His nationality intrigues on a world electro scene where Arab artists are still rare. A Palestinian DJ based in Saint-Denis will play this Saturday, 24 July, at Eurokinesia after putting the Zoot de la Villette in a trance on 11 July in Paris.
With nearly eight million views on YouTube, Sama’ Abdulhadi’s Boiler Room is in the top 10 of these famous and highly regarded DJ sets broadcast in livestreams. But, beyond numbers, the comments under this video testify even better to the “sama incident”: “I didn’t think such a party took place in Palestine”, one writes, “I didn’t know Palestinians liked techno”, Adds another … If Sama ‘Abdulhadi, a 31-year-old DJ from Ramallah, introduced the Palestinians to techno, he also introduced the electronic world to his country.
Sacred “Queen of Palestinian Techno”, Sama’ Abdulhadi enthralls the crowds at the Zoot de la Villette on 11 July, where her set, enthusiastic, gathered several hundred bawling fans. Her spontaneity and curiosity that evokes her nationality, elevates her to the rank of a rising star in spite of herself and illuminates the field, long gone under the radar of this musical. Meeting before their next set, Saturday 24 July, at Eurokines’ “secondary residence” in Belfort.
“Children, we heard music on the radio, but in Palestine, the songs were interrupted by flashes of news announcing the deaths.”
How did you become the first Palestinian DJ?
I started at birthday parties at the age of 12. As children, we listened to music on the radio, but in Palestine, at the time of the Second Intifada, the songs were interrupted by flashes of news announcing new deaths. So I decided to take care of music. My father worked in programs and gave me speakers and CD players. He helped me assemble and disassemble them. He did this for about six years, until I passed my license! I missed a professional football career due to an injury. To console me, my father told me: “You kept me with all this gear for years, so you gotta get into the music!” “ So it was largely thanks to him that I became the first Palestinian DJ.
Your career has boomed in recent years…
Really everything has changed a lot. In the beginning, I developed into a “techno” DJ, but when I arrived in Europe, things intensified. My first agent in France told me: “Your sets are fine, but it’s not really technical, which is normal considering where you’re from.” So I saw a lot of other DJs and after about fifteen sets, one evening, he told me: “It’s technical!” But I know you should never rest on your laurels. Plus, when I played with Richie Houtin and Kevin Saunderson, two tech pundits I admire a lot, I realized I still had a long way to go.
You had another name when you started out, Skywalker. Why did you take Sama back?
Skywalker was a reference to my first name, which means “sky” in Arabic, and Johnnie Walker, a brand of whiskey. But when I decided to get into DJing professionally, I realized I could never be more famous than Star Wars. So I went back to my real name, Sama, which is closer to my roots besides avoiding competition with Luke.
What gave you the confidence to get started in this profession?
I was working as a sound engineer in Egypt and my cousin told me: “Don’t let opportunities slip through your fingers. let’s enjoy. You’re not sure if it works, but you have to try. “ At this exact moment I dropped all B-plans and I started completely in music. This is the best advice I have received.
Lebanon, the United Kingdom, Egypt, France… you have come a long way.
Yes. When I left Palestine, I lived in Lebanon for the first time. I found nightclubs there, attended my first real DJ set. That’s why I have a special connection with this country. That’s why I love playing it. Then I went to London to study sound engineering. Back in Palestine, I was inept, and I always found myself in situations where I had to lead, when I wanted to learn from more experienced people. Egypt is a high place of art in the Arab world, so I moved there and I worked in studios, films, concerts… I even gave lessons to the kids! I tried everything to see what I liked and what I didn’t. I was so busy that I spent five years there without even knowing it. Slowly I was making my career as a sound engineer. And then I had my concert in France thanks to the Palestine and Outside Festival, which promotes young emerging talent from Palestine. It was in Petit Bane, and I have very good memories of it. One of the jury members really believed in me and helped me get residency at the Citi Internationale des Arts. This festival was a real springboard for my career.
You also decided to settle in France, why?
I appreciate France’s openness and accessibility. It is very easy to transit from Paris, and this is very important for my work. As for the language barrier, I’m lucky enough to live in Saint-Denis, which is a multicultural city, so I don’t even need to speak French, I only speak Arabic! I also really like the Paris underground scene, which I find unique in Europe. France still has this rebellious culture of partying and harassing the police! The Le Peripet Club was amazing, I sometimes imagine this is what 1980s Berlin would have looked like and I’m happy to find a similar atmosphere here.
“In Palestine, the youth amaze me, they organize incredible parties and are very open.”
Has nightlife changed in Palestine since you started DJing?
There are about thirty DJs in Palestine right now, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new artists! The youth amaze me, they organize incredible parties and are very open, even more than my time. My brother recently told me that there were four parties scheduled on a single day, which had never happened before. Of course, the past few months have been very tough, but now everyone is in a festive mood. I also feel that there is a unity within the youth which we have never seen before. It’s heading in the right direction, although still no nightclub.
Are we seeing the birth of a billion tech scene?
Suppose there is some unity within the boundaries that we can overcome. Before the Internet, it was difficult to make oneself known. Today, thanks to social networks, we are discovering more and more artists in Kuwait, Oman, Egypt, Syria, but it is still very difficult for us to get a visa to travel to the region. It is unfortunate that the public has to travel to Europe to see my sets, as only a fraction of them can afford it. At the moment we are completely dependent on the West, because we have no other option. But “this is life”, and that will eventually change…
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