These UAE-based female DJs know how to get a party started


These UAE-based female DJs know how to get a party started
Tala Samman is a leading UAE-based DJ and fashion blogger

They well us how they groove to their own beat


Janice Rodrigues

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Published: Thu 17 Jan 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 25 Jan 2019, 10:48 AM

Music has always been one of those things that's supposed to transcend barriers - be it language, culture or gender. And, while we've seen (or heard, rather) our fair share of singer-songwriters both in the east and west, something rather strange happens when you tune into the world of DJing. Just look up the international DJs - from top-paid to most famous - and chances are you'll notice they all have one thing in common: their gender.

British monthly magazine DJ Mag, which has an annual poll that allows fans to vote for their favourite artists, saw only six female DJs make the cut in their Top 100 poll last year. Meanwhile, in 2015, when DJs were asked about why they thought the number of female DJs were so low, their answers ranged from 'sitting behind a computer, programming music is not something that generally appeals to women' to 'maybe they spend too much time in Sephora'.

It's not all bad though. Today, female producers and DJs are more visible than ever, and many more are entering the field and supporting one another. There are female-only DJing events and documentaries tracking their success.

The UAE also has a thriving and supportive DJ community, which is why we've spoken to four talented women to find out how they got started. From mixing tracks to headlining major events, these women know how to get a party started.
DJ Tala Samman
Tala Samman is a name that is synonymous with UAE's fashion scene. The influencer was amongst the first to launch a lifestyle blog in the region ( 11 years ago and regularly shows up in lists of popular bloggers in the Middle East. She's also proof that it's always possible to add another feather to your cap.

"I find that learning a skill as an adult is always really important," she explains, when asked about what got her started with this rather offbeat field.

Originally from Syria, born in the US and raised in Dubai, Tala lived in London for four years while studying at London College of Fashion. Surrounded by artists at the time, she took an interest in DJing and soon started dabbling in it. "I even did a few classes. I remember everyone in my class were grown men at the time. I never actually ended up pursuing or continuing it."

When she returned to Dubai, her sister gave her a gift voucher for a five-hour masterclass in DJing - and this ignited the old spark. "I ended up falling in love with it," she gushes. "So I enrolled for classes for a year. I'd go for about 10 hours a week and didn't tell anyone because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it later. It was just about learning something new."
It wasn't until an acquaintance suggested that she could DJ alongside blogging that Tala started doing it professionally. It started with little events, when she would work with brands. The more she did, the more she enjoyed it.

"DJing is probably as important as my blog now," says Tala, who has been doing it for about four years. "I love that they (DJing and the blog) are so different. With the blogging world, people can get competitive, nasty or personal. But the DJing community here is really nice. Everyone is incredibly supportive and they are all friends."

Today, Tala has DJed for events such as Lewis Hamilton's Championship's Party last year and the Electric Run party in 2016. Early last year saw her opening for singer Dua Lipa's concert in Abu Dhabi - one of her all-time favourite memories.

"It's always fun to play for people who are there for the music," she says. "When you're playing for a couple of hours, what keeps you going is people's energy. That's what it's all about."
DJ Nicki Nicol

PHOTO CREDIT: Corey D'ron Photography
Hailing from Queens, New York, Nicki Nicols seems to live and breathe music. "Growing up, I didn't watch television - I would just listen to music," she laughs. "I was always inspired by it."

"Later on, I found myself surrounded by DJs - my cousin was one and so was my fiancé - and I was always suggesting songs. Eventually I thought, if you can do it, then so can I," she says, adding that when she first got into the field, she didn't know any women who DJed.

The UAE resident is now a regular when it comes to events around the country. From locations such as Sensation and Tribeca in Dubai to Hysteria and the Reggae Beachfest in Abu Dhabi, she's been there and played that, and is all about keeping the music "exciting and energetic". But she's the first to admit that it's not the easiest field to break into.

"There are some fields that are male-dominated and I feel like it takes a special personality to get into them. There are trickles (of female DJs) here and there - but we have to infiltrate," she jokes. "We have to break into the boy's club. I feel like when you're a woman you have more work to do because you have to be excellent at the very least."

"You would think that certain opportunities would come just because you're a female but you have to be good. You can't just be cute," she adds. "A lot of people think it's easy and glamorous but there's actually a lot of work, preparation and practice that goes into it."

Despite this, it's all worth it for the talented multi-tasker who also has a full-time job and a professional makeup licence. A self-confessed 'private person', Nicki claims that, when she's on stage and the lights are on her, she feels like a whole new person. "When you're passionate about something, you don't mind waking up every day to do it because you love it - it's what drives you. You do it for the sound, the energy and the vibe."
DJ Amy Wells

PHOTO CREDIT: Sami Khatib Threedots Photography
For Australian national Amy Wells, DJing wasn't a career but a hobby that just took on a life of its own. She always had a love for music, having dabbled with her first instrument (the guitar) at the age of 13 before turning to the keyboard and then drums. "My love for music eventually inspired me to learn the art of DJing. At the same time, I was challenged by a friend to perform. The challenge was accepted," she laughs. 

Having moved to the UAE 10 years ago, Amy has had a chance to see the industry in the region grow. "Entering what was once a male dominated industry at the time was quite daunting," she says. "I think there has always been a preconception of women being less tech-savvy so we were not taken seriously at gigs and only gained bookings because of face/ physical value. I didn't know any other female DJs at the time but was lucky to have good mentors guiding me musically and tech-wise, with zero judgement."

"After all, DJing is a genderless artform," she says. "We should appreciate and respect individual differences - it's what gives us an edge."

She undoubtedly knows a thing or two about bringing her own personal style into her music. Having been brought up in New York, Australia and New Zealand means that she has a global outlook and, today, she describes her music style as 'deep melodic house with a mixture of Detroit techno and Chicago house'. Her talent drew the attention of popular house party Electric Days who she works with. She's also a part of the Vibes Crew here in Dubai. "It's really nice that the UAE has a very diverse musical community that is accepting. I feel like it sets us apart. I have appreciation for all types of music and I'm so grateful to have such exposure to the industry." 

It's why her advice to all budding artists out there is to be open to different genres. "Don't be afraid to get experimental - that's how you learn, shine and create your own style."
DJ Margo Sahara

One could say that DJing is in Margo Sahara's blood. Originally from Estonia, and having grown up in East Russia, Margo developed a passion for the artform pretty early - mostly because of her father, who happens to be a DJ himself. "I was always passionate about music. But it's only when I started to go to clubs that I realised the potential of expression and creativity of a DJ," she says. "I'm a very emotional person and music gives me a chance to express that. It gives me a chance to communicate with other people without speaking and allows me to release my excitement and emotions. So, I decided to start down this career path purely because of the creative aspect it had."
Was it an uphill battle? Margo recounts a distant memory when asked that question. "My first official gig as a DJ was in Russia for a DJ battle in 2004 where all the contestants were male except me! Being a DJ now almost means you must prove your skills in a field dominated by men."

Despite this, Margo, who moved to the UAE five years ago, claims that there's a growing demand for female DJs in the region - and not just because of female-only events. In the end, demand and bookings all come down to what a musician can bring to the table - and that is irrespective of one's gender. As Margo puts it, "It all depends upon one's character, personality and skills."

While one needs the above-mentioned traits to get into this field, staying in it is a whole other ballgame, says Margo. "In order to make it a stable profession, one needs a lot of passion, dedication and commitment." She should know - she currently has a residency at Shimmers, Madinat Jumeirah, while also working numerous one-off events.

Her final advice for aspiring artists is to bring everything they've got to the table. "And always stay upbeat," she adds.

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