Muslim, Arab and gay: Mashrou Leila's Hamed Sinno speaks out

Story highlights

  • Sinno laments homophobia and racism following the Orlando shooting
  • He slams Donald Trump, calling him a "fascist"

Washington (CNN)Hamed Sinno is the frontman of Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou Leila and an openly gay Arab American from a Muslim family. He reacted strongly to a crowd following the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub, lamenting the attack against the LGBT community as well as the rhetoric against Muslims and Arabs that followed.

"Suddenly, just because you're brown and queer you can't mourn and it's really not f---ing fair," Sinno said on stage while performing at the band's sold out show Monday night at The Hamilton in Washington. "There are a bunch of us who are queer who feel assaulted by that attack who can't mourn because we're also from Muslim families and we exist ... this is what it looks like to be called both a terrorist and a faggot."
    The band followed Sinno's comments up by a soulful performance of "Tayf"— a song off of their newest album "Ibn El-Leil" about an attack on a gay club in Beirut that was called "Ghost."
    In an interview with CNN Friday, Sinno slammed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, calling him a "fascist," and lamented anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric in 2016 politics, adding that Trump's rise is "very shocking for someone who grew up with this idea" that in the United States "everything is made right when it comes to equality."
    Mashrou' Leila, whose name translates to "The Night Project," was formed at the American University of Beirut in 2008 and rose to fame across the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
    Through its music, lyrics and videos the group addresses issues that are largely taboo in Arab mainstream culture ranging from sexuality, homosexuality and the politics of gender and religion, causing them to get banned from performing in Jordan this past April.
    "(In the Middle East) there's a lot of discourse that gets removed from mainstream debate, from popular culture but also from society," Sinno said. "Because the big networks and television and magazines won't address these questions -- Be it stuff about sexual liberties or queerness or gender equality or even socialism. "
    Amman Governor Khalid Abu Zeid told the Associated Press in April that the group was banned because its songs "contradicted" religious beliefs, specifically referencing the song "Djin" or "The Devil."
    Amid an outpouring of support on social media from their fans, the band was re-listed to perform, they could not make it to Amman and the state of the ban is currently unclear, according to the band's representative.
    The band, now composed of lead singer Sinno, Haig Papazian, Carl Gerges, Firas Abu-Fakher and Ibrahim Badr, vowed not to waver on their beliefs in the face of growing political tension.
    They released their fourth album "Ibn El-Leil," which translates to "The Son of the Night" last year and the album, written during the two years after Sinno's father passed away, is set in Beirut nightclubs and addresses grief, mourning and escapism in songs like "3 Minutes," "Maghawir" and "Asnam."
    "Nightlife in Beirut is actually where so much of our politics and society get negotiated," Sinno said. "It's a very political thing to go to a bar in Beirut."
    The band is currently on their second U.S. tour and will be heading to Canada later this summer and Sinno said he was surprised by how much the band was asked to speak for Arab and Muslim culture during their travels.
    "I don't think that expectation is really there when it comes to dealing with white artists. No one really goes up to a white artist and says, 'How do you represent your culture?' " Sinno said, criticizing the oversimplification of Arab identity.
    Sinno is a second generation Arab-American and grew up in Lebanon listening to stories from his father about the opportunity and the freedom that exists in the U.S. and has thought about moving to the United States and adopting a child one day. But he was disappointed by the racism and homophobia that he experienced during his travels.
    "It feels like the amount of homophobia, for example, that I would have to confront in Lebanon or in other places in the Middle East is equal to the amount of racism I would have to deal with as an Arab who looks like a brown boy (in the U.S.)," Sinno said.
    Lamenting the "mono-narrative" that surrounds Arab and Muslim identity, Sinno said the band feels uncomfortable when they are asked to speak for the Arab and Muslim world.
    "The Arab world is as complex and as diverse and messed up and great as anywhere else in the world," Sinno said, adding that when individuals and artists do not fit the stereotype of a radicalized or violent Arab, they are treated as "some sort of sensational phenomenon when it's really not the case -- it's the other way around."