Zeina: The Hardest Working Egyptian Female DJ
Having lived and gigged across the world, from Canada and USA to Germany and Egypt, DJ and Producer Zeina is settling in Cairo as she prepares to give Egyptian music lovers a taste of the real underground.
Egyptian electronic music DJ and producer Zeina is as serious and dedicated as they come. Having recently relocated to Cairo after eight years of living and DJing in Montreal, Toronto and San Francisco, Zeina isn’t short of accolades having gigged endlessly at some of the world’s most sought after venues such as CDV and Stereo Montreal, and playing great parties and clubs in Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, Berlin and Cairo. We sit down with Zeina to talk future plans, moving back to the motherland, and what makes a great DJ.
What is it like to move back to Egypt, on a professional and a personal level? How does it feel to be back, and what are your feelings about the scene and the impact you can have here?
Well I'm hesitant to say moved back, because I have never lived here - but spent nearly every summer as a child in Egypt. So my memory and connection with it is strong, but this isn't a homecoming but more of a discovery. I've been here a week, I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified!
I don't like to plan much beyond 8-9 months at a time, I find things always take surprising turns and long term plans always change…so I'm committing to this crazy city until next spring and feeling positive about being involved in music and beyond.
I have a long list of ideas of things I'd like to discover, my mind has been racing…from checking out art communities, making time for history walks in the city and taking photos to wondering about waste as an energy source; the city and it's potential (and my potential in it) is giving me a jolt. When I'm in that headspace, I feel healthy and able to contribute to music.
You’ve DJ’d in Egypt before. What were your experiences like and how did it differ from gig to gig? And what do you think is good about the scene and what is lacking?
Let's say my gigs in Cairo have been unique. A guy was once so excited about the music, he threw 200 pounds towards me to express his appreciation, a friend refunded him letting him know his token of appreciation was more appropriate for a belly dancer. I’ve also gotten career advice from a club patron, mid-set, on what sound I should be playing to ‘make it’ in Cairo and another fellow asked me when the DJ was coming during a mix.
Bizarre scenarios aside, I happened to hear about VENT and their resident Ahmed Samy a couple of years ago, which has led to an amazing portal of discoveries in Egypt. At that time, I didn't know there were spaces for the kind of music I liked and played here in Cairo. My experience playing with Samy was a special kind of synergy, our first (of many) was an endless back-to-back that felt like I stumbled upon a long lost musical brother.
One of my favourite things about the scene is the Cairo dance floor; the dancers are uninhibited. People dance as soon as they enter the space, and limbs flail unselfconsciously. When the crowd is happy you know and the vibe is alive in a very special kind of way.
On the other hand, Cairo is the single most place I have gotten the most requests, and when I've played long sets it was sometimes difficult to remain polite. So I would say, trust the ride and the journey and give the person booked to play the space to take you there and surprise you- perhaps that culture of not expecting the DJ to be a jukebox is yet to take hold.
What are some of your most memorable moments DJing?
Club Der Visionaere in Berlin holds a special place in my heart. I've always felt like I've played my best sets for friends in my bedroom in Montreal - this place managed somehow imitate that comfort and the ability to play for hours; CDV is the magical glorified bedroom.
If you were to bring one DJ here for a gig who would it be?
Would love to have Sonja Moonear come to Cairo and play an extended set, and would love to open for her!
Do DJing and producing go hand-in-hand or can you exist as one without the other?
I think they're different crafts and can most definitely exist separately. However, l have found that because I learnt to DJ first, when I started making music later on, my ears could catch some finer details that made me a more careful DJ. On the flip side, being a DJ focused on a dance floor narrative, in the studio I sometimes get fixated on making something for the floor despite my best efforts to navigate away from that territory.
I have my joyful moments with both and try to shift my focus from one to the other in a way to create balance. With making music, it's so subjective, intensely personal and gut wrenching at times…that sometimes playing good music for friends or in a club seems like the perfect antidote. And sometimes I'm so worn out from being in the club context, that hibernating away with my toys is ideal.
What is your DJing set up consists of? And how about your production equipment?
CDJs and turntables. I managed to locate what seemed to be the last pair of turntables in a gear-drought in Egypt, so I'll be super happy to have those set up in my space very soon.
Currently, I'm using a Waldorf Blofeld synth, a Roland TR-8 and Ableton to produce.
What makes a great DJ and who are your favourites?
For me the ingredients of a great DJ are a meticulous taste; a taste that is both personal, with an underlying groove regardless of genre. A DJ who builds but also takes left turns at the right time. And personally, I can’t resist a DJ that dances.
A favourite new discovery a couple of years back was Nicolas Lutz; original, daring and intelligent. I appreciate the patience and programming of Margaret Dygas, the consistency in taste of Sonja Moonear. I always love me some Mike Shannon funk and some introspective Deadbeat dub, a Donato Dozzy wormhole and of course Ricardo on a good day.
Locally, my go to guy is definitely Ahmed Samy.
Where do you see the Egyptian scene in the next few years? And under what circumstances would you see yourself being a part of it?
I see tastes expanding and promoters taking more risks. Vent has forged the way with their focus on live PA’s, off kilter label showcases like Opal tapes and lobster Theremin, hope to experience more of that in the city. Currently I’m working on a concept with Samy for an intimate, late night jam and beyond that I’m ready to be part of whatever diverse party magic this town has to offer.
To stay up to date with Zeina's latest join her Facebook page here.
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