Gay Lebanese Singer Hamed Sinno Navigates Middle Eastern Taboos Through Music

In the West, bands with openly gay members are increasingly common. But in the Arab world, where an admission of homosexuality can lead to grave consequences, Hamed Sinno’s unapologetic gay swag as front man for the Lebanese indie band Mashrou Leila is a symbol of the cultural crosswinds sweeping the Middle East.

Part Freddie Mercury, part hipster, handsome 24-year-old Sinno leads the band as they tour venues in Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE and Egypt with a sound that has been described as “a hybrid of velvety Lebanese slang and European instruments to address difficult, sometimes taboo issues of Middle Eastern societies.”

The treatment of homosexuality in Lebanese pop culture is hardly warm and inviting: Three clubs in Canada canceled shows by Lebanese pop star Mohamad Eskandar over the homophobic and misogynistic content of his song “Ded El Enf.” But by addressing taboo issues like homosexuality, premarital sex and gender norms Mahsrou Leila has attracted a small but growing following throughout the region. “They are about secularism, gay love, social problems that we don’t talk about, that we don’t accept, that we are afraid to discuss,” said Jalal Elias, 19. “The kind of people who make this music—they made the Arab Spring.”

For his part Sinno appears unmoved by the criticism from his country’s more conservative elders: He wants the band’s music to inspire Arab gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual fans “to forge for themselves a sense of belonging to the region, in spite of the incredible repressing they have to live through.”

And to that we say: Rock on!

Below, Sinno sings the Blues classic “Nature Boy” on Beirut’s Hamra Street

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  • Cam

    Good for him! I admire his bravery!

  • tidalpool

    This is standing up for what you believe in. Not some American sodomite whinging because he has to go 5 blocks further to go to a gay club, rather then next door to the grade school. This guy faces the real threat of death, American fags bitch about the lack of free contraception, ouch!

  • Cam


    No, actually American gays bitch about things like being fired from work and federal amendments enshrining second class status and discrimination.

    But you know, keep on proving how pathtetic you are by seeming to WANT the situation in America to be as bad for gays as they are in Lembanon.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, when things are better in some countries it can spread to people in other countries.

  • Andrew

    Very brave guy and what a beautiful voice and rendition of Nature Boy.

  • furbq

    Mashrou Liela have been putting out some great music that everyone can appreciate … and with amazing and courageous breaking of social taboos … the lyrics for the songs below are usually in the comments …

    Shem il yasmeen is about his ex-lover who was closeted … he wanted him to stick around and be introduced to his parents … this was a shocker to many Arab listeners

    Fasateen was their first big hit about cross-confessional love affair …

    Um El Jacket (Pardon) is about a a woman with short hair and no makeup wearing a jacket that he mistakes for man …

    Ini Mneeh … is a desperate cry for attention for another man that he wants him to acknowledge him …

    I highly recommend people check these out and their other songs … I think they can resonate with any listener despite the language barrier because Hamid is so go at translating emotions into his signing voice …

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