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Guest Feature: Tala Arakji
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For anyone living in New York City or close enough to the area, there are tickets still available for Little Syria this weekend.
What is Little Syria, you ask? Here’s a little description:
Set in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood once known as Little Syria (1880~1940), this genre-bridging performance — spanning Hip-Hop, Arabic instrumentation, and ḥakawātī oral storytelling traditions of the Levant — reimagines early 20th-century life in the heart of Arab-America. Just south of the current World Trade Center, this once vibrant cultural hub for New York’s Middle Eastern immigrants was home to artists and intellectuals including Ameen Rihani and Kahlil Gibran. Rapper / poet Omar Offendum (a former illustrious guest of the newsletter), oud virtuoso Ronnie Malley and music producer Thanks Joey join together for this creative retelling of a tragically underrepresented historical narrative draws an audience attuned to stories of immigration, xenophobia, and the ever-evolving “American dream.”
It’s a beautiful theatrical portrayal of an important Arab American community that thrived in New York. If you’d like to go and are able to attend, please get your tickets here!
If you can make it, don’t miss out!
Okay friends, let’s get right into it. I am so excited to introduce this week’s guest feature: Tala Arakji!
Tala is a Lebanese-American born and raised in Saudi Arabia and currently based in Dubai. As an adult, Tala spent a big portion of her life in Lebanon where she attended the American University of Beirut and studied Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. Soon after graduation, she went on to chase her passion in filmmaking and moved to New York where she attended New York Film Academy. After moving back to Lebanon, Tala worked in both production and postproduction on short content series and ads. She then moved into advertising where she quickly rose in the industry to become a highly awarded strategist at a young age.
Even though Tala found success in advertising, her true passion remained in screenwriting. While working in advertising, Tala continued to seek more education by training at FADE IN: Beirut in 2016 and was mentored by Nadia Tabbara in 2019. It is there that she wrote countless screenplays for film and TV. She later attended several workshops with the Middle East Media Initiative (MEMI) in 2019 and 2020, led by veteran television writers and writing instructors from University of Southern California. Soon after, one of her TV series was selected for the summer MEMI residency in 2021 but it was her debut TV series “Lou Lou” that was received so well it found success early on in the development phase with a grant from the MENA Media Fund. Shortly after development of a bible and pilot, the show was picked up by a leading platform and is set for production in early 2024. “Lou Lou” has also been selected at the 2023 Conecta Fiction and Entertainment event.
HOW COOL IS THAT! Here’s a little info on “Lou Lou” for y’all: It’s about Loulwa, a tenacious Saudi teen, moves to Beirut under the false pretence of going to university while her real mission is to become a world-famous DJ. So OBVIOUSLY Tala was going to have some really interesting go-to music:
1. What is your favorite song right now?
2. What’s your go-to song for all your feels?
Ouff I have a lot of feels- let’s go:
3. Name a song that reminds you of home.
So I have the typical cliche answer (which is true!). “Keefak Inta” by Fairuz because it reminds me of afternoons listening to music with my mom. But I would also say “Fasateen” by Mashrou3 Leila because that was when I started to fall in love with the local Arab music scene.
4. Name a song you know all the words to.
I’m about to reveal my age here: “Changes” by Tupac. And I can’t rap if my life depended on it- but I try. I try.
5. Name a song that gets you really hype and ready to go.
Big shout out to Tala for joining and sharing her song selections! All of Tala’s songs will be included in this week’s playlist, so be sure to take a listen. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and keep up with all of her developments!
What I’m Listening To
🎧 Middle Eastern, North African, & Diaspora Flows 🎧
FE EH - Onuy
Pinocchio - Nuj
Hay Aliya - Numidia Lezoul
Barcelona - Lartiste
STILL IN CNTRL - Neemz
Zay El Fol - Abdullah Alhussainy
Drouba - Benzz featuring Baby Gang, ElGrandeToto, and 3robi
Alf Rooh - Balqees
Tinsani Ansak - El Faouri
way too much - Kali-B featuring Grzzlee
Battuta - Apo & The Apostles
Ma Badaafsh - Haifa Wehbe
Hayalla Min Yana - Flipperachi
Time On Our Hands - Bea Kadri featuring Skies
Mara Aan Malioun - Dalia featuring Daffy
Najma - Roxane
Mogador - Habib Belk
Terjaaele - Issam AlNajjar
sxcbnda - Mvndila
3beit Sila7i Wa Raf3t Shreet - Karim Cristiano
🎤 Latinx & Hispanic Vibes 🎤
Santorini - Beéle featuring Farruko
Bajo y Batería - Residente
YELIANA - Cap. 3 - ZHA - Greeicy featuring Danny Ocean
Hablame Claro - Chimbala
Qué Lindo - Guaynaa
Un Rodeoooo - Rels B
Pegaíto - Jhosy
Nueverente - Anonimus featuring El Cherry Scom
S91 - KAROL G
Amores Pasajeros - Immasoul
🎼 Other Good Music 🎼
It’s Not Me, It’s You - Mahalia featuring DESTIN CONRAD
What Was I Made For? - Billie Eilish
Obapluto - Shallipopi
ICU (Remix) - Coco Jones featuring Justin Timberlake
Disco Dangerous - Little Dragon
Electric Touch - Taylor Swift featuring Fall Out Boy
No Way - Debbie
Can’t Be Stopped - Boj
Night Heights - Jain
Nice Body - J Hus featuring Jorja Smith
What I’m Reading
🇱🇧 Lebanon 🇱🇧
'Revenge': What Dima Sadek's imprisonment verdict means for freedom of speech in Lebanon - Sally Abou AlJoud, L’Orient Today
Ayman Mhanna, executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, answers L'Orient Today's questions about Sadek's "unprecedented" incarceration case.
Beirut port blast: MPs and victims' families say justice is being delayed - Jamie Prentis, The National
Domestic investigation into deadly 2020 explosion has been hamstrung several times.
Singer-songwriter Hamed Sinno put poetry into Amazon posts - Arwa Haidar, Financial Times
The Lebanese-American musician talks about consumerism and the ‘double burden’ of being an artist of colour.
“Our Seeds, Our Roots:” Agroecology for Autonomy - Aine Donnellan, Daraj
Good news is hard to come by these days. But Buzuruna Juzuruna brings just that. The Lebanese association has collected hundreds of heirloom seeds, which it freely shares with farmers to come to a more sustainable agriculture.
‘When I came back, I didn’t understand anything anymore’ - Titouan Allain, L’Orient Today
Thousands of Lebanese moved abroad in 2019 and 2020 to escape the crisis. Those visiting Lebanon this summer for the first time since then say they've come home to a changed country.
🌍 Middle East, North Africa, & Diaspora 🌎
Wedding Jokes Are Not Funny to Jordan’s Royals - Isam Uraiqat, New Lines Magazine
The government took offense at satirical humor that tied the crown prince’s lavish nuptials to the country’s languishing economy.
In Jenin, Israel is unveiling the next phase of apartheid - Amjad Iraqi, +972 Magazine
Palestinians in West Bank cities are fast discovering that if their expulsion won’t be possible, Gazafication will be their future.
So thirsty they drank seawater: The refugees Tunisia pushed out - Simon Speakman Cordall, Al Jazeera
More than 1,000 people were bussed to the borders with Libya, Algeria – and left with no food, water, shelter or way out.
The War on Freedoms in Libya - Asma Khalifa, Arab Reform Initiative
“Over the past year, there has been a troubling increase in attacks by armed groups, security forces affiliated with the Ministry of the Interior, and internal security on civic organizations, activists, journalists, and citizens exercising their rights to freedom of speech and assembly.”
Inside the Saudi Gold Rush - Rory Smith, Tariq Panja, and Ahmed Al Omran, The New York Times
The kingdom’s pursuit of the world’s best soccer players has unleashed a feeding frenzy among agents and executives.
🎶 Music, Arts, & Culture 🎶
Music streams for 2023 hit 1 trillion in record time. Latin and K-pop artists are big reasons why - Maria Sherman, Associated Press
The global music industry surpassed one trillion streams in a calendar year, Luminate’s 2023 Midyear Report has found. Global streams are also up 30.8 percent from last year, reflective of an increasingly international music marketplace.
How a Peruvian trumpet player creates space on TikTok - Andrea Flores, Los Angeles Times
Daniel Flores embraces identity, music and culture on TikTok with help from his trumpet and the city of Chicago.
50 years ago, teenagers partied in the Bronx — and gave rise to hip-hop - Kat Lonsdorf, Juana Summers, Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR
In August 1973, an 18-year-old DJ Kool Herc played his sister's back-to-school fundraiser in the rec room of their apartment building. But he and his friends sparked something much bigger.
The unprecedented weirdness of Taylor Swift - Chris Richards, The Washington Post
She already seems to own the future. Now she’s in the middle of a years-long project to literally remake her past.
Coca-Cola believes in music in ads so much it is growing its own studio to record original songs - Kristina Monllos, Digiday
With Coke Studio, its music platform, the beverage behemoth wants to move beyond just working with artists for advertising by creating original songs from various artists with a range of backgrounds.
📚 Other Reads 📚
‘High likelihood’ hundreds of CT state police troopers falsified thousands of traffic tickets, auditor says - Bill Cummings, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Joshua Eaton, CT Insider
Racial profiling data skewed, law violated, auditor says.
Saving an election on Insta: Guatemalans go to social media to try to protect presidential vote - Leila Miller, Los Angeles Times
Fearing democracy is at risk, Guatemalans are posting certified election forms on social media to show there wasn’t fraud in the presidential vote.
France Protests Over Nahel Merzouk Police Killing Stem From History of Racism and Colonialism - Romaissaa Benzizoune, TeenVogue
This op-ed argues that anti-Arab and anti-Black racism are at the heart of the riots erupting across France.
Giving Away My Twin - Jean Garnett, The New Yorker
Twinship evokes deep anxieties about separation and selfhood. Marriage has a similar effect.
Ukraine gets the attention. This country's crisis is the world's 'most neglected' - Gabriel Spitzer, NPR
Burkina Faso has fallen into conflict and chaos but humanitarian aid for the displaced hasn't kept up. The Norwegian Refugee Council calls it the most neglected displacement crisis.