YallaPunk hosted year-round events for the first time this year. A Philly-based music, arts and culture festival dedicated to providing a spotlight and safe haven for the Southwest Asian North African (SWANA) community, they partied at the Penn Museum and at an exhibition at Vox Populi.

And there was the language conversation group — which took festival founder Rana Fayez by surprise. People began using YallaPunk to discover and connect with others who spoke the same tongue.

“The big part of this is that it was actually all across the country, it wasn’t just Philly,” Fayez, 31, told Billy Penn. “This was a very beautiful way of getting people to build community throughout the year, not just during the festival.”

That’s the overarching theme of the 3rd annual festival: Celebrating resilience and building community. The event’s tight-knit audience has been growing. Last year’s festival saw about 400 people, up from the 200 who came out the first year.

“During the festival a lot of people are really excited and they’re making new best friends,” Fayez said.

YallaPunk highlights SWANA people. SWANA is a term designed to be more inclusive of people who hail from countries in and around Southwest Asia and North Africa, including countries like Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Saudia Arabia. As an arts festival focused on punk music, YallaPunk uses film, music, spoken word, dance and educational panels to speak to a population that identify as SWANA, but also to reach folks who might know nothing about it.

“It is absolutely for us, but it also is to showcase our talents and show the audience who we really are,” said Fayez. “We’re crushing stereotypes with this festival.”

A well-attended gathering that was one of YallaPunk’s new year-round activities Credit: Shiyam Glayon / Courtesy YallaPunk

Thursday kicks the festival off with a series of short film screenings at PhilaMOCA in the Spring Garden section of the city.

I Say Dust is a short film that chronicles two Arab-American women living in New York City who fall in love. The film is by award-winning director Darine Hotait who has had her work featured on Sundance TV and the BBC. Other films — one about a teenage hijabi who goes on an adventure with her friend, one about the ups and downs of two former lovers, one that explores gentrification — offer a “condensed slice of life,” Fayez, 31, said.

“These are very relatable experience for people of all backgrounds. They just happen to have SWANA people directing them [and] SWANA people cast in them.”

Credit: Kamal Aboul-Hosn / Courtesy YallaPunk

Friday’s comedy and music show at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown will be headlined by Fareeha Khan, an NYC-based comedian who recently acted in a short film executive produced by Emmy-award winning writer and producer Lena Waithe.

Then, local indie band The Droopies will take the stage, followed by Connecticut-based punk act Intercourse and an all-women punk band called Gaz.

People come from pretty far to participate in the unique YallaPunk experience. This year, Vancouver-based luthier (a person who makes stringed instruments) Leila Sidi is going to show the crowd how to make a guitar during the first day of the vendor bazaar at Craft Arts in Kensington.

Credit: Shiyam Glayon / Courtesy YallaPunk

More music at Johnny Brenda’s closes day three, and Sunday’s lineup includes some of the educational programming that’s so important to Fayez and the rest of the YallaPunk family.

Fayez is participating in an exploratory workshop called, “A Problem with ‘Issues’: Reworking the Language of Common Space” facilitated by Nora Elmarzouky and created by Ricky Yanas, a photographer and co-owner of indie bookshop Ulises.

It’s not too late to grab tickets, which start at $18 for Thursday passes to $60 for a weekend pass. YallaPunk budgeted for some sliding scale tickets, too, to make the programming as inclusive as possible. So if you want to rock out, but the tickets are out of your budget, email yallapunk@gmail.com.

Ultimately, a comment Fayez made about the YallaPunk language conversation program speaks to the heart of the festival’s purpose: “The idea is to keep heritage and culture from being erased.”

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...