DJ SAMA’s Pioneering Sound And Image Is Reshaping The World Of Techno
Photography: Matt Marsh
Interview by: Ahmed Elenany
Words: Bethany Burgoyne
She is as buzzy and lively as her music would suggest and by her own admission, DJ SAMA’ isn’t slowing down anytime soon. “Right now, I’m a DJ from Palestine, I’m a music producer and an audio engineer. But who am I? We'll figure it out in 10 –15 years, there’s time, it’s still early!”.
DJ SAMA’ has been playing Berlin Techno for the last ten years, starting off at little house parties in her home country of Palestine to becoming a regular feature in Underground music venues around the globe, recently debuting in London. “I’ve been playing techno since before I even left Ramallah. I didn’t know it was German techno at the time, I just bought tracks that I liked, until someone said “Nice Berlin Techno!” and I was like “There’s other kinds of techno?” I just didn’t know.”
SAMA’s career in music has led her down various lines of work – running events, promoting fellow artists and advocating for music copyrighting laws; experiences that extend beyond her DJ sets and into the multi-layered approach with which she is reshaping the music scene. Living and performing in Paris, where she has an impressive following, SAMA’ previously studied in Lebanon and London and then moved to Egypt to work in the film music industry, a route which led her down yet another path. “I used to be a sound designer, curating music with other artists. This led to a group of us starting a music publishing company for Indie artists from the Arab world. We’re still in the early stages of creating new laws - the last time they were updated was during the Ottoman era, so four or five hundred years ago! That’s when our laws were updated! So we’re fighting for basic copyright laws and licensing agreements which don’t exist, working with governments and trying to get all our artists their money from abroad.”
This spark of ambition for developing the creative industry, to benefit people from similar backgrounds as herself, is a continuation of SAMA’s active role in the Underground Palestinian Music Scene. Having set up the first ever techno night in the West Bank, a lowkey affair “in a little kitchen in a restaurant. Nothing public, so only people we wanted could come in”, SAMA’ still claims Ramallah to be her “favourite place to play. I can play whatever I want; I can try new things, everybody's my friend and there is less pressure. It’s where I feel most comfortable to let things out fully.” The tightknit community of DJ’s from Palestine, including Jazar Crew, ODDZ and DJ Bruno Cruz have been gaining more attention both online and on stage, seeing musicians and DJ’s flying across the world to share their homegrown tracks. SAMA’s role in building the foundations and opportunities for continual creative growth in the West Bank and beyond has been essential in its development; running residencies, teaching aspiring musicians, organising events and promoting other artists are just a few of the ways in which SAMA’ supports her peers.
Recognising how her gender and cultural heritage gains her attention, SAMA’ uses her platform to engage new audiences unaccustomed to experiencing techno. “A lot of people come to my parties because I’m a woman or because I’m Palestinian. That’s what I find when I’m brought to play at an event that is Arabic specific, because I don’t play Arabi; the only thing that makes me suitable for the gig is that I am Arabic. In general, Arabic people are more into commercial nights so our job is to get as many people to open their ears and listen to music that they’re not used to which I think is a really good thing. When the audience stays and dances, they are listening to something new and they end up having an insight into another musical genre.”
Her role within the progression of music’s culture is intrinsic for multiple reasons, as SAMA’ states “I play something that isn’t Arabic and in a way that’s not a feminine thing to do. I’m doing the exact opposite of what is the nature of a woman in our world.” The world which SAMA’ speaks of could be considered both the heavily male saturated techno scene or the sometimes-repressive traditions of Palestinian families, in particular towards women’s freedom of choice. Talking about the stereotypes of women back at home and the inspiring and empowering role she may be setting, SAMA’ is sincere in her eloquent response. “I believe in baby steps, not slapping ideas onto people. For example, me being a DJ and doing my own stuff isn’t going to make a woman who has married young and wears a hijab, who lives without any freedom, become a DJ. But when she has a daughter, and one day, the Father tries to suppress the daughter in some way or make her do things against her will, her mother might remember how ‘This one time there was this girl...’, she would be able to advise her daughter on how to break the system or to go her own way.”
This persistent optimism SAMA’ exudes echoes the hard hitting sets she vibrates around warehouses and festival tents. Creating an atmosphere of her own vision, with a driving force of innovative energy, SAMA’ encourages projects and spaces to amplify unsung voices and unheard sounds. It is in these ways that SAMA’ sets out to collaborate, celebrate and champion fellow artists as well as her own status within the music scene. A position which deserves demonstrative praise, having taken her time, work and strength to have reached; “Stay stubborn because it’s not easy. If you haven’t got the space, create the space, if you don’t have it, make it in your home so you have a house party. You can create your own safe environment and find other people who are wanting to be in that space with you. And from there, you connect and connect. Stand where you are, stay stubborn, and with time, hopefully, it will work out.”
Follow DJ SAMA on Instagram @sama__dj