Hamed Sinno: Mashrou’ Leila Singer/Songwriter

Hamed chats with us about his childhood and what fuels his charisma onstage (including how he’s always wanted to be sexy like Tina Turner). He takes us through Mashrou’ Leila’s evolution – and his own.

This episode was produced by Hebah Fisher and Dana Ballout, with editorial support by Linah Mohammad and Alex Atack. Sound design by Mohamad Khreizat, and fact checking by Zeina Dowidar. Original sting composed by Ramzi Bashour. Selected music by Mashrou’ Leila. al empire is a Kerning Cultures Network production. Search ‘Kerning Cultures Network’ to hear other podcasts like this one, and follow @kerningcultures on Instagram to stay in touch!

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Transcript

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[AD BREAK]

[AL EMPIRE STING]

Hebah: Hey I’m Hebah Fisher

Dana: and I’m Dana Ballout

Hebah: And today on Al Empire… 

Dana: What would be the first two lines of your obituary…. what would you like them to be? 

Hamed Sinno: I think I’d actually kind of want like one of the… one of the really bad headlines. You know what I mean? Like something about me being a devil worshipper out to corrupt the youth and spread sin and homosexuality and incite… incite revolutionary actions against government and all these things have been said, right? As though they are necessarily insults and I think I’d actually really like that to be on my tombstone. 

Dana: [laughs] Okay… This is Hamed Sinno. 

Hamed Sinno: Hamed Khalil Sinno… So I am a singer songwriter and LGBT rights activist.

Dana: Hamed is the lead singer songwriter for Mashrou’ Leila, and if you haven’t heard of them – get out from under a rock! The band is often described as an indie Lebanese rock band. To me, honestly, they encompass so many genres, but anyway. I met Hamed for this interview in New York at our friend Dina’s apartment and I’ve known Hamed for about fifteen years now — we went to high school together — but at the time we were meeting, I hadn’t seen him in about a year, so it was really nice to see his face. And, in those years that I’ve known him, a lot has happened. There are big things, small things, personal things… but then there’s this big fact that Hamed and his bandmates — Haig Carl, and Firas — became famous. They’re recorded several albums, sold out concerts around the world — and of course made international headlines. And at the time that we met in New York, they were making even more headlines after their concert in Lebanon was cancelled and the band was accused of blasphemy. Death threats were pouring in and they were being bullied and harassed. It wasn’t an ideal moment, but I’m grateful to Hamed for taking the time to do this with us. Also, as a disclaimer, this episode acknowledges the existence of sex and sexuality.

Here we go. 

[Roman]

Dana: Okay, let’s do — test, test — a bit closer to you… okay –what’d you have for breakfast? 

Hamed Sinno: I had — I actually do this thing every morning where I make a loaf of bread out of almond flour, and then make a grilled cheese sandwich out of that.

Dana: You make the bread yourself? 

Hamed Sinno: Yeah, it takes a few minutes. 

Dana: And you put it in the fu’rn and everything?

Hamed Sinno: I do it in the microwave ‘cause I’m lazy. 

Dana: That’s kind of genius… I want to go all the way back and start with your childhood. Where did you grow up?

Hamed Sinno: Beirut. Born and raised. 

Dana: And what would you say Hamed, under ten years old, was like? 

Hamed Sinno: I was very solitary and my mother tells me that I was generally a very sort of… like easily contented child. I’d just like, keep to myself and draw and sing and apparently I was happy — which is remarkable considering. 

Dana: Why is it remarkable?

Hamed Sinno: I think like the moment puberty kicked in I just got very… I became much more prone to like, really intense bouts of depression which kind of like marked me throughout high school and college and is a like, constant struggle. 

Dana: Who were your favorite artists back then?

Hamed Sinno: I was really big on the Spice Girls like… like every good gay child. I loved Michael Jackson so much like, the first… the first sort of album that I ever bought, sort of my own accord was Michael Jackson’s HIStory album which was a double cassette with a giant sort of statue of himself as the cover.

So, it’s very impressive… Yeah, I guess that’s who I was listening to. I think Tina Turner… we were in — so I’m half Jordanian — and we were in my grandmother’s house in Amman, and there was a Tina Turner concert that my parents were watching on television in Jordan. And my father said that Tina Turner was very sexy and I didn’t know what that word meant, so I asked him what it meant. And of course, he probably explained it in a way that I…. that I didn’t understand either, but I just retained that Tina Turner was sexy and that sexy with something good and so I wanted to be like Tina Turner.

We didn’t come from a musical house, in the sense where we were never sort of encouraged to learn instruments or… or forced to or anything like that. But, there was always so much music around my house: my dad was on the jazz committee for the Baalbek festivals, there was jazz all the time. So you know, one of my earliest memories is walking in on my parents dancing on our balcony listening to a Barry White vinyl. So, there was always so much music that… I don’t know, it just seemed natural. 

Dana: What are your first memories of singing? 

Hamed Sinno: First memories of singing? My mother bought me a little cassette recorder when I was a kid. So I’d like, steal my mother’s mix cassettes and then try to record songs over them. My parents did encourage me and they also I guess around puberty tried to shut me up a lot because my voice was doing strange things. 

Dana: What was your relationship like with your parents?

Hamed Sinno: Complicated. My father and I had a very, very tense relationship. You know, sort of well into my 20s we only kind of started to mend things like the year before he died. He was a very complicated man. He was a very tortured man. So, our relationship was not pleasant and I wasn’t exactly an easy… an easy teenager. I was — like I said — prone to bouts of depression and melodrama and I just got in trouble so often. You know, he was a very stressed, easily angered person. So, we didn’t get along very well. My mother… my mother’s the exact opposite. She’s a complete rock star and very supportive and always has been. And I think, you know, sort of seeing her deal with my father when we were growing up… sort of forged this kind of solidarity between her and myself and my siblings. That, that is still a sort of very much there where we, you know, see our mother as like a comrade not a parent.

Dana: If you look back at your childhood is there one particular memory that kind of always comes back to you? 

Hamed Sinno: Yeah… but like it’s not a… it’s not a happy memory, to be honest. I guess whenever I like, think about my childhood the first things I remember are either, like fights with my father or getting bullied at school. I guess whenever I like remember anything, it’s either sort of you know being… like people carrying me in like charging towards a tree or people cornering me and sort of slapping me around putting gum in my hair… because I had an afro. So then I ended up with like a bunch of bald patches for a while, that that like cut the gum out which is actually kind of funny in hindsight. I also like distinctly remember people making fun of me singing which is… for some reason kind of cathartic in hindsight. And it just feels cathartic again to like, you know, 15 years later, make a career out of being a gay musician is… is nice, I guess.

Dana: Fuck the haters. 

Hamed Sinno: [laughs] Yeah I guess. Fuck the haters now too, I suppose… but that’s another story. 

Dana: What… What was the ammunition that a lot of these bullies would use against you?

Hamed Sinno: That I – well I mean, what’s weird is I guess all those people knew I was gay before I did. Which is so strange. Like, it’s not… it’s not exclusively that I was denying it to myself. I also just didn’t know. And I guess people could see it. And I don’t know what that means, because generally when people say they think you’re gay it tends to be about your gender performance not about your actual sexual practice. Obviously, especially when you’re a teenager it’s not like you’re having sex in public. So there was a lot of that. There was that I was really good at Science and that my English was better than theirs. My Arabic was terrible. That was always something that they’d make fun of me about… that was it. I mean it doesn’t take kids much right? Kids are very creative you could say something like, I bought a new book, and that sentence will be used against you for the next two years just because someone decided that it’s enough 

Dana: I have to say that I also remember you being bullied in school.

Hamed Sinno: Yeah… it… I mean, we — I was still very much the choir kid who was loud and had good English and — 

Dana: And sang in hallways.

Hamed Sinno: Yeah, very much, a lot.

Dana: I mean you clearly had such a rough… rough experience in school. Like you just — how did you just how did you persevere? Like where were your… where were your safe havens?

Hamed Sinno: Well I guess it changed over time. When I was younger it was always books. You know when I say I was a troublemaker, I mean like I used to skip class and answer teachers back and be very rude and curse and loud and whatever and you know, pull pranks on on teachers and whatever the hell it was. But, I would skip school and go read, right? I would read stuff that wasn’t part of our high school curriculum. I’d read stuff for fun and read philosophy because I guess I needed to find justification for believing that everyone was wrong. Which, a lot of books offered, it was my favorite form of escapism, until I discovered alcohol. But, I guess that kind of kept me going. I also did have like, a solid group of like, really close girlfriends, from my first school. And, we’re still family, like now. And then, in college, it was music. It was always music, actually. Even when I was a kid, like, I’d get bullied, but then I’d go home and I’d listen to like Pearl Jam, and Nirvana and grunge and stuff that was about like brooding and being outside, and that felt like it was for people like me, and I found community through that. 

Dana: Okay so let’s get to that. Let’s get to your college days and how this entire journey began. So if you were to place a time and a location to how Mashrou’ Leila was born, what would it be? 

Hamed Sinno: There’s a building at the American University of Beirut called West Hall that had a music room in the basement. I was in my first year at design school and… a few people from the Architecture grade above us posted a flyer saying they wanted to start a music workshop for people in the architecture and design department. And I ended up in that room with like 15 other people who were sort of just jamming and, the only sort of criteria I guess for whatever we produced were that it would have to be completely original – we wouldn’t do covers – and it would have to be an Arabic. And that’s how it started. That same sort of workshop… eventually filtered down to seven musicians and, and we gave ourselves a name and we started a college band and for some reason that college band took off and… before we even like, left college, we were famous, right? Arguably, I mean famous at that point meant like people who weren’t your friends knowing what your music was, right? But it was… it was completely surreal, I mean, to… to think that this started as a college band and at this point at 31 is still like, still my career. 

Dana: What’s the relationship like between you and your bandmates? 

Hamed Sinno: It’s complicated, right? At this point you know the band has been happening for 10 years so that the stuff that we’ve been through is crazy – and it’s not the kind of stuff that any relationship would endure very easily. So I will say that we have very complicated relationships but at the same time we’re always in the trenches, sort of, together — and that matters. And you know it’s sort of like the way it is with family where you understand that there’s something bigger than you and bigger than the other person and that you’re both working within that and trying to save that… But you don’t always like each other. And that’s… sometimes beautiful and sometimes really annoying but – we’re family. 

Dana: And when you started Mashrou’ Leila, was there a mission and an identity back then? Like, did you feel like you had a fully formed kind of… identity around the band?

Hamed Sinno: Yeah I mean, look we were in art school, right which means that we were the most pretentious people you could possibly imagine. And the reason we wanted to make music in Arabic was that, you know, you and I never listened to any Arabic music in high school and there is a reason for that. One of them is that you know the kind of high schools that we went to meant that we belong to… I guess, certain classes and that affected the kind of… the kind of culture that we had access to. Lebanon is very much a post-colonial country where you know the elites of the country are quote unquote westernized, right? But also, you know, if you turn on the radio there’s… even now – if you turn on the radio – there’s very little in Arabic popular culture that deals with anything. It’s so vacuous and… and redundant and… and basic And, I guess we, we wanted to like fill that gap, right? To try and make music that we thought could reflect people like us and what we were going through and whatwe were thinking about. I guess we’re also like naïve enough to think that music could change things, right? That it couldn’t make like, the world a better place. 

Dana: What in particular did you want your music to change?

Hamed Sinno: I’m a big proponent, even now, of representation. I think representation really matters. I know that you know that – for example, when I was trying to wrap my head around my sexuality – it made me… it made me feel like I was alone, right? That I was a monster because of it. And, the sign of a monster is difference, and the sign of differences is that no one else around you is like that, right? So representation, when I was starting to come out, was so important. Even in the dumbest places like Will and Grace, right? But, also in Oscar Wilde. And David Bowie. And Kurt Cobain wearing a dress. And Rabi3 Alamuddin, especially – the author. Those things meant so much to me. They meant that I wasn’t alone and that made it a lot easier to sort of accept these things about myself. 

I think when it comes to like political convictions, you know, you and I come from a country where sectarianism rules everything; elitism rules everything. It’s a… it’s a hyper neoliberal corrupt government and society and… you know, when you see that that’s actually how the country is working, it becomes very easy to think that you’re the only person who doesn’t agree with those politics. Because that, again, is the way the country is operating. And I think it matters to like… to put that in and music and other art forms that it allows people sort of the cultural artifacts with which they can build community and it’s that community that can actually change things. You know there’s a reason why the first thing you do when you… when a country gains independence the first thing they do is they make a flag and they, you know, write a national anthem. And the reason for that is that you need… you need art. To collectivize around, you create these sort of signs these symbols of – this is a community. 

Dana: I want to talk about… I guess coming out with your sexuality publicly. Like when the band first started – and I might, I may have gotten this wrong – when the band first started, I don’t remember that being something that you guys would talk about openly. Like what… was there a decision process that happens when like, at what point do you remember deciding you know what? This is something I actually want to talk about in public.

Hamed Sinno: So I had come out two years before we started the band… And then the band happened. They knew I was gay. And it’s not that there was never like a, like a Frank Ocean moment, right? Of like, coming out and having this statement or anything it was just always there. Beirut is really small. People knew who I was. It’s just… no one ever said anything in the press, even though… the second or third concert that we played had Shim el Yasmine in it. 

Dana: Which is a love song to a man.

Hamed Sinno: Yeah, which is a song about the first guy I fell in love with. And I remember the first demo we recorded even that we sent for that radio competition had Shim el Yasmine on it… But it was always there. It’s just the press didn’t say anything about it until we got really big. And I think a big part of that is that, Arab press didn’t want to deal with it – and they still kind of don’t. The only Arab press that ever brings up my sexuality is Arab press that’s trying to call the band satanists.

Dana: And, how did the band take it? Was there a discussion like, internally with you guys about how you would talk about your sexuality? Because in many ways you started to become labeled as the first openly gay Muslim band of the Middle East.

Hamed Sinno: Yeah. So I mean we did have a discussion about it because again, even then, that first video that… that had any mention of my sexuality, that’s when the death threats started, right? And this is really like 2011 maybe 2012. So, there did have to be a discussion, because it affects everyone, but we all sort of agreed that you know they kind of had my back. I’m sure it would have been a lot easier for them if I… lied and did things easily but, they respected that I didn’t want to. And honestly, I don’t think any of us imagined that things would get as bad as they did over the years. To be completely honest, I can’t say for a fact that if I knew everything I know now about the price I’d have to pay for – for it just being honest about my sexuality, that I would still do it, right? I’d like to believe that I would. And, it’s easy to say that when you’re already in that position, right? Where, you know, it’s just a matter of fact that I have to deal with death threats and intimidation and whatever the hell it is all the time. You know, I’ve been accused of witchcraft and Satanism. I…  I can’t honestly say that I would necessarily do it again. And, it’s made me much more sympathetic to people that just don’t want to come out, either in the public eye or in their personal lives. It’s horrible. It’s not… It’s not fair. And it’s stupid that this is 2019 and this is actually still the way things are.

Dana: How do you… how do you deal with those death threats? They must be so terrifying.

Hamed Sinno: I don’t – I… there’s nothing I can do about it, right? They are what they are. We… I’d like to believe that it’s just talk. I am 100 percent certain that at some point it won’t just be talk. And then when that happens we’ll see what happens. But… you know, we ask for a lot of security at our shows, we… ignore a lot of things. Over the last like week, the scale of things has been so bad that we’ve actually had to like, report to the police in Lebanon. But, I don’t really have faith in our security apparatus. I’m not sure they’re going to do anything about it. 

Dana: Can you talk to me about the first song Mashrou’ Leila ever wrote? Who wrote it? How did you write it?

Hamed Sinno: So, the first album in general, actually, and the very first song we wrote was… you know, we hadn’t – we had just sort of met each other as musicians and we were very young musicians and we weren’t thinking as songwriters, we were thinking as musicians. And there’s a very big distinction there where, like as a songwriter you put the song first…  as a musician you put your own performance first. So, what we would do was sort of go around in a circle where we’d have one, like sort of central theme right? Like a line. And we’d go around in a circle each playing that line with our instrument and making variations of it and it’s almost like a vulgar display of musical virtuosity, right? We were like, oh look how well I can play this and look at all these like, passing notes that I can shove in and mess around with the timing and, you know. I think the very first song we wrote was a song called Raksit Leila. And Andre – our former guitarist – came up with the chords for that, I think. I can’t remember if it was him or Firas. But they came up with a chorus for that and we would just keep playing it, and looping it. 

And…  I had to write the lyrics. So, I took from this surrealist writing exercise that I had literally just learned about in art history class the day before. Where you know, write a sentence and then fold the paper and then just keep writing whatever comes to mind… 

And then eventually try to like, rationalize it. So I did that – and wrote nonsense – and then people started reading all sorts of things into it, which is hilarious. But, you know the song essentially means nothing.

Really.

Dana: [laughs] Raksit Leila?

Hamed Sinno: Yeah. It was a song that was intended to mean nothing. And the hilarious part is that people will read so much into any text – just, the insistence on meaning and significance is amazing.

Dana: How did like – our Arabic was not strong — where did you get such Arabic fluency and eloquency?  That’s something I’ve always wondered about. 

Hamed Sinno:  I mean, yeah, in high school we never spoke Arabic, right? I also didn’t do a lot of Arabic at home. My mom was an English professor and she grew up in – so, even though she’s Jordanian — she grew up between Rome and Germany and Morocco so, her Arabic was never that great. And, it was just… English has always been the language I think in – it still is – it’s the language that I start writing in and then eventually translate back to Arabic. And that’s how I learned Arabic is actually through writing songs and translating. I spend all my time – when I’m writing – I spend all my time with like, a bunch of tabs open on my laptop. One of them is, like almaany dot com. One of them is Google Translate. I mean Arabic is such a beautiful, rich language that is so loaded, that any word can mean a billion things and it’s just, it makes it easy almost to be poetic, I think. 

Dana: At what point did you realize like, wow – I think we have something here?

Hamed Sinno:  I think when we won…  we won a radio competition in the first year that we started and we were supposed to get a record deal out of it but the label went bankrupt and we never actually recorded that album with them. But, at the time, I mean, the idea of having a record deal, I mean, this was 2008? [AD BREAK] 2009? And we hadn’t really wised up to the changes in the music industry. At the time the idea of getting a record deal was synonymous with making it, right? If you… if you could get signed, if someone would record you — that’s it you’re gonna make it. 

So we started taking things more seriously. We kept making music together. We recorded our first album. When we graduated from college and the band had started getting requests to play in Jordan and Egypt and Syria, which we never did because of the war. And, in April — I think 2012 — we all…. so we weren’t making any money off of the band, right? But we decided that the only way to… to try to do this properly would be to quit our jobs anyway and see what happens. And like, we would give the band full time… for a year. And if that were to work out then we would keep doing it, and it did work out. We started playing a lot more, we wrote more, we recorded an album. And none of us looked back, I guess.

Dana: When did you realize that you had, like kind of became famous? 

Hamed Sinno: Ok, so this is weird but, I think the first time someone yelled at me at a bar in Beirut and accused me of…  they were accusing me of like bastardizing the Arabic language and told me that I shouldn’t be making music. And this guy was a complete stranger. And, I remember being so angry and so upset. But, then three hours later registering that some stranger knew who I was and what my music was. And that was very weird.

Dana:  And cared enough to yell at you

Hamed Sinno: I suppose, yeah. For all the wrong reasons. But, it was still there. And it’s one of those things that still kind of like catches me by surprise sometimes. It’s weird. 

I’ve had a very rough week — for example — because of polemics surrounding the band in Lebanon. And I was at Whole Foods trying to like, deal with how sad I was by buying like, Keto… Keto friendly ice-cream which is to say that it didn’t have real sugar in it. So, I go into Whole Foods to buy some ice cream and I get stopped by these two really, really, really sweet women who just said the nicest things to me about the band and they just — you know when these things happen, it really helps you put things in perspective. It really does help like, balance out, I guess the external feedback loop, you know, that the gratification and the validation that you get from people who actually like the band does sometimes actually help counter the amount of hate that the band gets as well.

Dana: I want to go back on the blasphemy thing… 

Hamed Sinno: We live in a context where, I mean again, even saying “free speech” or saying, “women’s equality” is considered radical. And, this isn’t to say that it’s just the Arab world, right? This region is just as bad with that, right? And has clearly, you know, the experiment of the civil rights movement here, and what that brought us to clearly kind of failed on a lot of levels…  because we’re still dealing with the KKK and with income inequality and with rape culture. So clearly this region didn’t get it right either. But, if we’re gonna be honest, you can say something here, right? But, you can’t say anything in the Arab world without that being treated like blasphemy. Or, or without you being seen as a political radical in that threatening national safety literally by writing a song saying “women should have rights”. Or, “we should have civil marriage” or whatever it is. Like, these things aren’t actually radical — they’re basic.

Dana: I want to talk about your performance and your art like, your actual voice.

So — first of all — did you ever take any kind of like voice lessons or anything like that? 

Hamed Sinno: No… But I did, over the years, sort of like, train myself and, and, you know, do stupid online tutorials and stuff like that. So I… I don’t know if I can say I’m untrained in that sense. I am — maybe self trained is the right word. 

Dana:  It’s kind of amazing. 

Hamed Sinno: [laughs] Thanks. 

Dana: And… before you go on stage — I’ve seen you in concert a couple of times — and there’s like a…  a presence, as soon as you step on to the platform, the stage, wherever you are. And I wonder how you prepare for a concert, both in your performance, and then also in your voice itself. Because in many ways your voice is not just like a voice, it’s an instrument. It’s like, it’s a musical instrument. 

Hamed Sinno: I warm up before shows. So I kind of know how to warm up enough to protect my voice, I guess… which I had to figure out because a — at some point — just kept getting laryngitis before shows and it’s because I wasn’t taking care of my voice and I don’t think there’s anything that you can do about preparing yourself for the performance part of things. I mean literally just being a body onstage under scrutiny by… too many people. It’s just — 

You know the stage is… the stage is a very weird weird place to be, right? I’m very comfortable being on stage singing to 10,000 people and much less comfortable being on stage singing to 300 people. And I will never in my life be able to stand up at a dinner table at a dinner party and start singing. And, and the reason I’m saying those three things are separate is that you know you and I are in this room right now talking. All right there’s a certain volume that we understand that we should be speaking at — if I get too loud that’s construed as aggression or arrogance even, right?

When you’re on stage, it’s the other way around. You’re literally given physical elevation, above an audience, right? There is this… like, you’re a meter and a half higher up than everyone else and you’re given amplification so that you’re loud enough that every single person in the room can hear you and they can hear you louder than they can hear each other. So, it’s essentially not a social function. So, when you get up on stage you’re not, you know, I’m not being…  I’m not there to be Hamed, right? Like the person I am with my friends or my family or my boyfriends or whatever it is. You’re there to be something that happens on stage. And it’s amazing. Because you get to experience two hours of not being yourself. And it’s incredible. And obviously the smaller an audience is, the more intimate it is, the more — the closer — it is to an actual social interaction and that’s why it gets really frightening. Because then there, you know, people’s judgments or people’s reactions to what you’re doing become closer to your actual person than to this weird persona that happens onstage. 

I still get so much performance anxiety and stage anxiety and I freak out for the entire day before a show and it just gets worse throughout the day until I’m onstage, and for a few years I tried to deal with that by drinking before getting on stage and I made a mess of myself repeatedly. I don’t understand how I still have a career. No seriously. The first time I played in D.C. I literally went on a 45 minute monologue yelling at the entire audience for letting Bernie lose the primaries. [laughs] Seriously. And has no one’s there for that. But, you know, when I got sober I guess I learned that that anxiety just means that you really care about what you’re doing. And that anxiety is actually just a lot of energy that you can then channel into a billion directions and it’s productive in that sense. It’s… it’s useful. It’s really easy to take all that anxiety and then at some moment onstage turn that into you jumping around a lot and being very energetic and dancing and, you know, just doing all those things that can make music contagious to an audience that’s watching a live performance. 

Dana: But what about like what you wear? 

Hamed Sinno: I guess the rules of thumb are… so, I sweat a lot — like most Arabs. So I wear a lot of black because it hides that. I also am constantly struggling with my weight. So, again black makes it easier. Essentially anything that makes you feel good… that makes you feel far enough removed from who you are socially that you can pretend to be someone else and someone who’s better than yourself for an hour and a half. Anything that helps you like, you know, get into the role, with method acting, one way of sort of staying in character is also to just stay in costume. And I… I feel like getting on stage is like that. You, you don’t want to feel like yourself. You don’t want to wear what you’re wearing to brunch. You want to wear something outrageous and unsocial and unfathomable. Like, there’s nothing that I wear on stage I could possibly wear on the subway. And that’s the point sort of. 

Dana: Yes. And sexy like Tina Turner. 

Hamed Sinno: And sexy like Tina Turner, definitely. 

Dana: I know you mentioned struggling with your weight. It’s something I’ve struggled with as well, and I know we’ve run into each other at the gym trying to change that [laughs]. And I wonder… like, being in the public eye — someone scrutinizing my body — would terrify me and probably break me into a million pieces. How do you do it? 

Hamed Sinno:  So, like it’s not just being in the public eye. People actually have the nerve. I mean again especially the Lebanese you know what we’re like. We, we tell each other about it. Yeah. The first thing we say to each other when we see each other is, “oh my god you gained weight, or you lost weight” or whatever. And sometimes it’s actually really well intended and I’m not going to say I’m above it — I do it all the time. We’re like that. But, I only do it when I mean it where if I see someone and they look amazing, I think it’s important to tell them. That said — the only time I, I mean, the worst that my struggle ever got with that was in college. I did pick up a really really really bad eating disorder and I think no one talks about, about men with eating disorders… which is horrible. And it’s disproportionately common in the gay male community because of these absurd body expectations that we have. 

I got a really really bad eating disorder in college I ended up in a hospital and the only reason that happened wasn’t because I was trying to react to people telling me anything about my body it was because I was trying to look good enough for a man who broke my heart, right? And… and sometimes just obsessing about your body becomes a way to feel like you’re in control of things. That’s the toxic part of eating disorders that people don’t really talk about is that it actually makes you feel like you’re in control. And that can be so dangerous. That’s why it’s so dangerous is that everything always feels out of control, especially when you’re depressed and eating disorders are just this thing to latch on to. Sometimes. that makes it really hard to stop. 

Dana: Yeah. Are you good now? 

Hamed Sinno:  I am good now. I don’t have like, the eating problems that I used to have. 

Dana: I want to talk about next steps. What is next for you?

Hamed Sinno: I’m in New York right now. I moved here three months ago and… I am writing. I am working on some solo stuff. We’re touring around the U.S. in September. 

Dana: And — what’s the craziest thing a fan has ever asked you to do? 

Hamed Sinno: It’s not necessarily crazy. It was actually just kind of offensive. Someone asked me like… I was signing autographs in Beirut this one time and someone asked me to sit on her face. 

Dana: Like “feek to23d 3a wejjy”? Is that what she said? [laughs] 

Hamed Sinno: No, she said it in English. And I was so offended! [laughs] 

Hebah Fisher: Mashrou’ Leila is going on a North American tour beginning of September 2019, so if you’re in the US or Canada, be sure to check out those dates. Selected music today from Mashrou’ Leila. You can listen to the band, and all their albums on Spotify.

This episode was produced by Dana Ballout, and myself, Hebah Fisher, with editorial support by Linah Mohammad and Alex Atack. Sound design by Mohamad Khreizat, and fact checking by Zeina Dowidar. Our original sting composed by Ramzi Bashour. And Al Empire is produced by Kerning Cultures. 

A huge thank you — of course — to Hamed Sinno for giving us his time for this interview. All of our guests are sons and daughters, fathers and brothers, and they’re building their empires. They’re extremely busy people and so it really means a lot of us that they trusted us with their time. Thank you Hamed. 

And next week on Al Empire… 

Mona Chalabi: … And so numbers can help me to do that. So, I literally just start researching and then, what I very often do, is I will get those numbers and I do them into a very classic chart type. And I will just look through the different chart types. I will take that same data and I will look at it as a bar chart, a pie chart, a line chart… and I will see which of those feels like it communicates the data the best. And then I think about the subject I’m talking about here. 

Hebah: That’s in one week. 

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