(AFP) – In a restaurant on the banks of the Nile, young people with an eclectic style sway their hips under fluorescent lasers. On the decks, Yas Meen Selectress who, with other DJs in Egypt, opens the dance floor to everyone and especially to everyone.
While the DJ profession has “an overwhelming majority of men, more and more female talents are finding the strength and courage to become DJs, inspired by pioneers like Sama Abdulhadi”, the music journalist and DJ told AFP. occasional Hala K, in reference to this Palestinian DJ who, after having danced in Cairo and then Paris, now spins her turntables at the American Coachella festival.
“In Cairo, I was able to see women behind the turntables, they are powerful, talented and competent: they know how to make people dance!”, Says this Yemeni living in Amsterdam but who regularly visits Arab capitals.
“The number of female DJs has increased in the region in ten years,” confirmed AFP Frederike Berje, of the German Cultural Institute Goethe in Cairo.
“But the music scene, in Egypt as in many other countries, remains dominated by men, especially in the production and management of concert halls”, she underlines.
– Inclusive evenings –
“I am not the first DJ, but I am one of the first to have established an entity around me”, explains A7ba-L-Jelly, DJ and producer.
“With my collective Jelly Zone, I program DJs, men and women, for evenings based on musical, gender, social class inclusion” she says after having Cairo’s youth dance to electro rhythms .
“I wanted to organize events during which I would feel safe myself, without harassment,” the DJ told AFP.
Yas Meen Selectress, an Egyptian DJ residing between Cairo and New York, recognizes this: “There are fewer women than men in the profession because of traditions, society and other factors” in the Arab countries where less than 20% of women are in paid employment, a figure that has remained the same for 15 years according to the World Bank.
“All my life, I’ve seen men on the decks,” abounds Menna Shanab, a 26-year-old Egyptian-American living in Cairo, who came to attend the Yas Meen Selectress concert. “It feels good to see the music scene evolve.”
But, nuance the artist who makes his bass resonate on North African music, “to be uniquely defined by your genre is reductive.”
Gender, Dalia Hassan, she has made it one of her selling points: she organizes evenings for women only because, she told AFP, they “like to be together, with a female DJ with turntables”, especially “those who wear a scarf”.
Since the early 2000s, from Cairo to Sanaa via Riyadh, she has been organizing bachelor parties for young girls, weddings or henna ceremonies for a female audience who can “dress and dance as they wish” on the latest hits of Arab and international pop.
“Of course it helps to have fun and to feel powerful, but at the same time we don’t want female DJs to be isolated from the rest of the public, on the contrary, they have to be visible”, pleads Hala K. “Only in this way can we convince those who are afraid or who think that a woman cannot be on the decks”.
– Room challenge –
For the French-Tunisian researcher based in Paris, Hajer Ben Boubaker, “female singers have always been well represented in the Arab cultural scene: the symbol par excellence of Egyptian musical culture remains the mythical Oum Kalthoum.”
But today, “women are very little represented on the Egyptian electro scene of the mahraganats, which is the music that is diffused the most massively,” she told AFP.
From New York to Tokyo, via Dubai and Paris, the public sways more and more to Egyptian and Arabic rhythms and lyrics. But, if the Egyptians do not stop influencing the world electronic scene, they are struggling to perform in front of the 20 million Cairotes.
“The biggest challenge for us is to find rooms, as there are few or no dedicated spaces, we can’t play our music”, confirms Yas Meen Selectress, crop top, white choker and boyish cut.
“The music industry, and even more that of electro, relies heavily on private initiatives and the individual commitment of artists,” confirms Ms. Berje.
Because if in Egypt the cultural establishment supports many artists, it continues to put a spoke in the wheels of rappers, DJs and other electro musicians.
“Those who perform are finding it increasingly difficult to find places to play due to their extremely limited number”, concludes Ms Berje.