Philly gets its first Arab punk festival

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The Arab American punk rock festival, YallaPunk, makes its debut in Fishtown. (Atsushi Iwai)

The Arab American punk rock festival, YallaPunk, makes its debut in Fishtown. (Atsushi Iwai)

This weekend Philadelphia hosts a festival of punk rock, metal, comedy, and poetry — all by Arab artists. It is the first of what its organizer hopes will be an annual festival.

Rana Fayez is an Arab-American from Blacksburg, Virginia, where she was involved in the local hardcore scene. While attending Virginia Tech she booked bands to play on campus, and noticed that every few years music journalists would “discover” Arab punk.

“It’s in Vice magazine every year,” said Fayez, now in Philadelphia working as a writer. “They always publish something about it: ‘Hey, I just covered Arab metal and it’s cool.’ Then another writer comes in and says, ‘I just covered Arab metal and its cool.’ It’s always been there.”

Fayez organized the YallaPunk festival because she was annoyed, frankly, by people giving lip service to an Arab youth culture they knew little about. She says she wanted to create a supportive place where MENA artists — that is Middle Eastern and North African — were not token Arabs on an otherwise longer bill.

The lineup includes a wide range of music, from the indie folk of flowrpunk, to the sludge metal of Al-Thawra, to the crust punk of the Neutron Rats, to the comedy of Aron Kader, co-founder of the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. The two-day festival also includes workshops and about creativity with an Arab identity.

“We, as a people, have been politicized for many years.” she said. “Sometimes you just want to write a song because it sounds good, and you want people to hear it.”

The YallaPunk festival takes place in Fishtown at Johnny Brenda’s and the Barbary, and the Crane Arts Building in Kensington.

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