On Sunday night, Tel Aviv residents showed their support for African migrant workers, who have been protesting their status and treatment in Israel, in an unlikely way. They went out all night and partied.
The event, designed to raise awareness of the migrants’ status in Israel, was a city-wide celebration of African food and music. Organized by Shafa Bar in Jaffa, which hosted an evening of solidarity that included a live show of traditional drumming and dance of the Masalit tribe from South Sudan, more than 50 restaurants, cafes, and bars around Tel Aviv joined in, dedicating the evening to traditional Sudanese and Eritrean dishes, live shows of African ensembles, and homages to African music.
I attended the main event, billed as an evening of freedom songs, which took place at Levontin 7, one of the city’s most popular live music venues. While the government appears to be committed to the continued incarceration and deportation of the migrants, who are not recognized by Israel as refugees and are instead termed ‘infiltrators,’ Tel Aviv’s alternative musicians sent a message of love to the asylum seekers. The Israeli musicians who played at the event I attended—as well as at all the other events of the evening—weren’t exactly mainstream names. Apparently local pop stars were reluctant to take such a public political stance. Nevertheless, the club was packed to maximum capacity, and I saw quite a few people being sent away to show their support at other venues.
The evening opened with a skit by Sudanese theater collective One Strong Black—a Hebrew pun that is sadly lost in its translation into English. Israeli rapper and radio personality Quami recited the verses of his song, “Who Isn’t a Refugee Here?” a cappella before bursting into a full-on hip hop performance with the message that all Israelis are essentially refugees, and therefore African asylum-seekers shouldn’t be treated any different than Jews who fled Nazi Europe. Refugee musicians included the band Darfur Star, who played traditional music, and the Groove Ambassadors, a mixed group of refugees and Israelis who offered a local adaptation of West African music.
Most of the audience members were young Tel Avivians, getting down to the African groove and dancing in head-scarves made of African fabric, which were being given out at the club. The number of African migrants in attendance was low (I heard it was higher in some of the other venues), but as the night progressed and DJ Bush Beats filled the club with uplifting Afrobeat sounds, even those most directly affected by the policies and protests couldn’t help but dance.
Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.