Fans of Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila are furious that their Amman concert has been abruptly cancelled by the Jordanian government on Tuesday.
The five-member alternative rock band, whose frontman is openly gay, was scheduled to perform at the Roman Amphitheater on Friday 29 April, where their new album "Ibn El Leil" (Man of the Night) - usually it's "lady of the night," so this subversion is to say man-whore - was set to launch.
According to the band's vocalist Hamed Sinno, "this performance would have been the last concert in the Middle East before the band embarks on the North America leg of its tour."
Mashrou' Leila have performed to thousands of fans in Jordan numerous times (at the Roman Amphitheater, as well), so what triggered this sudden change of heart?
It's rumored that the Jordanian gov was pressured into pulling the plug on Leila's presence in the Kingdom, following complaints about the band's "Satanical lyrics" and values that don't resonate with Jordan's conservative culture.
That must include the Beirut-based quintet's support of political and religious freedom and endorsement of gender equality and sexual identity. Two of the bands members are reportedly openly gay.
In an official statement on Facebook, the band said that "We also have been unofficially informed that we will never be allowed to play again anywhere in Jordan due to our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom."
You can read the full statement below:
We have just been notified that our authorization to play has been withdrawn. The written justification officially provided is that the performance would have been at odds with what the Ministry of Tourism viewed as the “authenticity” of the site, despite the fact that we had the chance to perform for you at the same specific site three times in the past and had followed the same permit procedure before the competent authorities.
Informally, the story is much more problematic. We have been unofficially informed that the reason behind this sudden change of heart, few days before the concert day, is the intervention of some authorities. Our understanding is that said authorities have pressured certain political figures and triggered a chain of events that ultimately ended with our authorization being withdrawn.
We also have been unofficially informed that we will never be allowed to play again anywhere in Jordan due to our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom.
We deeply regret having to cancel this event in this country that we have made our own. Jordan is the home of some of the most supportive, beautiful, and kind people we have had the pleasure of working with and playing for. Jordan is also the only place where we get to perform for our Palestinian audience, who organize elaborate bus trips to come from Palestine to see us play. Jordan is the birthplace of our lead singer’s mother, a formative part of his identity and writing, and a place we have always considered our second home.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of voices of political dissent.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of advocates of sexual and religious freedom.
We denounce the censorship of artists anywhere in the world.
We apologize for having thus far failed at creating a cultural environment that allows our children to speak their minds. We believe whole-heartedly that we have only ever acted with the intention of making our world a more equal, and just place, even if “only through song.” We pledge to our audience that we will continue to place the integrity of our art as our foremost priority, and to never succumb to the pressure to compromise our message, or to waive our freedom to speak. We promise to continue to write out of love, and with the desire to spread love. We will fight, as we have always done, for our right to freely play our music and speak our mind.
We urge our fellow musicians and artists across the world to continue to produce work that challenges any unfair status quo, despite the difficulties confronted.
We respectfully ask the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to reconsider its stance towards our message, and our art, and urge the Kingdom to choose fighting alongside us, not against us, during this ongoing battle for a culture of freedom against the regressive powers of thought control and cultural coercion.
We strongly hope the authorities will make the right decision, so that we can see you in a few days.
This morning, social media still has Mashrou' Leila on its mind as Twitter continues to receive thousands of tweets on trending hashtags supporting the band.
Meanwhile, others have started a petition on Change.org, targeting the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism with the message:
Mashrou’ Leila, the much adored Lebanese Band, has been informed by the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism that their concert on April 29th 2016 has been cancelled. They have also been told that they will not be granted the necessary permits to hold any future concerts anywhere in the Kingdom.
A venue that has drawn thousands of fans has been cited as the reason behind the Ministry’s decision. What seems odd to us is that the Roman Amphitheater, historically created for entertaining large groups of people, has done so through Mashrou’ Leila!
Cultural censorship creates stigma around topics tackled in Leila songs, ones produced with a love of people. When fans imagine the concert experience, it is filled with positivity. This is intelligent Arabic music that we can all connect with. Previous concerts have seen thousands of people dance to the beautiful creativity of youthful critique.
We the fans of innovative culture, respectfully ask of the Ministry of Tourism to repeal this decision, and allow for the concert to continue as planned.
You can sign the petition here.
By Arwad Khalifeh
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