When people think of Palestine, they don’t tend to associate the war-torn country with nightlife, but homegrown contemporary culture is thriving and Sama Abdulhadi—a 27-year-old female techno DJ from Ramallah—is leading the way.
Sama was first introduced to music when she was learning classical piano at just four years old. “My dad claims I started playing around with his conference equipment and making music at nine years old”, she says. At a time when “the only DJs in Ramallah were wedding DJs”, Sama (who was a teenager at the time) decided to infiltrate the nearly non-existent local scene and switch up the status quo.
“I attended a Satoshi Tomiie concert in Beirut – this evening was a turning point in my life”, she says of hearing electronic music for the first time. An experience she recalls nostalgically “I felt free like never before, so I decided to bring techno back home so I could let my friends to escape from their everyday realities just for one night”.
Sama has played techno ever since. Playing at clubs in the Middle East and abroad is undoubtedly exciting but she can’t help but feel like she’s carrying a huge weight on her shoulders when people expect bold political statements from the Palestinian DJ. “When I perform, I just want to be seen as a musician”, she says. “But, inherently, techno can be subtly political: it is a short-lived time and space away from reality, with sounds that relate to nothing tangible. When listening to techno, you can just be yourself and speak a sort of universal language”.
Indeed, while she rejects the “political artist” label, she’s convinced nightlife and political consciousness is tightly connected. It’s now become a common thing to see “Free Palestine” flags at her gigs in Europe. More recently, she’s been asked to give talks about Palestine at events preceding her DJ sets, and the kids who attend and ask questions are the same ones who rave all night long. “Just look at what happened last weekend in Berlin. There were marches against the right wing group that were asking for “a Germany only for Germans”. Ravers stood up, protested and partied as a way to stand for a diverse country culminating in over 2,000 people from the right wing party attending, and 80,000 ravers turned up. Clubbing is part of the culture, it helps resist against hardship and brings people together”.
But Sama admits to feeling rather reluctant to the rise of oriental-inspired electronic music in the West, which she perceives as cultural appropriation. “Trump might be anti-immigrant but he also pats himself on the back for hanging out with Armenian Kim Kardashian. France discriminates against its North African community, but French people love couscous and belly dancing. That doesn’t mean there is any actual improvement in terms of representation, visibility and equality”.
Currently based in Paris, Sama is working on the release of a remix for Lebanese singer Bachar Mar. Khalifeh and a collaborative album with a bunch of Palestinian artists under the name of Electrosteen, before she drops her own EP and album. This summer she’ll be playing at Fusion in Berlin, Sziget in Budapest and Festival les Insolantes in Angouleme.
Photography by Ruddy Bow