The SWANA Events Enriching Europe’s Music Scene
A new generation of South West Asia and North Africa event organisers are reclaiming their native sounds and nourishing community in urban spaces across the continent.
A notable movement of SWANA music nights is taking hold in Europe, carving out spaces for connection, safe self-expression, and radical joy in the diaspora. This is a relatively new phenomenon: the post-pandemic era ushered in a generation determined to rebuild a sense of community and reclaim spaces of pleasure and party that were previously white-dominated. Moreover, with the MENA region found to be the fastest growing music industry in 2022, these events now also facilitate important musical collaboration between artists and DJs within and among diasporic communities, as well as creative exchange between diaspora and homeland.
The themed events are often termed ‘SWANA,’ that is, South West Asia and North Africa – it’s an acronym that shuns the euro-centrism inherent in the term ‘Middle East’ and has consequently gained traction among the politically-conscious diaspora in recent years. Indeed, DJ Nooriyah’s Middle Of Nowhere Party in London plays on this very idea in its title, reflective of its aim to spotlight marginalised voices and tunes hailing from the Arab-speaking world.
Many events at their inception simply offered the chance to dance with friends and create a home away from home: “When I moved to Paris, none of my favourite bands or artists [from Beirut] were there. One day I thought, what if I started my own night to host my peers and reconcile with my home city?” says Hadi Zeidan, who founded the Beirut Electro Parade in Paris in 2017.
“People look forward to the next event; they want to party and celebrate their Arab identity,” comments Moataz Rageb, better known as Disco Arabesquo, music archivist and DJ who runs Middle-Eastern funk and pop nights in Amsterdam. The immersive appeal of Rageb’s nostalgic soundscapes has fuelled his event’s growing popularity: “This is the driving force for me to continue: at each event, I receive so much love from people who, for whatever reason, don’t or can’t visit the Middle East often.”
In many parts, overlapping experiences of politically-induced trauma and displacement are what connects the attendees. “Each one of us relocated to Berlin on our own, but meeting in Berlin made us realise the common political circumstances that created our departures, the mutual interests we have,” the founders of AL.Berlin, a cultural events producer, shared with us.
Such concerts and festivals therefore represent sites of ‘reconfiguration,’ the reassembling and empowerment of a people in response to its fragmentation. The prospects for this are unmistakable, as AL.Berlin points out: “Especially since the movement of Syrian refugees and other waves of migration to Berlin from the region, the collective consciousness of a SWANA art and music scene has been building in tandem with the growth of a politically progressive diaspora.”
What is more, showcasing artists and DJs with a more authentic connection to their tracklists is contributing to better self-representation in the music industry of Arabs and the many other ethnic identities within the Middle East. “We’re seeing a shift away from a white-dominated club scene in the Netherlands,” explains one Egyptian Rotterdam-based DJ and event organiser. “People want to create more inclusive, more diverse line-ups.” In the West until the early 2010s, white, male producers and event organisers controlled barriers to entry of many electronic music clubs in capital cities. Meanwhile, DJs would take from foreign cultures without consequences, cherry-picking African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and South American sounds and tailoring these to an English-speaking market. “There’s an important movement happening to reclaim this music. Lots of smaller communities are coming together, hailing from South America to East- and West Africa to the SWANA region, to get back to the root of the culture and represent our music as it really is.”
The curation of ‘SWANA’ artists and DJs is not without its own challenges. “Between us, we have Kurdish, Iranian, and Lebanese backgrounds, and we absolutely love working together,” revealed the Muskila, KUCHULU and Ms. Aytara, the three founders of Bukhar, a party series based in Copenhagen. “However, it’s been a challenge figuring out how to curate line-ups for our guests that are representative of all cultures and styles from the region. We think the term “SWANA” will be challenged in the coming years. Imagine having a party branded as “European” and you rock up and there are only DJs playing popular English, French and German bangers - wouldn’t really work would it? There are so many nuances, differences, and forms of beauty in the region that deserve our focus and attention, which can be difficult to do at once.”
Excitingly, many such parties also serve as a cultural interface between diaspora and homeland: that is, a place where the latest musical innovations from the Middle East and European diaspora can be mutually exchanged, especially since the MENA region was recently found to have the fastest growing music industry in the world. “There is so much amazing electronic music coming out of Egypt at the moment,” says DJ Luma, founder of London-based Habibti Nation, “The next steps for Habibti Nation would be to take the club night to the Arabic speaking world and collaborate with local events and artists there. That would be incredible!”
Compiled below is a list of the many SWANA events to have recently come under our radar, arranged by city. Don’t see yours, or have some more suggestions for us? We’ll keep this page regularly updated, so send your contributions in at email@example.com.
Mehmooni London was started by two friends, DJ Milli and Ronisa who wanted to fuse the Persian songs they grew up hearing, with the contemporary music of the day, “to showcase how our culture breathes in electronic music.” Mehmooni translates to ‘house party’ or ‘social gathering,’ the founders of Mehmooni London explain. “For Iranian people, Mehmoonis are where the culture survives, where our language and customs find safe haven so many thousands of miles outside of Iran.”
Catch their next gig on Friday 17th February, ‘Persian Love: Milli’ at East London’s famous Rich Mix.
Middle of Nowhere Party
Having established herself as a musical talent and radio host in London, DJ Nooriyah took the next step and founded the ‘Middle of Nowhere’ party in February 2022. The event series has quickly risen to fame and made history when it hosted the first SWANA Boiler Room in London.
The party offers frequent collaborations with other musical genres, such as with the South American community. On the Instagram poster advertising one such event is the call to “Come perreo and dabke.” Nooriyah stated in her caption: “I always wanted to see more collaboration between communities [to show] how similar and infectious the drum patterns are in both genres.”
Next show is coming up 10th February in London’s iconic/legendary Jazz Cafe. Get tickets in the link in their bio.
Paying homage to the Middle East’s popular music history, Hishek Bishek is a pulsing club night dedicated to the region’s vibrant celebratory music. From chart-topping Iraqi & Lebanese dancefloor hits, Syrian & Palestinian electronic dabke, the newest releases from Cairo’s underground and nostalgic synthed-out 90’s classics, Hishek Bishek has become a vibrant staple in London’s late-night club scene. It was founded by MARSM, one of the first events- and music-platforms to promote Arab culture in the UK.
Now in its 19th edition, Hishek Bishek has become a household name revelling in the sounds of darbuka, MENA beats, percussive rhythms and a musical soundtrack to have you dancing all night.
Celebrating drum and bass, techno and house music spun by SWANA artists, this series began in June 2022 and has hosted two editions so far. Like Hishek Bishek, this project is supported by events producer Marsm. With curatorial help from Lebanese-British DJ Saliah, these events have taken over East London warehouses and platformed an all-female line up on both editions.
Habibti Nation started in 2021 as a radio show on South London-based community radio station, Balamii. It is also now a club night that aims to bridge the gap between UK Club music and Electronic music from SWANA, as well as showcase female and marginalised artists of SWANA heritage.
It first opened its doors in South-East London’s AAJA venue in July 2022 and has been evolving ever since. “In terms of plans for the future, we have just been granted a residency at The Yard, London for the next year, with lots of exciting plans for events here,” DJ and founder Luma shared with us. “We will also be putting on our first live music event at Rich Mix, London in collaboration with AWAN (Arab Women Artists Now) Festival.”
Their upcoming event takes place 24th February at the legendary Corsica Studios in collaboration with Dancing Family.
Beirut Groove Collective
Founded in 2009 by Lebanese DJ, compiler and radio host Ernesto Chahoud, the Beirut Groove Collective (BGC) is the premier destination for obscure soul-fuelled clubbing records from ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s Middle-East, Africa and the rest of the world.
For over a decade, the strictly vinyl DJ collective has become a home for some of the leading crate-diggers, DJs and tastemakers from all over the world: expect to hear pioneering, genre-forming and obscure records from Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Armenia, Kenya and all around the world – from Ethio Jazz and Bellydance Psych to Armenian Org Stompers, Lebanese '60s Garage and Latin-Tarab.
Founded by Palestinian actor and music archivist Mo’min Swaitat, the Majazz project is an archival record label and alternative research journal. The project expanded to host music events and parties to share Mo’min’s discovery of rare cassettes of Palestinian sounds of the Intifada. Events have also included an Arab X Latin Club Night at the Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, as well as venues such as Islington’s Electrowerkz. Majazz often teams up with the Beirut Groove Collective.
Launched in July 2022, Nazar facilitates activism as a connected community on the dance floor for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations.
The Sonic Agent
Founded and curated by Christina Hazboun, a Palestinian “explorer of music in space, time and society through promotion, boutique PR, research, radio shows, mixes, music film curation and podcasting,” as written on her bio. Putting on quarterly events, largely in in London, The Sonic Agent has come to be known for its inclusive sound and poetry events aimed at giving platform to the unheard and increasing the audibility of new pounds and music from the SWANA region. The last event took place at the legendary Cafe Oto in London, follow The Sonic Agent on Instagram to stay tuned for its next quarterly event.
Arabs Do It Better
Created by Marwan Hawash and David Pearl, Arabs Do It Better is a hafla for fans of electronic music from the region, hosting regular nights in Berlin’s Club Gretchen.
The brand-new inclusive Arabic pop party, Adira, is due to host its inaugural party on 25th February at Acud Macht Neu.
Sahra was founded by two women, Nour Nourallah and Ghayda, in July 2022 and has since hosted parties for Halloween and New Years, and offered DJ Workshops to further grow and nourish the Middle Eastern music scene in Berlin.
AL Berlin organises an annual music festival, now in its fourth edition, that boasts vibrant line ups and has previously welcomed the likes of the iconic Palestinian DJ Sama Abdelhadi and music producer Taxi Kebab. Beyond this, AL offers a creative and intellectual rendezvous for artistic exchange in an intimate cafe-bar-studio tucked away in the trendy Kreuzberg district. Their weekly programme, available to browse on their Instagram page, boasts an impressive stream of musical-cultural activity, from workshops to gigs, discussions, jam sessions and more.
Catch their next party on 14th April 2023.
Radio Flouka is an international online radio station based in Paris that welcomes in a steady stream of Middle Eastern talent with the ultimate goal of redefining how the world sees contemporary music from the region. Radio Flouka has begun hosting events around the French capital, its last one being at Le Chinois, followed by an upcoming gig taking place in Gent, Belgium, in partnership with Belgian collective Yalla (see below).
Beirut Electro Parade
Created in 2017 by Hadi Zeidan, and inspired by Beirut, where the nightlife is a real institution that welcomes talents from all over the world. The Beirut Electro Parade hosts regular events of an electronic lineup as well as 70s - 90s pan-Mediterranean pop & more. Its February 2023 edition will showcase eight artists from Beirut, London, Paris, Barcelona and Armenia at La Bellevilloise on the 25th of February.
Founders Youssef and Michèle described Disco Dabké as an “unapologetic 90s/00s Arabic pop night,” punctuated by a vibrant musical aesthetic. It has offered kitsch music vibes in venues across Dubai, Beirut and Paris, making its next appearance at the Beirut Music Parade on the 25th of February at La Bellevilloise.
“We are also working on different editions in different countries soon,” they added. “We are really happy to see disco dabké expand worldwide, it shows that Arab people all over the world feel nostalgia towards this kind of party.”
Yalla is a pioneering SWANA event series in Belgium. Launched in 2022 by Bader Shashit, last year it hosted six events pulling from the MENA region’s wide net of artists, including 3PHAZ from Cairo, Toumba from Amman, Bakisa, Renata & Hadi Zeidan from Beirut, Asifeh & 00970 from Ramallah and Cheb Runner. Yalla’s curatorial framework goes beyond house and basic bangers; instead, they travel through genres like bass, footwork, breakbeat, techno and acid house fused with Shaabi, Mahraganat, Rai and Gnawa influences.
Yalla is teaming up with Radio Flouka to put on its next event on 18th February in the city of Gent, an hour from Brussels.
Amstershams is a new collective of young freelancers from the SWANA region in Amsterdam, organising events, bazaars and art projects. Its launch event, entitled Ritch Bitch took place in November 2022 and featured DJs such as Shabmouri of Palestine’s BLTNM label and Tunis-born musician, Koast.
RAqS is a collective of event planners, and according to its website, its mission is “to empower underground and contemporary artists, presenting live shows and audio-visual performances fused in club adn festival culture, of of Levantine chants, rhythms from the SWANA region, and Tarab and Abdalusian classics in ambient and electronic music styles.”
So far RAqS has presented MENA artists including El Morabba3, El Far3i, Hello Psychaleppo, Shkoon and more. You can check out RAqS video archive here.
Disco Arabesquo is an Egyptian Amsterdam-based DJ, vinyl and cassette collector, and record label. He established a regular night in Amsterdam to enjoy nostalgic and vintage funk and pop tunes of the region; the most recent Disco Arabesquo party was held in Utrecht in January of this year, running in collaboration with Irish-Saudi producer and DJ, Moving Still.
Shako Mako aims to bring SWANA sounds to Sweden’s trendy city - it recently celebrated its fourth birthday party with DJs Sarra Wild, Leila Moon, and Malika Mahmoud. Beyond parties, it hosts live music performances of big names from the region; its upcoming gig on the 28th February is due to welcome Rasha Nahas, Palestinian singer and composer.
One of the first SWANA music nights in Denmark, Bukhar was founded by DJs and music producers Muskila, KUCHULU and Ms. Aytara: “We have been working for Bukhar to be a concept where people with roots from the SWANA region don’t have to compromise on themselves and nurturing a culture where people of any gender or sexual orientation are prioritized in terms of safety, in the crew and on the line-up.”
Whilst the event series originally focused on club nights at Basement Copenhagen, the founding trio revealed that they are now “starting to incorporate all sorts of arts in our events. In general, we feel there is a curiosity for performances, live music, and more, that we want to do more of in the future.”
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