Performing Samba in Beirut

Citizenship, Precarity and the Lebanese State


  • Gabrielle Messeder City, University of London


In this article, I will present a case study of singer and dancer Leila Khoury, a Lebanese-Brazilian performer who lives and works in Lebanon. I will examine how her struggles with aspects of Lebanese legislation are indicative of broader governmental attitudes towards performing artists and foreigners in general and reveal institutionalised prejudices toward women and people of colour. These laws are the Nationality Law and the ‘Artist Visa’, the latter of which is part of the broader kafala (sponsorship) legislative framework. The ‘Artist Visa’ reinforces societal clichés regarding dancers and also serves to reify globally circulating stereotypes of Brazilian women and Latin American women in general. In Leila’s case, this visa system plus her inability to obtain Lebanese nationality, thanks to the outdated and sexist Nationality Law, has resulted in her living in a situation of precarity. Despite these restrictive laws, the demand for foreign performing artists by the Lebanese entertainment industry remains high, due to both the commodification and global circulation of genres like samba, and also in part due to the still-enduring problematic status of female professional performance in Lebanese society.

Author Biography

Gabrielle Messeder, City, University of London

Gabrielle Messeder is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Music at City, University of London, supervised by Professor Laudan Nooshin. Her current research is concerned with Brazilian music and dance in Lebanon and her wider areas of interest include music and postcolonialism, transnationalism and popular musics of the Middle East and South America. She also works as a music teacher and musician and regularly performs Brazilian and West African music in London.