Saudi song coordinators from hobby to professionalism

Saudi song coordinators from hobby to professionalism

Standing behind her console with headphones around her neck, Saudi DJ Lynn Nayef seamlessly transitions 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 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 conservative kingdom’s music industry.

This represents an important 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.

private parties

Little by little, DJs turned from amateurs at private parties to professionals who made a living from the profession.

“There are a lot of DJs out there,” she said, adding that it made audiences “more comfortable” over time when seeing them on stage. “It’s easier now than it was before,” she affirmed.

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 religion.

Muhammad Nassar, a prominent Saudi DJ, known as “Vinyl Mod”, said that the idea of ​​having DJs in public events, as well as having a number of them women, was 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, they can make a career out of it, so it’s really cool.”

traditional jobs

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 did not express any 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 is 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 violations, including the repression of human rights defenders and activists.

Her nomination to coordinate CDs in the Saudi pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, for example, led to her talent being shown 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 took off their careers.

Faljeen Al-Bishi, who presents her show under the name “Birdbersen”, began experimenting with recording discs during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic. But her family refused the matter when she began to talk about professionalizing 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 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. This was the first time she had participated in a festival of this size, and the experience left her “really proud”.

“My family came and saw me on stage,” she said. They were dancing and they were happy.”

Both Naif and Al-Bishi said they believe that female DJs will establish themselves in the kingdom.

For Nayef, DJs succeed because they can do this job better than the men thanks to their ability to “read people” and choose the music they want to hear, which is 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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