(Photo via Flickr user Stefan Müller, used under a Creative Commons license)
When Rana Fayez saw a promotional poster for a music event in Philly using Arabic script as nonsensical gibberish, she was pissed.
Fayez decided to contact the organizer to find out if they even had a lineup of musicians who were of Arabic background playing at the event. It turned out there were a few — but not nearly enough to justify using the Arabic language like they did on the posters, she thought.
“It seemed like it was being used as a novelty, to be honest,” said Fayez, who works as a freelance writer and web developer in Philadelphia and is Arab American. “I’m tired of Arab culture being used as a novelty.”
As someone who grew up listening to punk rock, Fayez started digging and ended up finding a pretty active Arab punk scene, just not one in Philly. She didn’t feel comfortable recommending the musicians in that scene to the organizer she met earlier. So, she decided to start something of her own.
Fayez said that’s pretty characteristic of what punk rock is — fighting injustice by building something new (and loud). Years ago, she co-created a music festival in her hometown of Blacksburg, Va., to start a more positive conversation around the anniversary of the shooting at Virginia Tech, where she attended college.
“It shaped me into who I am today, that whole ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality,” she said.
Now, Fayez has more than 20 bands from around the country and the world — punk, metal, indie and even classical — lined up for the YallaPunk festival and conference, what she hopes to be an “annual event to showcase the creative side of Arabs, Persians and MENA individuals.”
(Reminds us a lot of the work that Arab culture nonprofit Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture is doing.)
“Yalla” is an Arabic expression meaning “come on” or “hurry.” The festival is set to take place in Fishtown over Labor Day weekend and will feature bands, artists and filmmakers.
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But the event is also about education, with speaker panels, breakout discussions and workshops set to be spaces to learn more about these cultures that Fayez said have certainly been misrepresented in the news and popular culture. She points to outlets like Vice, which she said has often been guilty of using ethnicities as story topics in insensitive ways.
“We really want the public to be aware of this side of the culture that’s not often publicized, and if it is publicized, it’s publicized as a novelty,” Fayez said.
YallaPunk is something Fayez hopes will play a part in changing those conversations. While she has put in her own money for the event so far, she said she’s in talks with funders for the event and multiple venues have already been secured, including Johnny Brenda’s, the Ulises bookstore and the Icebox Project Space at the Crane Arts building.
In some ways, Fayez said she’s doing all this to start an Arab music scene in Philly for herself to enjoy, a place where she’s lived for several years now and has taken a number of steps to improve, including through ventures such as the City Planning Commission’s Citizens Planning Institute.
“I want to have it in Philly because Philly is my home,” she said.-30-
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