Q&A With SAMA': Palestinian DJ

Petit Bain, Paris.jpg

"It’s not tied to lyrics...

and it’s all based on sounds that no one knows which is just brilliant. It means that I can just let go."

In the last 10 years, Palestinian DJ SAMA’ has travelled through 6 countries and has lived in 20 different houses, all the while taking up one thing and quitting in another. In other words, she’s been figuring out who the hell she is. And according to her, she’s realized that she’s finally got it (sort-of) pinned down. But it didn’t come without a lot of openness to life’s opportunities—taking them despite the fear and self-doubt.  

Here’s a little reminder that we eventually do grow into ourselves. In this interview, the 27-year old DJ opens up about her start and journey in the international music scene. Hailing from a line of strong-willed women, SAMA’ thought differently about what women could do growing up and has since followed that thinking — not without occasionally giving up — all the way to the stage.


How did you discover techno, house, and the deeper sub-genres? Which aspects of the genres captivate you most? 

I discovered them in Beirut when I went to study there. I didn’t really know the difference—they were all just electronic sounds to me.

What I liked about it is the disconnection that comes with it. It’s not tied to lyrics and it’s all based on sounds that no one knows which is just brilliant. It means that I can just let go. That’s what got me interested and wanting to know more. Then I started studying it so deeply. I went crazy. It became an obsession.


How has working in the International music scene helped you explore the complexity of your identity as Middle Eastern women?

So, I started facing the complexities here in Paris rather than when I was in the Arab word because I’ve experienced the most racism here. It was so weird for me.

But it isn’t quite the racism but the sexism that I see. Only 13% of DJs are female and, in general, being a DJ is a very sexy thing for men. It’s a very exotic and attractive thing here in Paris. I hate that. They’re always so happy that I’m a woman—but I want them to be happy because of the music I’m playing.

But the fact that I’m a woman only creates a mirage for so long…because when I’m playing, I’m playing for hours. So, being a woman is not that entertaining for them. I have to be playing good music for them to stick around. So, in the end the music wins.

SAMA' Red - Cr _ Roddy Bow (1).jpg

"I come from a family of feminists."

Where did the courage come from to play in a music scene made up of men?

I come from a family of feminists. My grandfather was the one who stayed home and my grandmother was the one out fighting in the war. Israeli soldiers even came to our home one day and asked my grandfather how he lets his wife do that. He responded “I’m very proud of her and I follow her to the end.”

This was weird for me growing up because I was thought really differently. Every time people told me I was a girl, I went to my dad and asked him what the difference was between a boy and a girl. He told me:

"there is no difference. You’re exactly the same person and can do exactly the same things"

That thinking is so ingrained in my mind that whenever people try and tell me otherwise, it doesn’t even translate in my brain. It’s just gibberish. So, I brush it off and keep doing me.


Which bands or artists are most influential for you at the moment?

There’s so many! You have no idea. Okay, in techno I have three: Stephan Bodzin, Max Cooper, and Jon Jopkins. These three do totally different but huge things.

As for bands, I love Tamer Abu Ghazaleh. I think what he does and the way he makes music is just so interesting.

I also love Kamilya Jubran—the most important Palestinian artist. She is a bad-ass woman. She was the first Palestinian rock band in the 80’s. I look up to her—not only because her music is ridiculously amazing and breaks the rules, but because of who she is as a person. Knowing how she started and where she is now is so inspirational.


Has there ever been a moment in which you've doubted yourself?

Of course. People are actually telling me to be snobbier because I’m so hard on myself. I’m always critical of my work and asking what I can do better. I’m never satisfied.

But it seems that when I start to doubt myself too much or decide to give up, the universe presents an opportunity for me to challenge myself. Even if I’m too afraid or don’t want to—I take them anyways. And taking the new opportunities keeps me growing.

Yasmeen MjalliComment