

LONDON (Reuters) - A man singing about wanting to be another man's wife, pampering his children and cooking him dinner isn't all that unusual in this age of same-sex marriage and advancing gay rights.

But for Mashrou' Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band, there was quite a risk in making lead singer Hamed Sinno's sexuality as much a part of their act as danceable tunes and darkly satirical lyrics attacking the Middle Eastern mindset.

Fans say Sinno's ability to channel voices ranging from a megaphone-amplified protester to a falsetto glam-rocker or a cigarette-singed taxi driver is one of the group's appeals.

Then there is the matter of his being "out" and from a part of the world where homosexuality is still taboo and in many countries subject to draconian punishment.

"This song is about my first love," Sinno, 25, said at Leila's first London concert on a Wednesday night in October before launching into "Shim al-Yasmin" (Smell the Jasmine).

Most Arabic songs are written in the masculine gender, so the band theoretically could have let Sinno address his lover without drawing attention to his sexuality.

Instead, Mashrou' Leila, whose name originally meant "Overnight Project" but now is a play on the female name Leila, included it on their eponymous 2008 debut album as a subtle but deliberate coming-out for Sinno.

Its main following is among young Arabs who can identify with the group's distaste for Middle Eastern police checkpoints and sectarian conflict, as well as a growing group of non-Arabs who appreciate the music's broader themes of love, sex, tolerance, rebellion - and its danceability.   Continued...

Hamed Sinno (R), the lead singer of Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou' Leila is seen performing in London October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Shadi Bushra