Our History

Zawaya has an internal constituency of musicians and artists and an external constituency of Arab Americans and other Bay Area communities who form its audience.

Historically, Zawaya’s programs have grown out of recognition of community needs for cultural programming in visual and performing arts. At its heart, Zawaya is a service organization. The past decade has witnessed a dramatic spike in explicit hate crimes and more day-to-day prejudice against Arabs. Music is a source of pride and celebration for a community that feels besieged. It is also a universal language through which humanity and diversity can be celebrated amidst the larger community of which Arabs are a part.

Zawaya provides the sole opportunity in the Bay Area to train and perform in folkloric and classical Arab music for a nominal registration fee (a service that would cost hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of dollars at a music camp or in private lessons both to learn the scales and rhythms and to learn Arabic pronunciation), a forum in which musicians form bonds with each other through shared experience, and, especially for Arab Americans, an affirmative experience in which they can experience their culture as a living thing – something of which they can be proud – and a vehicle for inviting appreciation of others toward their often maligned or misunderstood heritage. Non-Arab members who are attracted to Arab culture and music, and Arab Americans who relish the opportunity to keep alive Arab cultural expression have thus found a synergy that creates a safe space for racial, ethnic, and religious diversity within the group. One member captures it succinctly, “It is quite rare to find such an enthusiastically welcomed eclectic mix of Persians, Turks, Greeks, Kurds, Jews, Hawaiians, Japanese, Anglo and Hispanic Americans, in what one could otherwise assume would be an exclusive and introverted focus for just one ethnic diaspora.”

Zawaya’s Aswat has struck a chord with a wide array of community members. Drawing mainly from the Bay Area’s more established Arab immigrant community, Aswat also appeals to peers in the professional music scene and a broader non-Arab audience with an affinity for Arab culture.

Zawaya stands at the intersection of culture, art, and social justice. It is an acknowledged fact that the Arab community struggles with the demonization of their culture. Developing positive individual and group self-identity is a crucial aspect of self-acceptance and healthy social integration. To counter some of the negative stereotypes and assaults against Arab Americans, Zawaya is passionately committed to using the full spectrum of its arts programming to help Arab Americans the opportunities to build self-pride, artistic development, and to reach their fullest potential as Arab Americans.