Mashrou3 Leila return to their birthplace, all grown up.
BEIRUT: Coming of age is commemorated in societies across the world as a moment when adolescence makes way for the responsibilities, but also freedoms of adulthood.
In Japan all those turning 20 are finally allowed to smoke, drink alcohol and vote, and all "new citizens" are given a sum of money from the state to cement their stake in society.
In Papua New Guinea, boys entering adult society are said to parade around in conical hats kitted with long leaves that reach the ground. African Pygmies are said to believe the Spirit of the Forest ritually invades the tribe to kill the boys in order to promulgate their rebirth as men.
A slightly more conventional unveiling took place in Assembly Hall at American University Beirut (AUB) Thursday, when six former students -- Haig Papazian, Hamed Sinno, Carl Gerges, Omaya Malaeb, Andre Chedid and Firas Abou Fakher -- took to the stage of the grand church-like structure for a rare hour-long charity concert.
Better known as Mashrou3 Leila, the group of former architecture and design students have become the darlings of the Beirut new music scene, rising from a now notorious gig at Demco Steel Warehouse in Bourj Hammoud this time last year, to play to a full house at the Byblos International Festival in July, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the audience.
Held in support of the Standing Committee on Reproductive Health Including AIDS (SCODA), a subsidiary of the Lebanese Medical Student's International Committee (LEMSIC), Thursday's event was a more somber occasion than the band's customary performances, which usually find hundreds of fans, lubricated by cheap alcohol, jumping in unison.
Dressed in sharp black suits, white shirts and simple red AIDS ribbons, Mashrou3 Leila took advantage of the charity concert to shine, displaying their musical diversity and career potential.
Compensating for the absence of band's bassist, Ibrahim Badr (currently studying abroad), was a string septet, which accompanied the band through all their hits and added a host of classical introductions to Mashrou3 Leila's otherwise more contemporary Arabic rock.
Despite Sinno's soulful and energetic vocals and the undeniable talent of Papazian, whose folkloric jaunts on the violin penetrate and define many of the group's best-known tracks, few of the group's members could be described as classically trained musicians.
Yet, with the help of computer programs, their compositions for the septet were seamless, mature and perfectly emphasized by an intelligent song selection, which included several more reflective numbers such as "Shim al-Yasmine."
The band's well-known social activism and support for gay rights -- Sinno proudly donned a rainbow flag at the band's Byblos performance -- have linked the group to a liberal fan base, but the ease with which the band adapted to its new chosen style and setting, which they succeeded in making their own, won over even senior members of the audience.
Rising in unison, chanting "We want more," the 850-strong crowd could not get enough. Members lingered around the auditorium to chat to the group who, evidently feeling at home, later strolled round the campus greeting friends and family.
With the venue selling out days in advance and the concert raising well over $20,000 for SCODA, Mashrou3 Leila has demonstrated its ability to draw and captivate an audience for a good cause -- and created expectations it will catapult its youthful and alternative Beirut imagination much further afield.
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