Bearing the title as Palestine’s first female DJ, anyone who speaks with Sama’ Abdulhadi would agree techno rebel might be a more fitting crown. “Palestine or music, that’s my knowledge in life,” says the DJ and producer. Sama’ Abdulhadi is a techno rebel with a cause. Abdulhadi has become a face of the emerging electronic music and experimental techno scene in the Middle East. However, while the rest of the world is just starting to hear about her, she’s been dedicating her life to music for the last 15 plus years.
“What are you going to do when you have a bully that’s just beating you up, beating you up and beating you up? You don’t stay silent at the end,” describes Abdulhadi over the phone from her hometown of Ramallah. She’s referring to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict raging for almost a century now. Growing up with this ongoing tension has left people displaced, imprisoned, confused, angry, and isolated. “I always try to share things on my [Instagram] Stories, but then I go ‘Should I share this now or shouldn’t I share this now?’…you don’t know when you’re right,” says Abdulhadi.
Beatport commissioned an online series to spotlight the burgeoning dance music scene in the Middle East. Over the course of the month, Sama’ will showcase a lineup of talent that has shaped dance music in the Middle East. Prior to each show, Sama’ will introduce the weekly episode and guests. The guests are either part of the current Union or friends of the collective. The Union is a safe space for everyone who can identify themselves with the scene, including musicians, producers, DJ’s, visual artists, dancers and for those who would like to contribute.
While she has become a figure within techno music, she recognizes the position she finds herself in with growing attention on her. With more eyes and ears on her, she’s decided to cash her spotlight in helping educate others through her platforms. One thing she wants people to realize is you need to know when to look at the big picture and when to zoom in on the details. “Don’t generalize, it’s not a population that’s a terrorist. […] Trump is terrifying but it’s not all of America that’s terrifying.” She often encounters a lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding Palestine and its people.
“I’m in the middle of a techno party, and I have to explain to the person the history of when Israel came to Palestine…and it’s like ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m doing this,’” explains Abdulhadi. “My friends, especially in Palestine, always [ask me] ‘How do you have the patience to do that?’ because the next question from the next person you say ‘Hi’ to is going to be the same.” It’s not that’s her topic of choice at a rave or music event, but she knows if she doesn’t then who will? “He doesn’t know we’re a country that we exist. This is the most important [who needs to know] because the people that know already aren’t doing anything, and the ones who are doing something—it’s not working…So obviously we need the people who don’t know to know as well—that’s the majority of the world actually,” she goes onto explain. Just as she pours of herself into her sets, she approaches educating others one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. “I’ll keep replying the same…It’s like literally a loop of the same convos with everybody I meet at a gig, but I speak to each one passionately.”
“Palestine or music, that’s my knowledge in life. I read books about politics and history—these are my favorite genres of books [and] sociology. I don’t read fiction at all; weirdly. It just doesn’t entertain me.”
Sama’ Abdulhadi knows what she likes and isn’t willing to waste time.
Abdulhadi may be the face of a musical movement in Palestine, but she’s not at it alone. Artists like The Blessed Madonna and Four Tet were part of a #DJsForPalestine campaign to support a cultural boycott of Israel. She encourages people to get curious, and [try] “to know more about the place before judging it. I’m not saying all Israeli people are bad in life. It’s not them. It’s like the Trump-America thing,” says Abdulhadi. “It’s the government doing all the crap. Most people don’t know what the government is doing, and that is also sad, but the whole idea of not playing in Israel…is just like a way of music washing the whole scene.” She’s not one to look the other way when something isn’t right. The situation has to change and improve before life carries on.
“The Block always invites me to go and play in Tel Aviv, and I always tell them ‘no,’” explains Why not? “My friends can’t go there. I have relatives that can never come back to Palestine because they’re refugees. I know people in prison that are illegally in prison. You’re stealing our water, bombing our friends in Gaza, you’re doing all of these things, and I’m not going to come and play [and pretend] everything is cool because your government is literally right next to us and doing this to us,” Abdulhadi calls for greater accountability.
Music unites and helps the healing process begin. There are countless stories that describe music’s powerful effect on their lives and at times even saving them. “I’ve always dreamed of a place where we can all connect and move in between each other,” says Abdulhadi. This being the reason why she keeps pushing boundaries with music. She recalls a time when friends from Haifa, a city in Israel, visited her. “Why are you here? We are in the shitty part of the country. You guys are in the nice part.” And their response? “We finally feel like we belong somewhere.”
“I think everybody in Palestine needs these five minutes. It’s essential for them to stay sane—that was the main idea behind why I wanted to do gigs there [Palestine].”
For Sama’ Abdulhadi, music is where she can get lost in the best way possible.
“I lost so much money,” she says laughing when talking about her beginnings in Ramallah and events. “That’s why I got more invested, that was the thing that actually kind of broke me. I got more interested in films, audio engineering, and sound design. I kept doing gigs but only in Palestine.” Little did she know these hardships coupled with her upbringing would actually foster a sense of purpose. “It’s this sense of obligation. The thing is…I’m too Palestinian. I was such an active kid—that’s one of the reasons my parents told me to go study abroad. They kind of didn’t want me to stay here [Palestine] for too much. I was going mental. I was constantly in pain and depressed from the situation here. I felt it was my obligation to do something for the country since I was a child.”
“The minute they took me to that techno gig, it was the first time in my life that I didn’t think about Palestine for a couple of hours. I was completely free. I just let out all my anger,”says the DJ and producer. “So I came back to Palestine and tried it a bunch of times—didn’t work. Then they allowed people from Haifa to come to Palestine,” shares Abdulhadi. “This person comes here, and she takes over a bar that’s in the middle of a city. She starts doing random music nights.” Abdulhadi attended an experimental music night, and as they say, the rest is history. She noticed their sound system could use some loving and offered a helping hand. The owner was her missing piece to what she had been trying to do. It was the start of something beautiful, and they were like two peas in a pod. The bar owner took care of organizing events, while Abdulhadi would serve up tunes as if it were happy hour.
“Techno is not just music; it’s a vibe.”
If you know, you know, and Sama’ Abdulhadi knows.
At first, events were mostly people from Haifa, and they had to win over people from Ramallah. Where most would think to start building a local fanbase, they had to work the other way around. Eventually, their events became mostly locals from Ramallah. “We found each other, and we fully respected each other. Nobody was playing games with the other,” she says of her partner in crime.
“She also believed, like me, if people don’t like the music you don’t rob them….they would come in. if they don’t like the music, they can take the money from their ticket and leave. We don’t mind. It’s not about the money. It’s about having more people try it..we both had this ideology. We both didn’t care about the money…we just wanted to be free for a minute”
Not in it for the money, Sama’ Abdulhadi is a techno rebel with a cause: good times and good vibes.
Fast forward to when she finished filming her documentary, she received a call notifying her she’d be playing next to Nicole Moudaber. The well-respected Lebanese DJ and producer who has also helped put her country on the map in the world of dance music. With the upcoming b2b, the film crew decided to capture this epic moment for Sama Abdulhadi. “I looked up to a lot of DJs in Lebanon. That’s where I actually heard techno first. The first time I saw Nicole was in Beirut, I was just out of [this] world, and I watched her again in Jordan..in London.…I watched her like too many times I think,” jokes Abduhlai. “One of the times I [saw] her in London..I was alone and I just went and stood right in front of her and just danced with her for like the whole night. I don’t think she knows, obviously.”
“I would look at her with this terrified eye, and she was like ‘Go mama, go you can do it,’ She was pushing me to play every transition I did.”
Sama’ Abdulhadi on Nicole Moudaber’s uplifting presence
She cites Moudaber and Dubfire as a couple of her musical influences. “I learned the most from her when I played with her that’s when I saw what she’s doing.” Days leading up to her b2b performance she was nervous, and they didn’t disappear day of, “I got on stage and I was still shivering,” remembers the DJ. “If she wasn’t next to me, and if she wasn’t the way she was: an incredible human…literally every transition, I would look at her with this terrified eye, and she was like ‘Go mama, go you can do it,’” she recalls. “She was pushing me to play every transition I did, and when I played it she would praise me right after it. She was the one lifting me up that day.” Understandably so as that day Abdulhadi had quite the rubbing of elbows with some of the leading artists of dance music. “When I got on stage, I realized Pete Tong is on my left, Adam Beyer is on my right and Ida Engberg right next to him. All of these legends are around me. I never thought I’d shake their hand and now they’re watching me.” No stress, right?
“Keep playing and keep learning,” advises Adbuhalhi to artists starting out. “The thing is that the more you give it your best the more you’re satisfied with what you do.” She thinks back to her Boiler Room set from 2018 that has now more than 7 million views. “I never prepared a set before Boiler Room, but for Boiler Room, I knew it was a showcase. This can be a make it or break it thing. So I prepared for it four or five days.” As for who she has to thank for keeping her on track? Big shout to momma Abdhulahi. “She made me give her a list of all the things I needed to do which she doesn’t understand anything that I’m saying but she would call me every three hours: ‘did you finish this and this and that?’” Everyone needs an accountability partner. When Abudhali would admit to still having to cross things off her list, her mom’s response? “Don’t sleep until you finish that for today.” Perhaps that’s why Abdhulahi has mastered the art of running on little to no sleep.
At the end of the day, her mom knew how important the moment would be for her and that’s pretty much all that mattered. The same discipline Abdhulahi practiced then she set forth for the DJs showcasing in her Beatport month-long residency. “I’m really hoping this gives them the exposure that Boiler Room gave me. They do deserve it.” She’s paying it forward and creating opportunities for others. Catch her Beatport May 3 live stream here. If you missed any of the live streams, rewatch each episode via Beatport’s YouTube Channel.
“Don’t do [shows] as favors, depend on your talent because if you just get favors to play you’re forever in favors; and that’s where it ends, but if you’re getting [gigs] because of how good you play then you’re confident about what you have then you can build it more and still be confident of where you are because you are supposed to be there”
Sama’ Abdhulahi encourages artists to depend on their skills and not on favors
“Another thing I did to help me get bookings to be alive from this [and] grow my talent was applying to showcases,” advises Abdhulahi. “You can find showcases that you pay them [to play]…I played in maybe five of them until I got two booking offers from booking agencies. […] Everybody needs to apply because it’s the only way they’re going to hear you…they see you and how you control the crowd, and that’s what matters to them…” You have to give a little to get a little. Investing in your music can pay off. Sama’ Abdhulahi, techno rebel, please keep spreading the good word of the techno bible because there’s no such thing as too much music.