Saudi women DJs strike a high note in empowerment
Leen Naif adjusts her headphones, flicks a slider and seamlessly drops the next tune: one of Saudi Arabia's rare female DJs, she is helping other women break into an often male-dominated music world.
DJ Leen makes a name for herself on the Saudi music circuit. The 26-year-old dropped some pulsing beat of electronic music for a subdued crowd of business school graduates.
DJ Leen broke the barrier with her record performance at Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah and Expo 2020 in Dubai.
The workaholic Leen said that DJing isn't very common among women… and some still face resistance for introducing the topic at home.
DJ Leen said she was introduced to electronic music by her uncle in her teens. It immediately grabbed my attention.
She said, “I started to think of it as a career option.”
Leen said that her biggest support came from her parents and siblings. They never resisted.
“That was a moral boost,” she recalled.
The agile woman said that becoming a DJ in Saudi is a milestone in itself.
A couple of years ago women DJs were an unthinkable sight but are becoming a relatively common phenomenon in cities.
Saudi Arabia has opened news opportunities for women and expanding entertainment options — notably music and cinemas under major reforms championed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
DJ Leen said that Saudi Crown Prince’s opening the market was a major decision that helped her achieve her dreams.
"A lot of female DJs have been coming up making the audiences more comfortable seeing them on stage,” she added.
Mohammed Nassar, a Saudi DJ known as Vinyl Mode, said, "We didn't expect until recently women Djs performing in public places.”
Nassar said that now more and more female artists are coming out.
Leen said that most of her friends were dreaming of careers as doctors and teachers, but she didn't have the patience for schooling.
She said, "I'm a work person, not a studying person."
Leen’s work at home supports her day-to-day life, earning 1,000 Saudi riyals (around $260) per hour.
Another Saudi woman Lujain Albishi became a DJ during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lujain is known by her stage name Biirdperson.
Lujain said her family disapproved when she introduced the subject of DJ'ing professionally. They urged her to become a doctor.
Lujain developed her skills at private parties. But her big break came in 2021 when she was invited to perform at MDLBeast Soundstorm, a festival in
Riyadh that drew more than 700,000 revellers for performances including a set by superstar French DJ David Guetta.
Lujain said performing at MDLBeast Soundstorm was a proud moment for me.
The young lady said, the best part was that my family came to Soundstorm, saw me on stage. They were dancing, they were happy.
Both Naif and Albishi say they believe women DJs will remain fixtures in the kingdom, though their reasoning varies.
Albishi said my music is not for females or for males. "It's for music-lovers."