Sama Abdulhadi Is Bringing The Sounds Of Palestines Underground Techno Scene To Electric Island In Toronto

Boiler Room Continues Documentary Venture With Palestine Underground The Wire

Known as the "Palestinian Techno Queen", Sama Abdulhadi has established himself as one of the most famous DJs in the Middle East.

Inspired by the viral success of the spectacular Boiler Room in his hometown of Ramallah in 2018, which recently hit 10 million views on YouTube, Abdulhadi is now in the midst of a massive world tour that will include dates at Coachella, Glastonbury and the legendary Warung Beach Club in Brazil.

But Abdulhadi's journey from the Palestinian underground electronic scene to global prominence has been difficult, tumultuous and politically charged. Building a creative career in the Israeli-occupied West Bank means bypassing lockdowns and movement restrictions, constant cycles of violence and the risk of arrest.

Last December, Abdulhadi drew the ire of conservative Palestinians with his performance at Prophet Musa's Maqam, a complex next to a mosque near Jerusalem. After protesters disrupted their performance, Abdulhadi was held in a Jericho prison for more than a week.

However, none of these battles prepared him for the unique pursuit of a world music festival.

“I wonder how these DJs are still alive,” Abdulhadi joked in a phone interview with the star this week. “All flights, trips and crazy hours. You're juggling a thousand things at the same time.

Days before his first performance in Canada, which took place on Sunday at Electric Island in Toronto, the 32-year-old singer from London, England, spoke wearily but gratefully.

“I think it's a little surreal. I've never performed at a whole summer festival in my life," he said. "But it really is magic."

Judging from the footage on social media, Abdulhadi's recent concerts have been exciting and cathartic, but for his fans around the world, his music represents more than just music. A proud and politically outspoken Palestinian, he is seen as a symbol of freedom and resistance to what Amnesty International recently called apartheid.

"(Electronic music) is an outlet for the Palestinian people," he explained. "But to the rest of the world, what we're doing is a political statement."

Growing up in the West Bank, Abdulhadi experienced the trauma of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an early age.

As a teenager, he witnessed the brutality of the second intifada, a major Palestinian uprising against the occupation that lasted from 2000 to 2005.

Music became his refuge.

"That's where I got away from it all," he said. “It has become my meditation and a place where I am cut off from everything; Don't think about politics, because every day is politics."

In his youth, Abdulhadi traveled around the area. He lives in Beirut where he immerses himself in the established Lebanese techno scene; in Jordan, where he studied sound engineering; later in Egypt where he experimented as a sound engineer for television and film.

While honing his skills as a DJ and producer, he finally returned to Ramallah, not to become a professional musician, but simply to share his love of music with his community.

“I never thought about becoming a DJ,” he said. "I don't think it's a real thing that people can do as a job."

Less than an hour north of Jerusalem, Ramallah is a small city with a unique mix of Middle Eastern and Western style restaurants, Arabic coffee cafes and bars serving beer from the nearby Taybeh Brewery.

Despite being occupied for nearly 75 years, Ramallah is one of Palestine's premier cultural hubs, hosting a thriving hip-hop scene, film festival, gym and crossfit museum.

Together with Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, Jaffa, Nazareth and Haifa, it forms a constellation of creative and artistic sites that have influenced Palestinian identity throughout the region and around the world.

It is here, in makeshift locations in bars, restaurants or other underground locations throughout the city, in a scene fueled by what Abdulhadi calls "mutual suffering and despair about tomorrow" that is gaining momentum for the first time.

“It's very damp,” he said. “Something happens when you fall too deep. Life is too beautiful to be ruined by little things. You saw it in Egypt too. The poorer people are, the more they give because in a sense they have nothing to lose.”

The Abdulhadi Boiler Room Set, now a legendary 58-minute outdoor rave, is arguably the perfect epitome of Ramallah's electronic scene. Surrounded by a very diverse audience of friends and family, Abdulhadi's charming cast takes viewers through a wide range of emotions, from moments of concentrated tension to moments of unbridled excitement.

He explained that unlike European cities like Berlin or Amsterdam, ravers in Ramallah never know when the next party is going to be.

"We didn't celebrate (the Boiler Room arrangement) for months, and after that, nothing happened for a long time," he said. “So when people go here for events, we don't even set an end time. We just dance until someone comes and shuts it down.

“This is how we stay alive,” he added.

Despite the controversy surrounding last year's performance at Maqam Nabi Musa, Abdulhadi is confident that the scene will continue to thrive in Palestine.

“Everything takes time,” he said. “What gives me hope is that in the 80s in England techno was not great, so we were good. We are on the right track. Palestinian rock bands emerged with the first intifada and it took a long time for people to accept it. But now it's just a different genre. It takes time".

Early in his career, Abdulhadi was reluctant to speak publicly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I just wanted to be a DJ," he told DJ Mag.

But over time, he seems to have come to terms with his role as a Palestinian freedom fighter. On Instagram, he and his 172,000 followers frequently post material critical of Israel's involvement in Gaza and the West Bank. He is outspoken on social media, and at his events fans wave a giant Palestinian flag, a symbol of nationalism increasingly under attack by Israeli authorities.

"Whenever someone says to me, 'You're an artist, stop talking about politics,' I usually reply, 'Yes, but I'm human. This is my home and this is my family.

“Forget about music and everything else in the world. At the end of the day, we are human... and I have always felt that I have done very little, but what I have been able to achieve so far is what I have to offer. And I try to do my best."

And while Abdulhadi understands techno music, with its hypnotic rhythms and expansive soundscapes, as a vehicle for transcendence, he also sees it as a tool for creating spaces of freedom and solidarity.

"You free people who can't find a safe space to express themselves," he explains. “That alone is a very important thing and a very useful thing.”

Abdulhadi also saw a connection between the struggles of the Palestinian people and the marginalized communities that pioneered the electronic and dance scene in places like Detroit, Chicago and Berlin.

“This is what you feel. Revolution creates relationships between people on the dance floor. When you go to a demonstration, you know that the adrenaline rush connects you to the one who hits you. People vibrate in the same rhythm; it only creates unity between people they may have never met and gives them that strength.

Abdulhadi currently lives in France, but his heart remains in Ramallah, a city that remains expensive and expensive to travel back and forth.

“Unfortunately, there is no balance at the moment. You have to sacrifice yourself for each other one way or another. So I don't go home that often, but I try to make a name for myself. “West so that someday I can go home and travel from home, work from home more and feel more comfortable in life.

And while the tour can be tiring, Abdulhadi looked thrilled at Sunday's performance at Electric Island.

“The person who taught me how to DJ (in Jordan) studied in Montreal. So I discovered the sights of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver during my studies. I wanted to come to Canada for 13 years. And finally, I have arrived."

Correction: September 2, 2022: Ramallah has been occupied since 1948. An earlier version of this file incorrectly states that it has been under Israeli occupation for 75 years.

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