Turn up the volume: Brooklyn dance parties celebrate Middle Eastern and North African culture

people dance to middle eastern music at a yalla party event
People dance and celebrate at a Yalla! Party Project event at the Deep End in Queens. In recent years, those parties have become more popular — giving Middle Eastern and North African people a place to gather and enjoy each other and their culture.
Photo by Grace Chu

At a Haza party at Bushwick club The Sultan Room, classic Middle Eastern hits, Egyptian mahraganat, Palestinian dabke and Arab electronica weave through U.S. chart-topping pop, hip-hop and Afrobeat tracks, remixing genres and places and evoking a sense of nostalgia for many on the dance floor.

It’s one of several dance parties celebrating Middle Eastern and North African culture that have launched in Brooklyn in recent years. At a time of anti-immigrant rhetoric and attacks on personal freedoms after pandemic isolation, they offer community and connection to a young and diverse diaspora.

Haza’s founders, both DJs of Egyptian descent, met at similar gatherings before launching their own in November 2019. One early entrant on the scene, Yalla! Party Project, started in a Brooklyn apartment in 2016 and centers female, queer and nonbinary members of the diaspora. “For people like us, the space that we needed and still need is just very different,” Yalla! Party’s Project Director of Operations Tasha Samkough said.

“I knew from the second that I walked into a Yalla! party that I wanted to be a part of it, because it was the first time in my life that I felt safe enough to be myself. It’s an entire vibe, and it’s very transformative.”

people dancing at haza middle eastern dance party
People dance at a Haza party in Bushwick in 2021. People travel from far and wide to attend the parties. Fabien Gomez

At the Sultan Room, spread across two floors, guest DJs helped Sandiego and Myyuh to keep the music spinning until the not-so-early hours; bellydancer Minerva Erato captivated partygoers, drumming up so much excitement people started jumping on stage to join her; and violinist La Lulu had the crowd ululating in support. The performances are a highlight of the nights for Sandiego: “Everybody’s just frozen and mesmerized. Literally everybody. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. They’re just in awe.”

And people come from as far as D.C., Jersey and Connecticut to get into Haza and other parties and will commit to long winding queues for tickets. Yalla!’s Samkough recalled a party where two Iraqi cousins, who were living in different states, met coincidentally for the first time.

“I’m overjoyed that we are a place that can literally connect family members who were dislocated because of war,” Samkough said. “That’s the legacy that I think Yalla! will leave behind just by default.”

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner.  A version of this story appeared in the Fall/Holiday 2022 issue of Brownstoner magazine.

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