Monday morning, as we were all absorbing the horrors of the Pulse attack in Orlando — the deadliest mass public shooting in modern U.S. history — Mashrou' Leila arrived to play a Tiny Desk concert. For this band from Beirut, Lebanon, the full weight of the tragedy hung heavily, and its members wanted to begin their set by addressing the Pulse shootings. We'll have their full performance available soon, but this was so timely, we wanted to share it right away.

Mashrou' Leila (the name translates as "Night Project") includes five young Beirutis — singer Hamed Sinno, violinist Haig Papazian, keyboardist and guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, Ibrahim Badr on bass and drummer Carl Gerges — of mixed religious heritage. They are well acquainted with the targeting of both LGBT people and those questioning the political, religious and cultural status quo.

Sinno, who is also the band's lyricist, is openly gay, and Mashrou' Leila has faced condemnation, bans and threats in its home region, including some from both Christian and Muslim sources. The group's sound is beautifully layered, with vocals that allude to the Arab tradition of ornamenting melodies, but is also fresh, modern and compelling. Sinno's nuanced lyrics run deep.

The group opened its Tiny Desk set with "Maghawir" (Commandos), a song Sinno wrote in response to two nightclub shootings in Beirut — a tragic parallel to what happened in Orlando. In the Beirut shootings, which took place within a week of each other, two of the young victims were out celebrating their respective birthdays. So "Maghawir" is a wry checklist of sorts about how to spend a birthday clubbing in their home city, but also a running commentary about machismo and the idea that big guns make big men.

"All the boys become men / Soldiers in the capital of the night," Sinno sings. "Shoop, shoop, shot you down ... We were just all together, painting the town / Where'd you disappear?"

Ibn El Leil (Son Of The Night) is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "Maghawir" (Commandos)


Producers: Anastasia Tsioulcas, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Claire Hannah Collins, Kara Frame; Production Assistant: Sophie Kemp; Photo: Ruby Wallau/NPR.

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