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How Lebanese indie band Mashrou’ Leila and Leo Burnett Beirut created the ‘music of the night’

At the very end of last month, Lebanese indie band Mashrou’ Leila launched their fourth album at a concert at the Barbican in London. It was an emotional affair for the five- piece from Beirut, having spent the best part of two years working on the creation of the album.

Broadcast live across the Arab world by MTV Lebanon, the concert and album have catapulted Mashrou’ Leila further onto the world stage, cementing their position as the region’s most successful indie group.

Yet few people are probably aware that the concept behind the album, its launch and the collaborative projects accom- panying Ibn El Leil (Son of the Night) are the work of crea- tives at Leo Burnett Beirut.

“Earlier this year, we met with Mashrou’ Leila at their practice studio where we lis- tened to the work in progress,” says Areej Mahmoud, execu- tive creative director at Leo Burnett Beirut. “Hamed [Sinno, lead singer] patiently explained the ideas behind the lyrics, one song at a time, and it quickly became evident that they came from deep personal thoughts and experiences.

“But it was also clear that the band had been listening to a lot of pop music and the fusion between the two worlds had given birth to a beautiful experience. But beyond all of this the communication professional in us all wanted a simple answer: what is it all about? ‘Ibn El Leil,’ they answered. ‘This will be the name of the album.’ 

“The title was all encompassing. We realised Mashrou’ Leila had taken refuge in the night – the only place and time that offers freedom. The idea for their launch campaign was therefore right in front of us. The experience that the band had – and that gave birth to their album – is in fact an experience shared by the youth of Lebanon and per- haps of the entire Middle East. Society is too judgmen- tal in this part of the world. It rejects people who express their freedom and explore their identities. But when society sleeps its sons and daughters of the night roam the streets. They gather in underground clubs and lock themselves together in apart- ments where they can be who they want to be – no judge- ment and no questions asked.

“The idea of ‘people of the night’ seemed to us like a secret society – a brotherhood and a sisterhood hidden from the rest of society by a code of secrecy, celebrating freedom when society is restrictive. The album launch would be an opportunity for this ‘secret cult’ to show its true colours and reveal itself to the rest of the world.”

The end result is an album cover and concept that depicts the deity of the night – a worn out Greco-Roman classical figure with the head of a hyena, a common nocturnal animal in Lebanon known as a scavenger and a predator. Accompanying the album are posters that function as a ‘cult kit’. One is a full body view of the deity, on the back of which are written lyrics in a structure inspired by esoteric Arabic scriptures. The lyrics are written the way Sinno sings them. The more he drags on a word, the longer that word is written.

A ‘Son of the Night’ mask was designed, 3D printed and painted in silver, and artists in different fields were invited to participate, each representing the night in their own personal way. Among them architect Bernard Khoury, photogra- pher Tareq Moukaddem and the director Chadi Younes. During the concert the anima- tor and director Gaby Ferneine mixed the videos, images and graphics of the collaborating artists live to the music.

“We let them do what they want, without any control or guidance,” says Mahmoud. “This was thrilling. We learnt the power of self expression and were reminded of the immense talent around us. Each artist had a different angle and the collection of work is the city’s talent talking about the ‘night of Beirut’. We wanted these graphics to tour with the band wherever they go, taking a piece of Beirut’s night and talent with them wherever they go.”