The Spin: Beirut's Jam Is Mashrou' Leila's 'Embembelela7' Beirut is home to some of the biggest Arab pop stars, but it's also home to a thriving independent music scene. Ziad Nawfal is a DJ with Radio Lebanon, and his choice for the city's song of summer is Mashrou' Leila's "Embembelela7," which borrows its main lyric from a Lebanese nursery rhyme and sets it to a harsh drumbeat.

The Spin: Beirut's Jam Is Mashrou' Leila's 'Embembelela7'

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(Soundbite of music)

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This summer, we're traveling across the globe in our quest for the perfect summer soundtrack. And this week, we're heading to the Middle East.

When it comes to summer in the Arab world, no city does it better than Beirut. It's often called the Paris of the Middle East - for its style, its cuisine and its fashionable nightlife along the Mediterranean.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing foreign language)

NORRIS: Beirut is home to some of the biggest Arab pop stars, but it's also home to a thriving independent music scene.

And Ziad Nawfal brings those underground artists to audiences every week. He's a DJ with Radio Lebanon. He's a staple of the city's nightlife.

He joins us now from Beirut to tell us about his pick for our series called The Spin.

Ziad, welcome to the program.

Mr. ZIAD NAWFAL (DJ, Radio Lebanon): Hello, hi.

NORRIS: So tell me about the song that you've chosen for the series.

Mr. NAWFAL: I've chosen a song called "Embembelelah."

(Soundbite of song, "Embembelelah")

MASHROU' LEILA (Music Group): (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. NAWFAL: Which is a very strange name for a song, but that's because, originally, it's a nursery rhyme that parents sing to their children here in Beirut. And it's sung by a young rock band called Mashrou' Leila.

NORRIS: Even the name sounds so lyrical. "Embembelelah," is that right?

Mr. NAWFAL: Absolutely. With an H sound at the end. "Embembelelah."

(Soundbite of song, "Embembelelah")

MASHROU' LEILA: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: It's a nursery rhyme. But as we listen, it sounds like it could almost be a club song also.

Mr. NAWFAL: Absolutely. They've added some sort of very harsh drumbeats on top of it, which is kind of their intent. They wanted to turn this nursery rhyme around and turn it into some sort of satirical comment on materialistic tendencies in Lebanon, how people are driven by greed, by money - how a nursery rhyme, using the same words, can be turned into something quite dark and brooding rather than soothing and lyrical.

(Soundbite of song, "Embembelelah")

MASHROU' LEILA: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: You know, that effect is so interesting because it's a nursery rhyme, it almost sounds like a mother leaning in and telling her child: Ssshhh, be quiet.

Mr. NAWFAL: Yeah, that was his intent originally.

(Soundbite of song, "Embembelelah")

MASHROU' LEILA: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Tell me more about the band.

Mr. NAWFAL: The band is composed of six boys and one girl, and they're all pretty young. A couple of years ago, there was a musical workshop being held at the American University in Beirut, and these kids basically joined, and they clicked. And they decided to turn it into something more than a one-night project. The band is called Mashrou' Leila, which literally means in Arabic: one-night project. And so they decided - they kept the name Mashrou' Leila, one-night project, and they were off.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Describe for me a perfect summer day and evening in Beirut.

Mr. NAWFAL: The thing is about Beirut in the summer, because the beaches are so hectically and frantically busy, what I prefer to do and what I recommend to anyone who was coming to spend some summer days here in Beirut is to actually drive along the coast and pick a cafe, pick a small strip of beach that's not necessarily crowded, sit there, maybe have some lunch, some fish. Eventually, you drive back to the city and go into the Hamra district, which is a very successful neighborhood of Beirut. Maybe go there to grab a drink and catch some live music in the evening.

NORRIS: Sounds sublime.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Ziad, thanks so much.

Mr. NAWFAL: Well, thank you for being interested.

NORRIS: All the best to you. Have a great day there in Beirut.

Mr. NAWFAL: Thanks.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Ziad Nawfal is DJ and host with Radio Lebanon. He's chosen a full playlist of Lebanese summer songs just for us. It's at nprmusic.org along with the rest of our series called The Spin.

(Soundbite of music)

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