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The Middle Eastern Party Scene Thriving in Brooklyn

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Just before midnight on a Friday in June, a brief line formed outside Elsewhere, a music venue and nightclub in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Saphe Shamoun, one in all the D.J.s performing that night, gingerly approached two women within the queue.

“Are you here for Laylit?” he asked. They nodded, and Mr. Shamoun directed them toward one other entrance — and a for much longer line — further up the block.

Laylit, or “the night of” in Arabic, is a celebration based in Latest York and Montreal that spotlights music from the Middle East and North Africa and its diaspora.

It has had a residency at Elsewhere since October, but tonight was special: The event had change into so popular that for the primary time, it was being held not within the venue’s smaller rooms but in its cavernous hall, where over 800 people would soon dance under a shimmering disco ball and hypnotic light show.

On the bill: a performance by Anya Kneez, a Lebanese drag queen, and D.J. sets highlighting Arabic pop, hip-hop, folk and electronic music.

A decade ago, it was practically unheard-of for a serious Latest York club to usually host a Middle Eastern-themed party. But now, Laylit is an element of a thriving scene in Brooklyn that puts Middle Eastern and North African music front and center.

The events vary in style, but all of them have fun cultures that the promoters say have been ignored within the West. They usually offer many Latest Yorkers a way of comfort in a teeming city that may nonetheless feel isolating, especially after greater than two years of a pandemic.

“It’s so, so beautiful to see the community coming together,” said Felukah, a hip-hop artist who moved to Latest York from Egypt in 2018 and is a daily at Laylit and other parties prefer it. “The sounds remind me of home.”

For some partygoers, nostalgia is the important attraction. Yet each event also looks toward the long run, be it through difficult stereotypical notions of Middle Eastern culture or by championing inclusivity and progressive ideals.

Laylit, for one, has created a shared space for Arabs who hold those values, said Mr. Shamoun, a Syrian D.J. and Ph.D. candidate who founded the party in 2018 with Wake Island, a Montreal-based music duo made up of Philippe Manasseh and Nadim Maghzal.

Mockingly, it wasn’t until the 2 left their native Lebanon that they embraced its sounds.

“It wasn’t cool once I was growing as much as play Arabic music,” Mr. Maghzal said.

“It was actually uncool,” Mr. Manasseh added.

And after emigrating to Montreal within the early 2000s, they actively separated themselves from their culture, fearing discrimination and feeling a way of duty to assimilate, Mr. Manasseh said.

But now, they use Laylit as an outlet to rediscover their roots. In September, they’ll be celebrating the party’s fourth anniversary with one other show at Elsewhere, and a tour across Montreal, Detroit and Washington, D.C.

Disco Tehran, a dance party and performance project that channels the international music culture of Nineteen Seventies Iran, was also born out of the immigrant experience. The organizers, Arya Ghavamian and Mani Nilchiani, said it took years to get it off the bottom.

Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Ghavamian, an Iranian filmmaker who had moved to the USA a number of years earlier, approached a corporation about throwing a celebration to have fun Nowruz, a vacation that marks the start of the Persian Latest 12 months and is observed in several countries across Central and West Asia. “It was a ‘no,’” Mr. Ghavamian said.

A couple of years later, he began hosting get-togethers in his apartment where he would cook Persian cuisine and invite musicians to play. By early 2018, his apartment could not accommodate the crowds, so he and Mr. Nilchiani hosted their first public Disco Tehran event: the long-shelved Nowruz celebration.

The party has since expanded and evolved, and it now features a film project and community outreach efforts. It recently celebrated its fourth anniversary on the Sultan Room, a nightclub and eatery in Bushwick, with an eclectic playlist and performances by Alsarah and the Nubatones, an East African retro pop band, and Epilogio, a Puerto Rican indie-funk band.

Disco Tehran, Mr. Ghavamian said, “is about a set of various cultures who may not have anything to do with one another on a given day, but they arrive together.”

And the project is on its third European tour, which supplies the organizers the sense that they “have a spot wherever we’re on the planet,” Mr. Ghavamian said. Its next Latest York event is Aug. 13, on the Knockdown Center in Queens.

Yalla! Party Project also grew out of intimate apartment gatherings, hosting its first public event within the spring of 2018. (“Yalla” translates to “let’s go” or “come on” in Arabic.) Its founder yearned for a queer party that featured Southwest Asian and North African music.

Over time, Yalla! has expanded into an arts collective and community-building exercise. It’s starting a skilled directory to assist people find jobs and it runs a market that supports small businesses run by women, people of color and queer people.

Its parties reflect Latest York’s cultural diversity. At a May show on the Sultan Room, an Eritrean henna artist drew intricate patterns on a person’s palm while partygoers danced to R&B and Lebanese pop. Yalla! also ramped up programming during Pride month, with 4 events spread across venues in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Once word of Yalla! got around, similar events followed. It was at an early Yalla! show where Mr. Maghzal, of Laylit, first spun Arabic music. A 12 months later, a drag queen named Ana Masreya — her name means “I’m an Egyptian woman” in Arabic — organized a Middle Eastern and North African cabaret called Nefertitties, a play on the name of the traditional Egyptian queen.

Ana celebrated her show’s third anniversary in May with an event at Littlefield, in Gowanus, and visited Washington, D.C., for a cabaret in late June. For her grand entrance on the anniversary show, she was carried in on a makeshift sedan chair, shrouded by a gold mesh sheet, which she later removed to disclose a gold crown modeled after that of Nefertiti.

Onstage, Ana spoke about her experience being a publicly known L.G.B.T.Q. person from the Middle East, a region where homosexuality is basically taboo and may, in some nations, result in persecution. “It’s mad scary sometimes,” Ana said.

The night featured drag performances by Rify Royalty, who’s Egyptian American, and Meh Mooni, who’s Iranian American; a set by Felukah; and a belly-dancing contest set to an Egyptian song that may be a staple at Arab parties: “Shik Shak Shok.”

The next week, the song could be played again on the Sultan Room’s rooftop during Haza, a dance party and radio show that began in 2019 and spotlights artists from the Middle East and African diasporas and beyond.

Certainly one of its founders, an Egyptian American D.J. and artistic writing consultant who performs under the name Myyuh, grew up in a predominantly white town in Connecticut, where she said she was largely detached from Egyptian culture. She felt embarrassed when her mother would blast Arabic music at home, she said.

But at Haza, she turned to it for comfort — and blasted it on a pulsating dance floor while fellow Arabs ululated in celebration under the Bushwick sky. (Haza will return to the Sultan Room for its next show on July 29.)

“We’re creating a very different experience with these songs,” Myyuh said.

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

“It’s every thing that you understand and love,” she said. “And it’s not only you, however the person next to you is singing the identical thing because they understand why that is so meaningful.”

For Mr. Shamoun, of Laylit, that have is especially essential for many who have fled the Middle East amid war, uprisings and refugee crises.

“We’ve been robbed of a gift and a future within the Arab world,” he said.

When he’s behind the decks at his shows, he often spots recent immigrants and hopes the songs he plays transport them back home, if just for a number of minutes.

Because the events proceed to generate buzz, few of the promoters seem like in competition — in truth, most of them collaborate with one another.

Ana Masreya performed at a Laylit party earlier this month, drawing cheers from the gang, while Myyuh was within the D.J. lineup.

Mr. Manasseh believes the scene grew out of what he calls an “affirm yourself on the dance floor” movement that took hold after the aughts and grew stronger when Donald J. Trump became president.

Rock was suddenly out, dance and electronic music were in, and more people of color and L.G.B.T.Q. people were creating spaces where they felt seen and heard.

Despite the fact that Laylit is seemingly rooted in faraway cultures, Mr. Manasseh credits its existence to a single city.

“All this was inspired and enabled by Latest York,” he said.

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