Arab-American music fest YallaPunk wants to shatter the ‘genie lamp’ stereotype

In its second year, the Philly punk rock festival is adding workshops, poetry, comedy and a craft fair.

Lime Rickey International performed at the 2017 fest

Lime Rickey International performed at the 2017 fest

Atsushi Iwai / Courtesy YallaPunk
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Community building, critical discussion of Middle Eastern and North African identity, and reclaiming Arab-American narratives through representation in arts and music.

In a not-so-light nutshell, that’s YallaPunk.

Following a well-received debut in 2017, the region’s only Arab-American punk rock festival makes its return to Johnny Brenda’s this weekend, with programming running from Aug. 31 through Sept. 1. And this time around, founder Rana Fayez has built a lineup that goes far beyond music.

Despite the diversity of the local arts community, Fayez, 30, said she routinely encounters subtle acts of ignorance and discrimination at venues across the city.

“I went to a music event in Philly recently to perform,” Fayez said, “where another artist came up to me and told me that my culture reminded them of ‘mystical and magical’ things.”

The person then proceeded to ask Fayez if she owned a genie lamp.

“YallaPunk is needed because we can’t have people speaking on our behalf in this industry,” Fayez explained. “We risk having someone else defining our narrative for us. Music and the arts have a way of healing, of explaining the nuances of culture to others who may not be within it and of speaking to those who get it.”

Last year’s inaugural show was like a “pilot” run, Fayez said. It was planned and executed in just four months. This year, organizers had more time to be intentional about community building, so they were able to build a schedule that offered more than blistering band jams.

YallaPunk 2018 features comedy acts, workshops, lectures, film screenings, poetry readings and a local vendors fair, all centered on the Arab experience. To widen its reach beyond punk fans, the musical lineup also includes an R&B duo, an indie band and the headlining electronic-dance outfit, Hello Psychaleppo.

“We’ll still be intersectional, we’ll still be reactionary and do things with the ‘punk spirit,’ but we also want to make this a gathering where people feel comfortable and safe,” Fayez said.

Another first for this year’s community-focused fest: performers — who travel to Philadelphia from all over the country for this event — will be given food and lodging. People from Philly’s Middle Eastern and North African communities have volunteered to house the artists, with different lodging arrangements according to dietary needs.

It’s part of what Fayez calls a “sustainable creative ecosystem,” in which YallaPunk artists can get to know one another without being exploited.

Local acts to look out for this Labor Day weekend include punk band Night Raids, poets Natasha Cohen-Carroll and Ayah El-Fahmawi and activist educators Nora Elmazourky, Zein Hassanein and Radwan Shehab.

Highlights of the vendor fair at Crane Arts on Saturday and Sunday are Arabic coffee banana splits made by a Lancaster resident of Syrian descent, portable “little trees,” and henna tattoos.

YallaPunk kicks off on Friday, Aug. 31 at 6:45 p.m. Weekend passes are $50, and $10-$30 single-day passes are available as well.