Faris Bouhafa, 60; Music, Media Manager

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006

Faris Bouhafa, 60, a former music manager in New York City and a media relations manager for the Arab American Institute, died Sept. 8 of lung cancer at Georgetown University Hospital.

Mr. Bouhafa, a resident of the District, joined the Arab American Institute in 1990, five years after it was founded and shortly before the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. James Zogby, institute co-founder and president, recalled that the nonprofit organization was almost overwhelmed by the avalanche of media attention at the time of the war and that Mr. Bouhafa was indispensable.

"I don't think we would have made it through it without him," he said. "He managed the press calls, pitched press stories, figured out our message of the day. And everything he did, he did with verve."

In one of numerous interviews Mr. Bouhafa gave in 1991, he told the Los Angeles Times that the Gulf War was changing the way the U.S. public perceived the Middle East.

"Americans, I think, are beginning to understand that the Arab world is a diverse region with diverse interests and diverse leaders and diverse people, only some of which fit the stereotype," he said. "That is one of the positive spinoffs of this war. American interests are the same as Arab interests."

Mr. Bouhafa, whose mother was an Irish American New Yorker and father a Tunisian intellectual, was born in New York City and grew up in Greenwich Village and Tunisia. He graduated from Columbia University in 1970, at a time of social and political turmoil on the campus. Involved in student protests of the Vietnam War, he considered himself an activist for the rest of his life.

A chance meeting with Bob Dylan at a Greenwich Village bar led to a job at CBS Records managing artists, including Dylan. He was part of the Dylan entourage during the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975-76.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Bouhafa became manager of the famed New York City rock club Max's Kansas City. He produced a number of legendary shows there, including one that featured a young, unknown Bob Marley as the opening act for a minimally better-known Bruce Springsteen.

Later, Mr. Bouhafa formed his own music management and production company, with clients that included Springsteen's saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, and singer-songwriter Carolyne Mas.

Mr. Bouhafa's interest in political activism was rekindled in the early 1980s, after a meeting with Edward Said, a well-known Columbia University professor, literary theorist and Palestinian activist. Said urged him to get involved in the Palestinian cause.

Mr. Bouhafa moved to Washington in 1984 to become media director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, an advocacy group. In that role, he frequently appeared on television and radio to discuss the Palestinian crisis and other Middle East issues.

Mr. Bouhafa continued to handle media relations when he moved to the Arab American Institute and also produced the annual Kahlil Gibran awards dinner for the Arab American Institute Foundation. Zogby said that Mr. Bouhafa relied on his Hollywood connections to attract top-notch talent for the event, including Sting, actress Mary-Louise Parker and Palestinian hip-hop poet Suheir Hammad.

Mr. Bouhafa was also the publisher of a book, "The Single Woman's Guide to the Available Men of Washington" (1993), by Mary J. Shomon.

In the late 1990s, he worked as a day trader on the stock market before rejoining the Arab American Institute in 2000 as a consultant.

"He was a character, very funny," Zogby said. "Once he's worked for you, you really don't forget him."

His marriage to Rafika Bouhafa ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 12 years, Abla Majaj of the District; and a brother, Muncef Bouhafa of Potomac.

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