Middle Eastern party scene thrives in Brooklyn

Just before midnight on a Friday in June, a short line formed outside Elsewhere, a music venue and nightclub in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Saphe Shamounone of the DJs performing that night, crept up to two women in the queue.

“Are you here for Laylit?” he asks. They nodded, and Mr. Shamoun directed them to another entrance—and an even longer line—up the block.

Laylitor “night of” in Arabic, is a party based in New York and Montreal, highlighting music from the Middle East and North Africa and its diaspora.

It’s had a seat at Elsewhere since October, but this night was special: The event became so popular that for the first time, it was held not in the venue’s smaller rooms but in its cavernous hall, where more than 800 people will soon dance under the shadow of a shimmering discotheque and a hypnotic light show.

On the bill: a performance of Anya Kneeza Lebanese drag queen and DJs highlighting Arabic pop music, Hip-hop, folk and Electronic music.

A decade ago, it was unheard of for a large New York club to regularly host a Middle Eastern themed party. But now, Laylit is part of a thriving Brooklyn scene that puts Middle Eastern and North African music at the center.

The events vary in style, but all celebrate cultures that promoters claim have been overlooked in the West. And they provide many New Yorkers with a sense of comfort in a crowded city that can nonetheless feel isolated, especially after more than two years of the pandemic.

“It’s great to see the community come together,” said Felukah, a hip-hop artist who moved to New York from Egypt in 2018 and is a regular at Laylit and other parties. “The sound reminds me of home.”

For some partygoers, nostalgia is the main attraction. However, each event also looks to the future, be it through challenging stereotypes about Middle Eastern culture or by advocating inclusiveness and progressive ideals.

Mr. Shamoun, a Syrian, said Laylit created a common space for Arabs to hold those values. DJ and Ph.D. party founding candidate in 2018 with Wake Islanda Montreal-based musical duo consisting of Philippe Manasseh and Nadim Maghzal.

Ironically, it wasn’t until they both left their native Lebanon that they accepted what it sounded like.

“It was not interesting when I grew up playing Arabic music,” said Mr. Maghzal.

Mr Manasseh added: “It’s really not fun.

And after immigrating to Montreal in the early 2000s, they actively distanced themselves from their culture, fearing discrimination and feeling an obligation to fit in, Manasseh said.

But now, they use Laylit as an outlet to rediscover their roots. In September, they will celebrate the party’s fourth anniversary with another show at Elsewhere, and a tour around Montreal, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Disco Tehran, a dance party and performance project that conveys Iran’s international musical culture of the 1970s, was also born from the experience of immigrants. Organizers, Arya Ghavamian and Mani Nilchiani, said it took years for it to begin.

Nearly a decade ago, Ghavamian, an Iranian filmmaker who had moved to the United States a few years earlier, approached an organization about throwing a party to celebrate Nowruz, a holiday that marks the beginning the beginning of the Persian New Year and is observed in several countries throughout Central and Western Asia. “It’s ‘no’,” said Mr Ghavamian.

A few years later, he began holding meetings in his apartment, where he would cook Persian food and invite musicians to play. In early 2018, his apartment ran out of room for a crowd, so he and Mr. Nilchiani held their first public Disco Tehran event: the long-awaited Nowruz celebration .

The party has since expanded and grown, and now it includes a movie project and community approach effort. It recently celebrated its 4th anniversary at the Sultan Room, a nightclub and eatery in Bushwick, with an eclectic playlist and performances by Alsarah and Nubatonesan East African retro pop band, and Epilogioa Puerto Rican indie-funk band.

Mr Ghavamian said Disco Tehran “is a collection of different cultures who may not be related to each other on a given day, but they come together”.

And the project is on its third European tour, which gives the organizers the feeling that they “have a place anywhere in the world,” Ghavamian said. The next event in New York is August 13, at the Knockdown Center in Queens.

Yalla! Party Project also evolved from intimate gatherings in apartments, holding their first public event in spring 2018. (“Yalla” means “let’s go” or “come on” in Arabic.) Its founder aspired to an exotic party that featured Southwest Asia and North African Music.

Over the years, Yalla! has expanded into a collective art and community building activity. It’s starting a professional directory to help people find work and it runs market support small businesses run by women, people of color and gay people.

Its parties reflect New York’s cultural diversity. At a show in May at the Sultan Room, a Eritrean henna artist drew intricate patterns on a man’s palm while partygoers danced along R&D and Lebanese pop music. Yalla! also enhanced the program during Pride month, with four events spread across locations in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Once from Yalla’s! around, similar events followed. It’s at an early Yalla! shows where Mr. Maghzal, the Laylit, first filmed Arabic music. A year later, a drag queen named Ana Masreya – her name means “I am an Egyptian woman” in Arabic – hosted a pub in the Middle East and North Africa called Nefertittiesa play about the name of an ancient Egyptian queen.

Ana celebrated her show’s third anniversary in May with an event at Littlefield, in Gowanus, and visited Washington, DC, to attend a pub in late June. large door At the anniversary show, she was carried in a makeshift sedan chair, covered with a gold mesh, which she then removed to reveal a gold tiara modeled on Nefertiti.

On stage, Ana talked about her experience being an openly known LGBTQ person from the Middle East, a region where homosexuality is largely taboo and, in some countries, can lead to to abuse. “It’s scary sometimes,” Ana said.

Night with drag performance by Royal RifyEgyptian-Americans, and Meh Mooni, Iranian-Americans; a set of Felukah; and a belly dance competition established an Egyptian song loved at Arab parties: “Shik Shak Shok. “

Next week, the song will be played back on the rooftop of the Sultan Room in Hazaa dance party and radio program started in 2019 and attracted the attention of artists from the Middle East and the African diaspora and beyond.

One of its founders, an Egyptian-American DJ and creative writing consultant who performs under the name Myyuh, grew up in a predominantly white Connecticut town, where she says she is largely separate from Egyptian culture. She felt embarrassed that her mother would play Arabic music at home, she said.

But at Haza, she turned to it for comfort – and blasted it on a lively dance floor while fellow Arabs celebrated under the Bushwick skies. (Haza will return to the Sultan Room for the next show on July 29.)

“We are creating a completely different experience with these songs,” says Myyuh.

Her co-founder, an Egyptian DJ and sound engineer who performs under the name Carmen Sandiego, likened the experience to a hug.

“It’s all you know and love,” she said. “And not only you but the people around you sing the same thing because they understand why this means so much.”

For Mr Shamoun, of Laylit, that experience is especially important for those who have fled the Middle East amid war, insurgency and the refugee crisis.

“We have been robbed of our present and our future in the Arab world,” he said.

When he’s behind the floor at his gigs, he often spots recent immigrants and hopes the songs he plays will transport them home, if only for a few minutes.

As events continue to generate buzz, a few promoters appear to be competing – in fact, most of them collaborate.

Ana Masreya performed at a Laylit party earlier this month, drawing cheers from the crowd, while Myyuh joined the DJ lineup.

Mr. Manasseh believes the scene grew out of what he calls a “self-affirmation on the dance floor” movement that has sustained after thought and grew stronger when Donald J. Trump became president.

Rock was abruptly phased out, dance and electronic music joined in, and more and more people of color and LGBTQ are creating spaces where they feel seen and heard.

Although Laylit appears to be rooted in distant cultures, Manasseh attributes its existence to a single city.

“All of this is inspired and enabled by New York,” he said.

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