Shim al-Yasmin by Mashrou3 Leila

Mashrou3 Leila is a Lebanese band that has amassed great popularity among the more alternative music scene in the Arab world after releasing their debut album in 2009.  They are known for satirically commenting on social issues in Lebanese and Arab society and as such have been faced with a lot of criticism.

One of their songs entitled “Shim al-Yasmin” or “Smell the Jasmine” is about a homosexual relationship and criticizes the homophobia found in Arab society.  It poses a dilemma in which the singer is in love with another man and wants to have a relationship with him, yet society will not allow for this.  He says he wanted to“’arfak ‘a ahli” or “introduce you to my family”, but “inta bi beitak o ana shi beit” or “you’re in your house, and I’m in another”.  Finally, he ends the song with “o tzakkar tinsani” or “remember to forget me”.

I found this song interesting primarily because it touches on one of the most controversial issues in Arab society today in a very subtle way.  He uses the ending possessive pronoun “-ek” instead of “-ik” to imply that he is talking a man.  Furthermore, he does not even explicit say that he loves this man, but instead muses about how he wants to do everything with this man that he would do if he were in a relationship (i.e. introduce you to my parents, take care of your kids, be your homemaker, etc).

In addition, this song is reminiscent of a more classical Arabic style than Mashrou3 Leila’s other songs.  They employ a very stripped-down background music and utilize instruments like a bass guitar, an acoustic guitar, a violin, and a piano.  None of these are particularly “Arab”, but rather than overshadow Hamed Sinno’s voice, these instruments yield to the power of it.  As such, if we focus on his voice, we find that it evokes a more “classical” sentiment.  He constantly elongates and wavers syllables, and emphasizes the pronunciation of certain letters such as the “haa” in habibi.  This point is particularly important because he chooses to emphasize words that are the key subjects in discussion of homosexuality, habibi meaning my darling (masculine).  He stays painstakingly true to correct Arabic pronunciation, which creates an interesting dichotomy between the value of Arabic culture and his criticism of this same culture.

Link to a live version of the song:

Link to lyrics in Arabic:

Link to translation:

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3 Responses to Shim al-Yasmin by Mashrou3 Leila

  1. I really enjoyed listening to this song. This is especially interesting because in older music male singers of love songs often sang to male lovers because it avoided mention of women lovers.

  2. I always found the gender issue of the word ‘habibi’ to be really interesting. While in Jordan last semester, I was called ‘habibi’ instead of ‘habibati’ by my female friends most of the time and always wondered why. (It obviously could never work the other way around.)
    I think that the fact that the singer actively juxtaposes really classical elements of Arabic culture and language with his criticism of homophobia only legitimizes him in making that critique; he demonstrates the fact that he’s not just blindly complaining about society without appreciating or being knowledgable at least some aspects of it. The criticism also becomes that much more constructive: the juxtaposition sends the message that the singer genuinely wants to build off of the more beautiful parts of Lebanon and create more flexibilty for a diversity of lifestyles.

  3. Hoai Le says:

    A saw this interview of the band posted on Facebook a while back and totally forgot about them until now! . The lead singer admits that the song is about a breakup he had in college. I thought it was particularly interesting when the violinist said that the band could pretty much say anything they want in Lebanon, but are not sure what is allowed to be said to the rest of the Arab world who might also be listening to their music. It is interesting to think about how their location allows them to be critical of Arabic culture.

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