By Joshua Kohen
By Joshua Kohen
Boston – From the moment you enter the giant hall, you might think you are in North Africa. The giant Amazigh flags plastered on the walls, guests in traditional garb, and Amazigh music playing in the background might have you fooled. But no, this is not North Africa. This is the Annual Amazigh New Year (Yennayer) Event in Boston, Massachusetts.
For the past several years, the Amazigh community of Greater Boston has been hosting the Yennayer party with great success. Kabyles, Shilhas, Riffians, Touareg, and various other Amazigh groups come together every year to share their cultures. The purpose of the event is to display the rich and pluralistic heritage of North Africa’s indigenous people, the Imazighen. This year’s event was held on Saturday, January 24, and was sponsored by the Boston Amazigh Community, Elma&Sana LLC, and the Moroccan American Cultural & Community Center.
Each year, the New Year event attracts more and more people of all backgrounds, coming together to celebrate a common culture. The celebration is not a nationalist event; rather, it is an Amazigh event, and all the people of North African descent are encouraged to participate in the celebration, regardless of their nationality, religion, or race. This year’s party lasted from 5 PM to 11 PM. Six full hours of fun, food, music, dancing, and cultural activities was a great way to ring in the Amazigh New Year of 2965, and show the deep North African identity of the vibrant Amazigh-American community.
Despite the fiercely cold Boston weather, 200-300 people from various countries braved the icy roads and attended, allowing for a full house. The evening’s entertainment created a truly energized atmosphere. Many featured bands and individual artists performed, including Amud Band, Youssef Tafroaut, Rafik Aqvayli Band, Crushing Roll, Khalid from Touareg, Ankfraf Band from Virginia, Abdelhadi Amnay, and former Arab Idol contestant Jennifer Grout.
When asked how she felt about being at her first Yennayer celebration in the United States, Grout, an American who sings in Tamazight and Arabic, said, “I felt so honored to be there because the atmosphere made me feel like I was in Morocco again. After returning from Morocco to the US, I really miss everything about Morocco and this event made me feel like I was back home in Morocco. Yes, it really feels like home for me in Morocco”.
The night before the event, Grout and other artists rehearsed for hours in preparation for the celebration. People were certainly moved by the rhythmic sounds of North Africa, with many people performing traditional Amazigh dances while dressed in ethnic attire. Throughout the evening, guests from all backgrounds expressed their delight in being present at the event and having an American venue to express their Amazigh roots.
Although most of those in attendance had an ancestral connection to North Africa, there were some people who came simply to learn more about the Amazigh people. One Lebanese-American woman said, “I came here because my husband is Amazigh and I wanted to learn more about his people and this event provided me the opportunity to explore beyond my own culture. This is completely different from Lebanese culture. Oh, and I really loved the food.” At each table, people mingled and socialized while enjoying traditional couscous, a staple of North African cuisine. Mint tea was served as well as amlou. On one side of the hall, kiosks were set up where people could learn more about Amazigh history and buy Amazigh cultural items including artwork. A henna artist was also present.
Children played games and wove Amazigh flags together, a sign of cultural awareness for the younger generation. Many families brought their young children to the event because they want their American-born children to stay in touch with their North African roots. One mixed family of a Moroccan father and an Algerian mother said, “The shared historical bonds of the Amazigh people is what brings us all together under one roof with a common flag that represents our culture across North Africa. Our shared roots unite us even if we come from different countries.”
The Yennayer celebration in Boston provides the perfect opportunity for all North Africans to experience Amazigh culture, despite being thousands of miles away from North Africa. Sanaa Abidar, one of the event organizers, said, “I just want to thank everyone for their support in the celebration of our Yennayer event. We were touched by how many people came out to celebrate with us and by the number of diverse groups including Jewish, Arab, and American who came to share this unique moment with Imazighen and explore the Amazigh culture.”
In addition to striving to make a perfect evening where everyone feels welcomed, Sanaa Abidar has been working very hard to raise money for flood victims in southern Morocco. Flyers were given to each table in an effort raise to awareness of this natural disaster and to allow people to contribute to the cause. Adding a humanitarian cause to any cultural event is a great way to encourage people to get involved and remember those who are less fortunate.
The annual Yennayer celebration in Boston reminds us of the importance of our roots and maintaining a connection with our heritage. It also gives us a deeper appreciation of the diversity of the Amazigh civilization, and inspires all North Africans to explore and celebrate the pluralism of our peoples.
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