Sound Escape

In conversation with Palestinian DJ and producer Sama’ AbdulHadi.

In conversation with Sama’ AbdulHadi, the Palestinian DJ delves into the controversies about being a global artist and at the same time profoundly attached to her origins, supporting her heritage’s music scene. For our New Year’s Eve special feature, Sama’ opens herself up about her personal connection with music and what techno means to her, an escape from reality and, at the same time, a way to reconnect with the community. Together with a selection of some of her preferred tracks of the moment by some of her favorite producers for our latest Soundscapes release.

Listen to Soundscapes vol.122, curated by Sama Abdulhadi

I feel no one asks this as a first question but how are you? What is your current state of mind?

Hahaha I am alright thank you for asking. I guess my current state of mind is in overdrive. You just have to keep going right?

I guess we can dive into the more particular questions now: you founded Union. What’s the concept behind it and why is it so important to you?

I was one of the founders of Union, we’re a group of old friends and new ones. The initial idea was hosting an electronic music festival in Palestine, and to get there we had to start small in order to create a safe and sustainable space. To create a safe space we had to set clear unspoken boundaries, which sometimes required for us to step in and other times we let the space and the people reclaim it. For it to be sustainable, it had to be a collaborative project. The collective engaged a group of DJs, creators, stage designers, visual artists, graffiti artists, lighting engineers, and people willing to help and learn. Sharing skills and knowledge was key to making UNION a success and inclusive space. I realised just how important the project is once we hosted our first event. It seemed to me that everyone wanted to be an active member in the electronic music scene but couldn’t find the space to. We built everything from scratch, brought in furniture, built a lighting system, built a stage, and transformed an empty venue differently every event. Anyone who wanted to help could. I’m glad we could offer such a space in a city where spaces are limited and almost unavailable.

As I understand, you live in Paris now; how do you manage to resonate with the constant state of liminality between having a global audience yet still remain profoundly attached to your roots and origins?

I think we are generally born belonging to somewhere or something. Though given the global issues we collectively face today, I believe it’s important not to look at it from the angle of local versus global as a manifestation of physical borders or the materialisation of culture. The feeling of home created in my family house and the walls of my room in Ramallah is felt in the streets of Ramallah, in random places, I even managed to feel home in the streets of Beirut and Cairo. Palestine is a feeling; it taught me how to be me. And wherever I can be me I am home, and wherever I don’t find it I try to recreate it. Not a lot of people understand who I am and how that extends to my identity as a Palestinian and an artist. I always make the genuine attempt to connect with the cultures that surround me wherever I go, but I also always find it hard to fit in the global realm in a way when I am understood in connectivity to my origins and roots. Us humans are profoundly the same in ways of communication, and if we cannot connect through culture, religion, or language then perhaps it is time to find another way. Music to me is a place where I recreate that sense of connectivity with the crowd and the context, and it is where I can be me despite my locality in the world.

How could you describe the feeling of being on stage?

Like your on a rollercoaster constantly about to dip, it’s that kind of constant adrenaline rush and then all of a sudden you’re done and God help me if I can sleep from all the overwhelming energy

How does it change to when you are playing in the studio, for example?

Oh it’s way different, with a crowd they kind of choose the next track, you are vibing off of them. For me a crowd is very essential to be able to know what to play next, as I’m a very indecisive human being.

I got to know you at a gig in Liverpool, back in 2019. You were playing before Sam Paganini and I instantly loved your sound! How would you describe the main influences in your style?

I’m not sure I know how to describe it actually, it’s a lot of different genres I feel, it’s more of storytelling tracks that I try to make something out of. I usually just dive into Beatport and I buy whatever I really like and then see if it’s something that’s mixable. I think on my laptop I have over 15 playlists of different feelings every track gives me and depending where the night is and the vibe of the crowd / the vibe I wanna give out, that’s how I choose what’s happening next.

Personally, I love the concept of Boiler Room, I think it creates more of a close connection with the audience, or maybe I could even say that the DJ and the people merge together in a big sweaty amalgam. Do you feel the same? The theorist Bakhtin said “Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people. While carnival lasts, there is no other life outside it.” I think somehow the concept of the carnivalesque can be applied to the Boiler Room. How was it for you when you played your set there?

That’s so on point. That’s the reason why I love festivals, and always wonder why we even leave that space. I feel the illusion that time and space ceases to exist and it’s as if nothing really is important outside the time and spatial boundaries. You essentially disconnect for a little bit and enjoy the moment, and the most important thing is that you share this moment with a lot of people. The Boiler Room event holds a special significance to me, it being the turning point that kick started my career. It wouldn’t have been the same if I wasn’t surrounded by friends, family and people who are dear to me. Without the crowd being right beside me, I cant imagine how it would have turned out and where I would be today.

What has been your favourite gig so far? And if you could choose any type of setting where to play, what would you choose?

That’s hard to say but honestly my favorite festival in life is Fusion Festival and playing that massive turmbuhne stage is just my highlight every year. From stage, to light to sound, crowd, founders, crew, ideology, implementation, they just perfected festivals. But as clubs and a city I gotta give it to Beirut from ballroom blitz to Recess Club that just opened. These two places are magical.

I have read that for you techno is a soundscape where to peacefully disassociate (paradoxically, as for some maybe it is a tool to bond with a community). Maybe for you we should rename your playlist release as “Sound-escape” rather than our usual “Soundscape”. Could you give us an insight into the selection you have put together for us?

Its some of my favorite tracks by some of my favorite producers. I know they all have something special to add, whether in their quality of production or the fact that they add a new sound to the music scene. I hope you enjoy it.

Techno music can be defined also as a tool for alienation, an escape when we feel that a world that’s supposed to get better as time goes on, instead it’s moving backwards. Therefore, your music scene could represent a counter-space that frees those who feel unfitting, creating anOther type of society. Referring to what happened in Maqam Nabi Musa in 2020, your set has subverted hierarchies and triggered a sense of moral chaos. Could you talk about the personal and emotional connection with your music that clashes with the established norms society has built?

Techno is just another tool or interest for people for across the globe to connect over. It is a genre of electronic music like blues, rock or hiphop, all of which share a similar harsh and slow integration into society. It is a new method of communicating with one another that a lot of people still do not understand, unless they are a part of it. So it is very normal that techno is associated to a particular class or bubble ‘alienated’ from society because there is a lack of understanding of the space or feeling created for the minority that do listen to it, at least in Palestine. Techno shouldn’t threaten social norms, because it’s an an-other additional space that doesn’t replace an already existing one. I don’t think the music scene is a counter-space that frees those who feel unfitting, techno is a genre of music that a minority listen to in Palestine and the impact of this minority on the general society cannot be blamed or confined to techno as a genre of electronic music.  Time passes everything, and all we need to do is be patient and attempt to create a space for us in society, despite our interests whether musically, morally, or politically.

How was 2022 for you? Could you define it with 5 significant words?

It was extraordinary, full of love, surprises, work and flying. It’s my first real year.

What are the future gigs and dreams you are looking forward to?

I think hosting and getting as many of the cool artists I know to come show their music to the world it’s my main thing now.

In conclusion, is there a secret you can reveal us?

I worked for this interview more than I worked for anything in my life… this was tough heh. Happy New Year!

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