Watch: Saudi "DJs" .. From hobby to professionalism

Watch: Saudi “DJs” .. From hobby to professionalism

Standing behind her console with headphones around her neck, Saudi DJ Lynn Nayef transitions seamlessly between pop and other music in front of a crowd of business school graduates eating sushi.

The scene is far removed from other podiums she has graced with at major events, such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah and Expo 2020 in Dubai, which helped the 26-year-old, known as DJ Lynn, gain fame in the music industry in the conservative kingdom.

It is a significant change in the kingdom, as the presence of DJs, a phenomenon unimaginable only a few years ago, has become a relatively common sight in major cities such as Riyadh and the more open Jeddah. Little by little, “DJ” turned from mere amateurs in private parties to professional professionals in this profession.

“A lot of DJs are out in the open,” Nayef told AFP during a short break, adding that over time it made fans “more comfortable” when seeing them on stage. “It’s easier now than it was” before.

Naif and her colleagues embody two major reforms in the kingdom, one to provide new opportunities for women, and the other to expand entertainment options, especially in the music sector, which was previously completely marginalized under a strict interpretation of Islam.

Mohammed Nassar, a prominent Saudi DJ known as “Vinyl Mode”, said that the idea of ​​a “DJ” at public events, as well as a number of them being women, is something “we did not expect” until recently. “Now we are seeing more” of them appear, Nassar added, noting that in the past it was “just a hobby to express themselves in their bedrooms. Now they have platforms, and they can take it as a profession. So it’s really cool.”

Bypass the objectors

Naif was first introduced to electronic music by an uncle during her teens, and immediately began to wonder if she could really work as a DJ.

While her friends dreamed of traditional jobs in medicine and teaching, she realized that she did not have the patience to pursue the study path that these professions required. “I cannot continue my education (…), I love to work and I am not a person who loves to study,” she said.

Unlike other DJs, Naif had immediate endorsement from her parents and siblings who had no concerns about her unconventional career plan. But it required overcoming the objections of some who do not like it in conservative Saudi society. On one occasion several years ago, a man appeared in the middle of a party, saying that she was “not allowed” to do this work and asked her “Why are you doing it?” His complaint at the time succeeded in prompting Nayef to withdraw, but today she doubts the possibility of this scene being repeated in the same way.

“Now I bet the same man, if he saw me, would stand in the front lines just to watch,” she said.

Nayef has benefited from official attempts to promote the image of a new Saudi Arabia that welcomes entertainment, which human rights organizations often criticize as whitewashing abuses, including the crackdown on women rights activists. Her nomination to coordinate records for the Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, for example, led to her talent being showcased for the first time in front of an international audience. But her work in Saudi Arabia is her main source of income, as she earns 1,000 Saudi riyals (about $260) per hour, with a minimum of three hours per reservation.

Music lovers

Other DJs faced more rejection and resistance as they launched their careers. Faljeen Al-Bishi, who presents under the name “Birdbersen”, began experimenting with formatting discs during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. But her family refused when she started talking about the professionalism of this work, preferring that the young daughter choose a more traditional profession.

Al-Bishi said that the girl in several Saudi families “is either a doctor or an engineer.” “So it was difficult for me to move on with the music,” she added.

But she still stuck with her passion, staging the music at private parties, often putting on her headphones while her barefoot friends danced around. She won her big prize last year when she was invited to coordinate songs at the “Middle Beast” music festival in Riyadh, which attracted more than 700,000 participants during four days that included concerts by Arab and international artists, including the French David Guetta.

It was her first time participating in a festival of this magnitude, and the experience left her “really proud”. “My family came and saw me on stage. They were dancing and they were happy,” she said. Both Naif and Al-Bishi confirmed that they believe that female DJs will establish themselves in the kingdom.

For Naif, DJs succeed because they can do this job better than men thanks to a key feature being their ability to “read people” and choose the music they want to hear, and that’s what makes the party a success. But Al-Bishi said, “My music is not for women or men. It is for music lovers.”

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