Interviews

Eye-yoob Pens a Love Letter to Lebanon in “Be Beirut”

Mona Ayoub, aka Eye-yoob, will release her new single, "Be Beirut," on July 23.
Mona Ayoub, aka Eye-yoob, will release her new single, "Be Beirut," on July 23. Dustin Moon
Outside of laboring as a tax analyst, Mona Ayoub, aka Eye-yoob, serenades audiences with multilingual songs she writes on her guitar. The Denver artist's latest, “Be Beirut" —  a love letter to her native Lebanon — drops on July 23.

Ayoub, who grew up the youngest of five siblings and four half-siblings in the city of Zahlé, says her childhood closely resembled that of her American friends. They played the same video games and watched the same TV shows — but she also endured some life-changing experiences.

“My dad passed away in 1999; I was only seven years old then,” she says. “My mom took on the role of both parents after that, in addition to her work as a teacher and, later, a school principal. In 2004, we moved from Zahlé to Beirut for better educational opportunities.”

Even as a child, Ayoub dreamed of being a star musician.


“My favorite childhood [memories] involved music,” she remembers. “I used to pretend I was a famous singer, and my niece would record interviews with me on a cassette player. Music classes and performances at my primary school were always the best part of my school days. I owe a lot of gratitude to my music teacher, Christiane Ghantous, who taught me how to sing a note.”

Ayoub received her first guitar on her sixteenth birthday and studied the instrument at the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music from 2009 to 2011. She also plays keyboards and recently took up the oud, which resembles a lute.

“My mom always encouraged me and supported my talent,” she says. “Her only concern was that I got a proper education. After that, she was excited to see me chase my dream.”

Respecting her mother’s wishes, Ayoub studied banking and finance in Lebanon, earning a bachelor's degree in 2014 and an MBA in 2017. A Boulder nonprofit that hired her as part of its team based in Lebanon offered to transfer her to Colorado; she packed her bags and moved in August 2017.

In 2019 she reached out to American-Moroccan musician Rachid Halihal through social media; he was teaching classes at Denver's Hannah Kahn Dance Company, at 75 South Cherokee Street.

"[Rachid] invited me to join the classes. He introduced me to the members of the ensemble, and we started playing small shows together here and there," she recalls. "I had the idea of asking a couple of the musicians to join me in playing a two-day gig at the Colorado Lebanese Festival in 2019, and that got everything started. Slowly, more musicians got interested and committed to play with me, so I formed what was called Eye-yoob and the Band.

"I always wanted to honor my last name and carry it wherever I go, as it goes back to the very old Lebanese people called the Phoenicians, thousands of years ago," she explains. "I decided to go by my last name, Ayoub, [and rework it] into a catchy stage name that goes with my music logo — hence Eye-yoob."

Eventually, she renamed the project Eye-yoob & Les Américains "since all the members in my band are Americans based in Denver who play and sing Middle Eastern and North African music,” she says. “In the blink of an eye, Eye-yoob and Les Américains became one of the most sought-after Middle Eastern bands in Colorado. [We] were being asked to perform at weddings, international festivals, Middle Eastern festivals and private shows.”

The bandmembers include lead percussionist James Messerich, oud player and backup singer Korey Wylie, drummer Keenan Clarke, bass and electric guitarist Andrew Bogart, and percussionist Ken Kohl.

“We play my original music as well as Middle Eastern and North African covers,” Ayoub notes. “When possible, we try to have a belly dancer or two at our shows to really make the experience special for the audience. Colorado has an amazing belly-dance scene."

Ayoub’s musical influences range from Melhem Barakat, Amal Hijazi and Gipsy Kings to Madonna, Nelly Furtado, Jennifer Lopez and George Michael, among others. She enjoys merging R&B and soul with French pop, rai and North African stylings for her original songs.

“I believe that the key to shine a little brighter among other stars is to be innovative and unique with your choices," she says. "I want Middle Eastern and North African music to reach the largest audience possible in a very smooth and straight-to-the-heart way. [This] fusion made my music catchy and easy on the audience's ear, regardless of the language.”

Ayoub hopes her songs convey deep stories to listeners. One of her recent tracks, “Monica in Quarantine,” was inspired by her lockdown experience during the pandemic.

See the video, produced by Connor Koldeway, below.
“When the quarantine and all the craziness started around the world, my mind and soul were in a state of shock,” she remembers. “I stopped eating, sleeping, practicing music, reading, doing anything fun or productive. I could say I was sad, and I was very worried that I’d lose my job, which I did. I was worried that I [wouldn’t] see my friends, the band and people that I love.

“To make the story short, after zero motivation to hold my guitar and self-isolating for weeks, I picked [up] my lyrics book and my guitar and started writing,” Ayoub continues. “One hour later, ‘Monica in Quarantine’ was born. Actually, I am talking about myself in this song. It’s mostly inspired by mental and spiritual situations at that time.”

She describes her latest single, “Be Beirut,” as a gem, because Beirut holds a special place in her heart and soul. It's a city that has been hit by recent tragedy. On August 4, 2020, a warehouse of ammonium nitrate on the Port of Beirut exploded, killing roughly 200 people and injuring at least 5,000 others.

“I am so fortunate that all my family members survived this disaster," Ayoub says. "I was able to divert all the sadness and sorrow into a positive song full of energy and love. ‘Be Beirut’ differs from my other songs in its writing techniques, its music production and its vibe,” she adds. “I am embodying my country, Lebanon, as my beloved and addressing [it] in the city that never sleeps, Beirut, as I long for the good old days. It also represents a milestone, because it’s the first time I officially mixed Lebanese, Arabic and English languages in an original recording.”

Currently, Ayoub is working on an EP that will include “Be Beirut,” a remix of her song “Mantra” and three other tracks. She recorded and mixed it at The Spot Studios in Evergreen and mastered it with Studio Torrent out of Paris. She plans to drop the record in late 2021/early 2022.

As a songwriter, she relies more on inspiration than a structured creative process.

“Personally, I never tell myself, 'Okay, today at 8 p.m., I am going to write a song,'” Ayoub says. “Sometimes I get a strong urge to write a song, and it feels like fire burning inside me. But without inspiration, words can’t come together. Once I am inspired, no matter what I am doing, I grab my lyrics book along with my guitar and start writing. The thoughts and words flow spontaneously.
click to enlarge Eye-yoob mixes genres. - DUSTIN MOON
Eye-yoob mixes genres.
Dustin Moon
“The structure of the song comes as the second step of writing,” she continues. “Do I want it to be in a single or multiple languages? How many choruses, verses? Is there a bridge in the middle or at the end? It’s tremendously important to me to feel what I am writing and link it to a person, event, place, occasion or even an abstract or imaginary figure. I live each song that I write.”

Her music, she says, hits “straight to the soul.”

“I write my songs with a full heart and soul to share with everyone in hopes of touching them in [one] way or another,” Ayoub declares. “I want people to feel that blend between different music genres, as simple as it sounds, and say, ‘Oh, this is different, and I love the vibe.’ The music I create is a way to introduce my culture to the world with my own spices. If it touches you and gets stuck in your mind for days, weeks or months, then everyone wins."

For more on Eye-yoob and her music, visit her website or Spotify page.
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Khaleel Hayes is a writer and journalist who graduated from MSU Denver in 2018. His body of work includes profiles, film reviews, poetry, short plays and photography.
Contact: Khaleel Hayes