Eliad and his furry body will be at the 519 TreeHouse party Sun, July 1
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Kitschy, sexy, Israeli
Tel Aviv’s Arisa party shakes The 519 TreeHouse
Ahhh, the giddy lyrics of Israeli folk singer Nivin’s love song. So in love with her man, the protagonist is blind to the world around her. Entitled “Ma asita li,” this is the song that made Arisa what it is today.
Arisa is a monstrous monthly gay party at Tel Aviv’s Comfort 13 Club that gives traditional Middle Eastern music new life, bringing it back to the dancefloor with house beats, drag queens and some controversial viral videos. It’s unlike anything the world has ever seen and it’s coming to Pride this year at The 519.
“The music in our videos is associated with extreme low-class, red-neck parts of society,” says Yotam Pappo, the videos’ co-producer. “It’s virtually unknown to anyone who didn’t grow up in specific cities or neighbourhoods in Israel. The funny thing is that because of our videos, people around the world get to know Israeli songs that even Israelis don’t know. We, and the people who attend our parties, like these songs because they remind us of our childhood.”
The notorious “Ma asita li” video sees famed drag performer Uriel Yekutiel, dressed as a gorgeous woman with a mustache, being repeatedly beaten by a hunky man (that man being fab cover boy and bodacious Arisa host Eliad Cohen). Scores of groups and internet folk have condoned the clip and its violence, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s tongue-in-cheek. “We see the video as a parody on the stereotype of the Middle Eastern traditional man who beats his wife, yet she nonetheless returns to his arms time and again.”
This says a lot about the Arisa parties. They are joyful events, not to be taken too seriously. Similar to what Big Primpin’ once was in Toronto — a hip-hop party for homos who didn’t feel comfortable dancing to the genre in big ol’ straight clubs — Arisa is an escape for Israeli gays, a place to be kitschy and sexy.
“Arisa is the only party where we play traditional music in this setting,” says Cohen, over the phone from Tel Aviv. “A lot of gays like this music but have nowhere to go and dance to it. This isn’t a common party; it’s happy, funny and a great place to make friends.”
Some accuse Arisa’s organizers of promoting a pleasant life in Israel that doesn’t actually exist (we won’t get into Middle Eastern politics here). However, both they and Mathieu Chantelois, the man responsible for bringing Arisa and host Cohen to Toronto, say that politics have nothing to do with the party’s North American debut. “For me it’s about bringing certain artists and not political issues forward,” Chantelois says. “Arisa, as a queer collective, embraces every religion, and they’re bringing gays to their parties. Their message is exactly that of The 519: it’s about acceptance, respecting and embracing difference.”
Bringing a new energy and sound to Pride is what The 519 had in mind when they chose the Arisa crew. Original videos, music and vibes that encourage muscle boys to coexist with drag queens and traditionalists to hang with club kids is what they’re all about.
“I want to have a good time and for people to have fun,” Cohen says, ever so innocently. Get on the web, type in “Arisa” and let Cohen and the gang stir your senses with their crazy bodies, rainbow vomit, payot-riddled street parties and wild dancing — all wrapped in a beautifully flowing, transparent and bedazzled bekishe. If we’re lucky, something equally as thrilling will happen in Toronto.
Phil Villeneuve is a writer who believes that anything involving Eliad Cohen (who, FYI, is also the co-founder of gay-ville.com, a gay travel site) is a good time.