Meet the women DJs making Saudis groove to their beats
Women DJs, a once unthinkable phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, are taking the country by storm. Women in the music industry are benefiting from Saudi Arabia's attempt to change the global perspective towards it. Over the last few years, many women DJs have been coming up and performing at grand events, including the Formula 1 Grand Prix and Dubai Expo.
- Saudi Arabia has historically offered very little freedom to women.
- Under the strict form of Islam (Wahabism) practiced in the country, women have often been segregated and placed under a system of guidance by male relatives.
- Only in 2018 did women get the right to drive, the same year as Saudi Arabia was labeled as the fifth most dangerous land for women by Reuters.
Leen Naif, one of the first women DJs, got the chance to perform at the Dubai Expo 2020 in front of an international audience. First introduced to electronic music by her uncle, Naif has benefited from government attempts to trumpet Saudi's entertainment-friendly image. "With more female DJs coming up, audiences have become 'more comfortable' in seeing them on stage," she told AFP.
With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman expanding Saudi Arabia's entertainment realm, music has entered the fore. Historically, music has been discouraged under Wahabism. This has given more opportunities to DJs, and especially women artists in the field.
While Naif's parents supported her in the journey, another DJ, Lujain Albishi or 'Birrdperson' had to struggle for a long time. After experimenting with DJ decks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Albishi had to fight to gain her family's approval who wanted her to become a doctor. In 2021, she performed at Saudi's first electronic music festival, MDLBeast Soundstorm, for a crowd of 7 lakh.
"My family came to Soundstorm and saw me on stage. They were dancing, they were happy," Albishi said. Naif, who has also been heckled at events by male audiences, said that women DJs succeed because "they are better than men at reading people. Both the women are now turning heads in the kingdom's new era and believe that women DJs are here to last.