Philly’s MENA community thrives as YallaPunk returns for a second year

2 minute read
YallaPunk founder Rana Fayez says the festival is about thriving, not just surviving. (Photo by Lauren Freney.)
YallaPunk founder Rana Fayez says the festival is about thriving, not just surviving. (Photo by Lauren Freney.)

For musician and activist Rana Fayez, creating a community of artists and creatives who share her experiences as an Arab woman has been a significant but often elusive goal. Last year, she took charge and started YallaPunk, a festival supported by CultureTrust of Greater Philadelphia. It’s returning this year to two Philly venues, running August 31 through September 2.

A reaction becomes a community

Inspired by AfroPunk, YallaPunk celebrates artists, musicians, and creatives of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) backgrounds. When Fayez began conceptualizing the first YallaPunk festival, she wanted to reclaim the narrative around Arabs and Muslims that often surfaces around the anniversary of September 11. She also wanted to protect her culture from appropriation and project the voices of MENA creatives such as herself. This year, she’s focusing on bringing those voices together.

“Last year, the festival was a reaction — this year we're building a community,” Fayez says. “The goal is to thrive instead of survive.”

Music, comedy, films, and more

Headlining the event on Saturday is Hello Psychaleppo, the band that pioneered the electro-tarab genre (tarab is a kind of Arabic classical music) in 2013. It is led by Samer Saem Eldahr, from Aleppo, Syria. Bands City of Djinn and Night Raids are returning, as well as comedians Reem Salim and Alyssa Al-Dookhi. Salma Hindy and Nora Panahi join them for a music and comedy showcase on Friday night.

This year’s festival also features a diverse array of panels and workshops. Filmmaker Heidi Saman, a 2016 Pew Fellow, will be hosting an indie film workshop, and the Queer Arabs Podcast will record live. New to the festival are Sunday film screenings — including 2015’s Baghdad, Iowa — and poetry readings. Attendees can also hit up vendors like Sema Tattoo and Sarraf Split Ice Cream.

Ending solo emotional labor

“We're invested in the well-being of our community and as we continue to grow, it's important to think about the future, it's important to think about longevity and sustainability,” Fayez says. “The idea is to create a support system where none of us have to endure emotional labor alone.”

“As a founder, I'd like to acknowledge that none of this would have been possible without the help of the community,” she adds. “I hope that attendees build connections that last a lifetime, [because] that's exactly what we're trying to do… This event is us and who we choose to share our space with.”

YallaPunk 2018 runs Friday, August 31, through Sunday, September 2. Events will take place at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 Frankford Avenue) and the Crane Arts Building (1400 N. American Street). Tickets are available online, and so is the full list of events, artists, and vendors.

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