Washington Arab Culture Festival breathes new life into old traditions

Washington Arab Culture Festival breathes new life into old traditions
As part of Arab American Heritage Month, organisers of a new music festival are hoping to foster a more inclusive and progressive environment for younger generations.
2 min read
Washington, D.C.
30 April, 2023
An all-women's dabke troupe performs in Washington, DC. [Getty]

On a warm late April afternoon, the patio of a bar in Washington, DC was filled with people gathered to celebrate Arab culture.

This, however, was different from many such cultural events. It was organised and run by young women, and the main dance performance was done by an all-women's dabkeh troupe.

"We thought we could bring something unique to the [Washington] DC community," Fairouz Foty, founder and artistic director of Quartertonez Music, and co-organiser of the DC Arab Culture Festival, told The New Arab.

On the patio of Dew Drop, a bar in the city's northeast, the festival sold out its 300 tickets, then accommodated more passersby who decided to drop by on their evening walk or their night out at the bar.

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Starting at 4 pm on Saturday, the space hosted vendors from Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, selling food, coffee, art and incense. 

Later in the evening, the dance and singing performances began, featuring a style that was unmistakably Arab, though with a more youthful beat, showing a desire to bring new life to old traditions.

"We started with the idea of creating an all-female dabkeh troupe," she said. "Women are really leading the charge on dabkeh and leading dances that are more traditionally led by men. Usually, it's co-ed. There are not many all-female dabkeh troupes." 

She said, "It's different when women are leading, because we do it in an egalitarian way. In the US, as second-generation Arab Americans, there hasn't been the space where we can melt both of our cultures. We're trying to create a fusion of dabkeh and different genres of music."

Co-organiser Heba Ghannam, who works as a professor and as a DJ, moved to the United States from Egypt around five years ago.

She said she had a lot of conversations with Foty about how the Arab scene in the US does not reflect their generation. 

"We wanted to create a space that's more inclusive and more progressive that represents our generation," she told TNA.

The DC Arab Culture Festival is the first in what organisers hope will be an annual event to celebrate Arab American Heritage Month, which has recently gotten federal recognition.