Last year, a young generation of Palestinians decided to change their way of battle. Bass and electro beats became their new counter-attack. Jazar Crew was the first Palestinian sound system that provided people with a new face to identify as the Palestinian youth. One member of this authentic crew is Sama Abdulhadi, the first Palestinian female DJ!
Sama Abdulhadi first performed her electronic music in one of Ramallah’s bars. Since then, her stage name ‘Skywalker’ has become the symbol of a generation, changing mentalities and challenging prejudices. Sama started being a DJ in 2006, when electronic music didn’t even exist in her hometown. “There weren’t any parties in Ramallah, only two DJs played Arabic music,” she says. While first experimenting with hip-hop, her older brother who studied abroad discovered Tiësto’s trance music. “The beat, the synths, … It was alien music to us, it gave us more energy than any darbuka would ever have!” That new-found genre of music sparked Sama’s talent for being a DJ and she became encouraged by the desire to share her music with her friends at a party. “No one expected it!”
Sama was never an ordinary Palestinian girl. She never had long hair, loved to play football, and hung out with guys without much thoughts. The idea of a woman and electronic music in the West Bank never seemed to shock the people around her and Sama didn’t mind whatever the neighbors had to think. “I work as a delivery woman, a mechanic, a barman… anything a girl usually couldn’t do. People eventually got used to it.” Her parents always have been very supportive of her life choices.
As a Palestinian, Sama knows she is privileged since she was not born on the occupied territories: “My family, like other families, was expelled in 1969 and settled in Jordan.” It was only in 1994 that they returned home to Ramallah, after the Arafat government allowed the exiled Palestinian in the West Bank. She remembers small, yet significant moments from her childhood. “Why do they hate us so much?,” she once asked her father while leaving ‘peaceful’ Jordan for a warzone. As a little girl, she didn’t understand the extent of the conflict in her country. She needed the second Intifada (i.e. Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip) and its following horrors to comprehend the dark side of Israel. The humiliation of her people pushed Sama into a personal political struggle. “Living in a place where a stranger had the right to kick me out drove me mad!” During the Intifada she was actively involved in political engagement but after seven years she realized that political debate will lead them nowhere and that it would turn out better to let herself slip into the joy of music and carelessness of the night.
It was during her studies abroad in Lebanon that she fully discovered techno music. Sama soon understood that university is nothing for her and she engaged in the nightlife of the Middle East, letting herself be completely immersed into the DJ scene. When she returned home, her father witnessed his daughter’s passion for music and decided to let her enroll in a sound engineering school in Jordan. “Omar, a tribal-techno DJ under the name Lord Kobayashi became my mentor and taught me the professional ways of mixing.” At the end of the year, Sama transferred to a school in London where she eventually graduated.
She performed her first ‘real’ sets in bars in Ramallah. “Nobody understood me, until I met Fidaa.” Fidaa, a young woman and inspiring icon to Haïfa’s youth introduced her to the Jazar Crew who at that point were organizing their first Palestinian parties. As Sama began the first chapters of her success story, it was time to pick a DJ alias: Skywalker. She points out she had never seen any Star Wars movies. “In Arabic, Sama means ‘sky’ and the only brand of Whisky her father enjoys was Johnny Walker.” Though, she agrees she should start watching the Lucas films: “One day I’ll make a master piece track and call it ‘Luke’”.
Today Sama works as a full-time sound designer in the cinema industry in Egypt for experience and network since she misses Palestine. “Palestine is one of the best situations in the Middle East: civilized people, no internal security, good economy, and jobs. But we live under occupation. That’s where the irony of the world we live in shows up”. She doesn’t find much time to work on her music but promises to release an EP soon and even considers pursuing a master’s degree so that she can return to Palestine and start improving the country: “I want to feed myself with the entire world before returning home and gifting it all to Palestine.”
This article was written by Siham Machkour