London, Ont. Dance group ‘dabke’ perform for rapper Drake’s birthday

LONDON, ON. — A Middle Eastern “dabke” dance group landed the gig of their lives when they were asked to perform at a birthday party for a multi-platinum award-winning artist in Toronto.

“I was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy,'” Omar Hassouneh says, recalling his reaction when he found out he’d be performing for a high profile celebrity.

Omar is a member of the Palestinian-Canadian group Al-Asala Dabke based in London, Ontario.

The group was well known for performing traditional Arabic dabkeh and zaffeh, a combination of chanting and drumming, at major events and weddings.

Last weekend, five of their members had the chance to show off their skills at a private birthday party for Canadian rapper Drake.

The band were contacted and booked via Instagram to perform at Drake’s home in Toronto.

“So we walked in and we were all shook for a second, we just stood there, and said fine Drake is right in front of us, let’s try to remember what we found and so we played right there , in his kitchen in his house,” Hassouneh said.

“He was pretty awesome, he was a very genuine and humble guy,” said band member Wasef Yasin.

Although this is their first celebrity concert, the group Al-Asala Dabke, which has more than 25 members, has been organizing various events and weddings for 14 years.

“It’s been passed down to different generations of guys – and now it’s us, it’s our turn to shine,” said Al-Asala Dabke Group Manager Omar Barzak.

And they shone. The video of their performance for the 35th anniversary of “Champagne Papi” has gone viral on social networks, with more than 3.9 million views on TikTok.

“It was really great to meet him, especially growing up, we all listened to his music. I still remember walking to school and meeting Drake, and being able to meet him and him singing happy birthday – it was just an amazing experience,” Yasin said.

Although most of the band members grew up in Canada, they like to go back to their Arabic roots and mix the two cultures in some of their performances.

“We like to do it with a bit of a twist, we like to bring the two cultures together and almost, you know, create a new culture. This North American and Arab identity, which we love, and it’s something we love to express,” Yasin said.