Arab Music and Culture

Brooklyn born Syrian American Eddie 'The Sheik' Kochak, to be featured in Brooklyn Maqam, playing dumbek with his band at an Arab wedding party at the old Bossert Hotel on Hicks and Montague Streets. Photo: Bossert Hotel, 1948; courtesy of Eddie Kochak.

Arab -American cultures in Brooklyn have been evolving for well over 100 years. Syrian Christians first came to New York around 1870, settling in the area around Washington Street in Manhattan, near where the World Trade Center would rise a century later. As they became more affluent, some crossed the East River to South Ferry in Brooklyn (now Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill). By 1895 there were 30 Syrian families in South Ferry and by the 1920s the area was a self-sufficient ethnic neighborhood that continued to grow as Lebanese, Yemenis and others arrived in the 1940s and 50s.

Today, Atlantic Avenue's Arab commercial strip testifies to a continuing Arab presence: Sahadi's Food Emporium, Rashid's Music Store, the Yemen Cafe, Tripoli Restaurant, and Damascus Bakery. More recently, Bay Ridge has become home to Egyptians, Palestinians, and Moroccans. Arab businesses' the Arab American Association, Tarboosh Cafe and other coffee houses, groceries, mosques, and sweet shops' line Fifth Avenue between 70th and 90th Streets. Live Arab music rings out from cafes, churches, and banquet halls and other venues in these Brooklyn neighborhoods. Once the weather turns warm, on May 10 and 17, 2008, Brooklyn Maqam, with sponsorship from American Express, will host cultural tours of these neighborhoods.