Make room for SkyWalker, the first Palestinian female DJ

Écrit par Trax Magazine
Photo de couverture : ©Naji Ismail
Le 22.06.2016, à 15h13
06 MIN LI-
©Naji Ismail
Écrit par Trax Magazine
Photo de couverture : ©Naji Ismail
Needless to say how much the already long history of rave culture fascinates techno enthusiasts all around the world. Much has been written filmed and recorded about the birth of underground movements in Detroit, Berlin or in the UK. Through electronic music those places saw the birth of artistic communities with many grievances and political messages, that left a deep and long lasting cultural and social mark.Today, History is being written in Palestine, where a similar birth just happened. A new, and therefore young generation, tired of the violence it lives in, decided to take the fight somewhere else than the battlefields. To the sound of bullets they reply with the basses’ “boom”, a few hundreds of Palestinians, gathered behind the Jazar Crew, the first Palestinian soundsystem. Translated by Antonin Pruvot

The Jazar Crew does not just offer an opportunity to party, it provides Palestine’s youth with a new face to which people can identify. By betting on electronic music’s universality and its political value, Jazar Crew might very well play an important part in the struggle for a free and respected Palestine. Trax Magazine investigated: you can find the crew and the community’s history in our last printed edition!

© Bashir Wagih

Our steps and wanders led us to SkyWalker, a close friend of the group, who also happen to be Palestinian female DJ. Her music: a striking techno, severe but musical.She performed in Paris last week – with a particularly remarked Franco-Palestinian b2b with Karamel, resident and co-founder or Parallele, at the Alimentation Générale – a good occasion for us to meet her and to get to know her more.

If you follow the Palestinian’s youth road between Haïfa (Israël) and Ramallah (West Bank), one name will keep coming back: Sama, a women that happens to be a generation’s symbol. If her name is in every mouth it’s because Ramallah’s youth owes her a lot. Up to today, rare are those who changed mentalities and challenged prejudices, as much as she did. A decade ago, Sama Abdulhadi, a.k.a. SkyWalker, was the first one – amongst men and women – to play an electronic music set in one of Ramallah’s bars.

She remembers: “At the time there weren’t any parties in Ramallah, only two DJs that played Arabic music.”In 2006 Sama started DJing when “electronic music didn’t even exist” where she came from. She first tries to play hip-hop, at a “very amateur” level: “I pressed play and I used the faders, that’s it…But everybody was doing that, here!”. A few months later, her older brother abroad to study and he discovered trance music. Not Ace Ventura’s or Ajja’s, but Tiësto’s – 2006 style: “I’d shoot myself on the spot if I was to listen to that today. But at the time, the beat, the synths… It was alien music to us, it gave us more energy than any darbuka would ever have.”

“The infamous Tiësto night.””

A woman and electronic music in the West Bank? The DJ says that “People weren’t too shocked.”. To be fair, Sama never was Palestinian girl like the other: “When we came back to Palestine girls weren’t allowed to play football – a game said to be vulgar –, or to wear our hairs short… But I love football, I never had long hairsand hanged around with guys without giving too much thoughts.” 

“I work as a delivery woman, a mechanic, barman or shisha boy… anything that girl couldn’t usually do. But I was friend with everyone: cab drivers, cops, shop keepers… People eventually got used to it.” She adds: “My parents supported me in all of my choices, defending me against anyone, when I felt I was normal.”

Anyway, that trance/EDM CD revealed Sama’s talent for DJing. Completely in love with that new sound she decides to share it with her friends at a party: “It was weird, nobody expected this. The room was full, people couldn’t stop dancing, jumping on the tables bare chested, She recalls. They were all gone crazy and nobody could say why.” Then came her turn to study abroad.

The kind of parties I used o throw when I was 19. I put on a track and I went dancing with everyone…”

She heads to Beyrouth, capital of Lebanon and of the Middle East’s nightlife: “an incredible [city] with a beautiful underground.” She goes on: “Lebanese are stunning, women as well as men: anywhere you’d look, you’d see attractive people.” If at first plans were to study, it quickly came clear that it was not what she was doing there any more. “I was out every weekend, I saw incredible artists like Popof, Nicole Mudabber or Stephan Bodzin, on beaches, on roofs or in underground clubs.”

Travelling and studying abroad is not something common in Palestine. Sama is what we could called ‘privileged’ because she is not born on the occupied territories: “My family was expelled like many others in 1969, after that it settled in Jordan where I was born.” In 1994 when the Arafat government allows the exiled Palestinians in the West Bank, her father doesn’t hesitate for a second.

She pulls small moments back from the depth of memory: “I asked him why they hated us so much.” Leaving the “peaceful Jordan” to go to a “war zone” wasn’t a really attractive idea to a little girl. “I didn’t understand until the second Intifida kicked off. I was 10.” At the time Sama didn’t really grasp what the conflict was about. “I just knew that there was a line. When I crossed it, I was a stranger in a beautiful place with many toys. I didn’t see the conflict.”

Through the horrors of the Intifada she discovers “the dark side Israël and of humanity”, she realises that her people is humiliated and she falls into political struggle. “Living in a place where a stranger had the right to kick me out drove me mad. The seven years of the Intifada were my times of deep political engagement.” Seven years later, realising political debate are not leading anywhere, she let’s herself go the joys of the music and the night.

Back in Beyrouth, where Sama discovers techno music and eventually drops out university. When she comes back to Ramallah her family worries. But seeing his daughter’s passion for music, Sama’s father decides to send her to a sound engineering school in Jordan. “Omar, my teacher, was also a pretty good tribal-techno DJ under the name of Lord Kobayashi. He became my mentor and taught me how to mix in a professional way. Then we played together in a bar called 101.” At the end of the year Sama manages to be transferred to London where she graduates.

SkyWalker b2b Lord Kobayashi in Jordan

Before setting off to her London university, she performs her first techno sets in bars in Ramallah: “Nobody understood me until I met Fidaa.” The young woman – an inspiring and iconic figure of Haïfa’s youth – introduces her to the Jazar Crew, the first Palestinian soundsystem, which at this point organises its first parties. “It was a long and troublesome road, but you can really party in Palestine today!”

As she was gaining more and more success, it was time for her to pick an alias. SkyWalker. Though she is far from being a Star Wars fan, she not ashamed to say: “I haven’t seen any of those movies, maybe I should…” In Arabic Sama means “Sky” and the only brand of Whisky her father enjoyed was Johnny Wlaker. And that’s how SkyWalker is born. “One day I’ll make a track that is going to be a real master piece and I’ll call it ‘Luke’.”

We can see Rojeh, co-founder of the Jazar Crew in the background

SkyWalker takes part in the first Mukti Gathering, the Jazar Crew’s festival, in 2012: “The Mukti gathers us all, it’s magical. Back in the days we all got on stage and we played together, we could share the decks at any point…” Today she lives in Caro, Egypt, where she works as a sound designer in the cinema industry. “Egypt is a hundred times worse than Palestine, she says, half of the people I know are dead, jailed or just missing.”

Although she doesn’t like it too much Sama stays to get experience and network. In her Egyptian room, the first Palestinian woman DJ, dreams of her homeland. “Palestine is one of the best situations in the Middle East: people are civilised, there is no internal security, the economy is good and we have jobs… But we live under occupation! And there lays the irony of the world we live in.”

The decks are on fie in one of the Jazar Crew’s events: “I think it was like four or five of us DJs on the stage.”

Today, Sama hasn’t got a minute to loose. She works full time for sound designer job and she struggles to find time to fully dedicate herself to music: “I’m a bit rusty, but I have got coll things on the way:” She is going to release an EP in the coming months, “more developed and accomplished than the previous two,” she also considers pursuing her masters in order to “go back to Palestine” ad to be able to “improve the country”: “I want to feed myself with the entire world to then give it back to Palestine.”

Last week, SkyWalker played alongside the Jazar Crew in two packed Parisians bars. Closing the Palest’in & Out festival, in amazing atmosphere, where the young woman monitored the dancefloor with accuracy and effectiveness, before being joined on stage by a member of the Jazar and his darbuka.

Last Saturday, the collective Intrüzion also invited her for a back-to-back with the resident and co-founder of Parallele, Karamel. The young Parisian and the Palestinian artist exchanged together for more than two hours, through universal language of techno.


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