Anna Loulou - An underground community of Jews, Arabs and LGTBQ in Tel Aviv

[Anna Loulou Bar, Old Jaffa - Photograph by Leeor Ohayon]

DJs flick backwards and forwards between the bleating sounds of Lebanese Debke, Moroccan and Persian Jewish classics, Yemenite folk and desert techno from the Gulf States. Sipping on Arak and grapefruit juice, young Mizrahi Jews (Jews with ethnic roots in the Arab and Islamic world) are rubbing shoulders with Palestinians and Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European descent). They celebrate a culture which has long been suppressed, recreating the Hafla (Middle Eastern musical gatherings-come-parties) of their parents and grandparents as if nothing had ever happened.

The extent to which the underground bar has been a defining influence on the city is fairly major already; it’s not uncommon to meet young Jews and Arabs on this side of town who have moved to the Jaffa neighbourhood because of Anna Loulou. Translated as “I am pearls” in Arabic, the hotspot is run as an eight-member collective; a colourful mix of Palestinians, Israelis, women, men and LGTBQ members that, together, have formed a sanctuary of acceptance and a safe-haven of identity.

[At home with Anna Loulou Resident DJ Khen Ohana Elmaleh, Tel Aviv - Photograph by Leeor Ohayon]

Resident female DJ and activist Khen Elmaleh is a symbol of this celebrated hybridisation; half of her family are from the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe and the other half from the heat-soaked sands of Iraq. A journey through her ‘Resident’s Hour’ Boiler Room set breaks down boundaries between East and West with finesse, mixing Kendrick Lamar into Kader Japonai like magic.

But whilst the music provides an exciting platform for current underground local scenes to flourish inside Israel, it is the dance floor at Anna Loulou’s that has become a now legendary remedy for Tel Aviv’s young inhabitants. Where war is an ongoing part of life, where bomb sirens, uprisings, huge riots and political unrest are almost a daily occurrence; then dancing, expressing yourself openly and coming together, takes on a different meaning.

For this, Anna Loulou has become less of a cultural luxury and more of a psychological necessity for young Arabs and Jews in Israel. Whilst they inhabit a desert of discrimination from all directions, Anna Loulou’s has become a miraculous symbol of progression and blooming optimism, and perhaps a seed of things to come from our younger generation.