(Photo courtesy of Rana Fayez)
It’s not everyday you get to build your own community. But for me, YallaPunk is exactly it. YallaPunk is what I needed when I was younger and it feels like I’ve been waiting my whole life to create it.
Last year, a collective of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) creatives were brought together by a mutual reaction to the rising frictions within the national climate following the presidential election and the Muslim ban.
On a micro(aggressive) scale, I recall a particular interaction I had with a fellow DJ in Philadelphia that propelled me into action, where I came across a flyer for an event with Arabic lettering that, well … translated into total gibberish. It looked like font vomit, but the act of appropriating my culture was one I was familiar with. It was one I had seen before.
Now, before someone steps in to say, “well, actually …” I’d like to put this flyer into more context. I got into a friendly conversation with the DJ, asked him to take the Arabic down. He refused, multiple times. I asked if he was putting on any Arab musicians, or if he was playing any Arabic music. He said no, but was also obviously running a Google search during our conversation, looking up tracks he could namedrop.
Well, I saw right through it. He asked me for tracks to share with him, and I told him that something about the earlier part of our conversation made me trust him a lot less. I made a mental note to create a list of my own, which later served as the initial list of bands for the very first YallaPunk fest last year.
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After holding last year’s festival, I realized I was not the only one. There was a whole community of us out there, and we needed to find one another. We needed to work with other, help out one another, and organize to redefine and reclaim our narrative. While last year’s gathering was rooted in reaction, the reaction formed a community that celebrates its own creative accomplishments. Now we gather to celebrate, strengthen and support one another.
YallaPunk has accomplished significant milestones for an organization of our size: We gained fiscal sponsorship through the CultureTrust of Greater Philadelphia, which gave us access to nonprofit status; we built an intersectional dream community of the brightest creatives we could find; and we brought out hundreds of MENA creatives to our first annual event last year right here in Philadelphia, while simultaneously building an online community throughout the year.
But the work is just beginning.
Support from last year gave us tangible proof that the work needed to continue, and unfortunately, events that continue to affect our community negatively have also shown us that our work needs to continue.
Organizations such as South Asian Americans Leading Together have been keeping a running tally of post-election hate crimes against individuals from the South Asian, Sikh, Muslim and Arab American communities, while the Pew Research Center published a report last year regarding the spike of assaults against Muslims surpassing numbers from the year 2001. It’s no secret that hate crime numbers are rising stateside and in Canada as well.
We see value in healing and creating change through the arts. To celebrate our first anniversary as an organization, we’re building a bigger weekend of programming for our attendees this year. To reiterate, the event is open to the public — to those of MENA/SWANA [Southwest Asian and North African] descent, and to allies who would like to show solidarity through supporting MENA/SWANA creative projects. It’s important for us to reiterate that YallaPunk is a transaffirming organization as well.
In the spirit of staying true to the YallaPunk format tradition, we will be maintaining our music, comedy, poetry, film, panel discussion and workshop segments in addition to a new vendor fair this year. Our music headliner this year is Hello Psychaleppo, from Aleppian music producer and visual artist Samer Saem Eldahr. His music is “deeply rooted in Arabic music tradition, captivating listeners with melodic strains of Tarab threaded seamlessly together with the convoluted sounds of electronic music.”
Punk band Wet Specimens from Upstate New York, experimental pop band Vasillus and melody-driven Hegazy will be making their debut while acts such as drone band City of Djinn, grindcore band Night Raids and folk musician Flowrpunk will be making a comeback to the YallaPunk stage.
Comedy will feature an all-female lineup Reem Seliem, Salma Hindy, Nora Panahi, and local favorite Alyssa Al-Dookhi. Poetry will includes familiar and new names such as Samya Abu-Orf, Natasha Cohen-Carroll, Basem Youssef, Dania Alkhouli, Yasmin Belkhyr, Noor Ibn Najam and Ayah El-Fahmawi.
Finally, education is arguably the most important aspect of YallaPunk. This year we’ll be holding a panel on “Layers of Identity” with Nora Elmarzouky. Sarraf Split will be serving up Arabic coffee banana splits. Art vendors such like SARVNAZ and Big Mouth Comix will also be showcasing art that pays homage to MENA and SWANA heritage.
Are you ready to build with our community? A very limited quantity of early-bird tickets are now on sale for the Labor Day weekend event. Weekend pass tickets will go up once early bird tickets sell out, and day passes are also now available.-30-
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