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YallaPunk celebrates the resilience of the Southwest Asian North African community with its 4-day arts fest

August 28, 2019 Category: FeaturedLongPurposeQ&A
The YallaPunk Festival starts tomorrow, but it is only part of what YallaPunk has become.

Rana Fayez, who also teaches web development and media theory at Drexel University, has guided YallaPunk from an annual festival with DJing and music into an organization with year-round programming. Still, the festival remains the organization’s signature event. This year it has been expanded to include a fourth day, and we have film tickets and weekend passes to the festival to raffle off — look for details at the end of the post.

Generocity caught up with Fayez for a quick Q&A in advance of the festival’s opening events.

[Editor’s note: The responses of the Q&A have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.]

Generocity: How would you describe YallaPunk? 

Rana Fayez: YallaPunk is a wonderful community of passionate people, it started as a music festival but has now grown well beyond our expectations. The organization was founded on a reaction against negative depictions of MENA (Middle Eastern North African) individuals, but now celebrates the strong and resilient SWANA (Southwest Asian North African) community that has come together over the past three wonderful years.

Generocity: What prompted you to start it? Has the mission changed over the years?

Rana Fayez: The political climate seemed to be brewing in a negative direction and MENA individuals were being portrayed negatively, it felt like a time to redefine the narrative. If we didn’t redefine it ourselves, it was going to be defined for us.

Generocity: What’s new about [the festival] this year?

Rana Fayez: This year the festival is four days, participation has grown and application submissions grew a great deal. We’re no longer reacting, but we are building a strong and resilient community to support the celebration of our creative accomplishments for years to come.

We have a dedicated film venue, more workshops, more panel discussions, and an experimental stage featuring dance and power electronics (for the first time).

From our Partners

Generocity: Do you curate the films/music/performances? What is your criteria?

Rana Fayez: The application process is two-fold: cold applications that come in through our website and specifically sought-out talent we (YallaPunk board and myself) reach out to. We also take suggestions from within the community, but ultimately, everyone has to go through the application process on our website. It’s a lot easier to keep track of it that way, we’d like to make sure everyone is represented exactly how they would like. It’s important to have autonomy over one’s narrative.

Criteria — performers needs to be connected to the SWANA region is some way to be considered. Each category develops its own committee, through which performers and workshops are selected. This year, we put out a poll on our Instagram and we had a lot of responses, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford some of the big-name performers that were requested.

We’re happy to announce that Wake Field, one of the requested bands, will be performing at YallaPunk this year at Johnny Brenda’s! There’s a lot of really great talent and some new local bands on the bill like Droopies, Dania, and Gaz.

We’re looking forward to having Lime Rickey International back from our debut year. We’ve also been talking to math-rock band Media Jeweler for the past three years, we’re glad they could finally join us this year! Time is Fire will be performing traditional Sufi dances along with Kamyar‘s poetry. Erotic Thrillers is an all-female band from Washington D.C,. which includes Basla, a member that used to be a part of a Dischord records band the Andalusians, who played the very first fest I ever booked back in 2008.

Gaz is a new-ish band out of Philly that’s quickly making a big name for themselves with their doom-laced punk sound. Intercourse is visiting us from Connecticut, a band reminiscent of ’80s hardcore. Glitter Skulls is bringing a bit of a different sound with modular synthesizers, also bonus round, Chris Knight from the band is teaching a workshop on Saturday at Crane Arts.

Fareeha Khan is headlining our comedy portion, she has been given special recognition at the NBC Showcase at The Women in Comedy Fest, Comedy Central’s Up Next Showcase at The Stand and was a semi-finalist at Sundance New Voices Lab 201, among others.

The films we’re screening include Drive by Sara Gama — which highlights the effects of Islamophobia on an Arab-American teenage punk who was trying to see a show after making plans to see the band Anti-Flag — and I Say Dust by Darine Hotait, in which two Arab-American women in New York City fall in love, argue home and identity, engage in a chess battle, and express themselves through the power of the spoken word. Also Home, an experimental film by Sarmistha Talukdar, which touches upon issues of gentrification and diaspora.

Workshops this year include a program from Jewish Voice for Peace on the Deadly Exchange; an Intro to Craft/Luthiery with Leila Sidi of TunaTone Instruments; Weaving a History Never Known: Using Art to Decolonize Our History By Nebal Maysaud, Resistance Writing by Ayah El-fahmawi; a regional identity panel explaining the terms MENA vs. SWANA vs. SSWANA vs. MENASA facilitated by Pouneh Best; and a bookmaking workshop to archive reclaimed and reimagined narratives by Nora Elmarzouky.

Poetry — we have returning poet Samya Abu-Orf who performed at our kickoff event at Vox Populi back in January.

We’re so thrilled for all the programming taking place this year, it will be a wonderful four days with some of our best friends from all over the world at YallaPunk.

Generocity: Your nonprofit does more than the events, right?

Rana Fayez: Absolutely! We have art exhibits, the first of which was at Vox Populi in January and February, it also included artist talks. We run a language conversation group specifically geared towards preserving, uplifting culture and keeping it from being erased. We’ve been invited to do pop up programming this year, we programmed a night at the Penn Museum, which included poetry and music.

2019 was our first year of year-round programming. 2019 has been a really great year for us.

Generocity: In five years, what do you think YallaPunk will be? What about in 10?

Rana Fayez: In five years: I see YallaPunk programming flourishing throughout the year and our fest becoming our annual gathering, where our community regroups and celebrates one another’s accomplishments.

I see more collaboration taking place between community members. I see a stronger community and stronger programming. It would be great to launch an artist residency at some point, cultural competency of the type of work our community creates is SO needed these days.

In 10 years, I see us becoming an organization with several fulltime employees supporting the programming and infrastructure of the organization. Who knows, maybe a foundation will bestow us with enough funding to make this a reality in under 10 years from now (here’s hoping!). It would do wonders for our programming to have dedicated staff.

At this point in time as the director, I get help from my wonderful board members and volunteers.


Interested in being entered into the raffle for a 1) film ticket, and/or a 2) weekend pass to YallaPunk? Contact for details.



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