“There’s always a stigma,” says Lola Plaku. “Many times you’re seen as a woman first.” Antiquated as it may be, this is a common occurrence for women who DJ.
Plaku is the force behind Girl Connected, a mentorship org aimed at empowering women with aspirations and early-stage careers in the music business. On Monday from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET, Girl Connected will be partnering with Puma to host She Moves Us, a takeover on Flow 93.5 with an all-women lineup of DJs from across the globe.
Monday’s takeover will feature sets from Bambii, Killa Kels, Jayemkayem, Fafa Khan, Steph Cakes, Saige, Diamond Kuts, Carisma, and Amira & Kayla, 15-year-old twins from New York who perform as a duo. Together they’re hoping to raise $20,000 for Jessie’s Centre, a support hub for young mothers and women in crisis. The cause is the driving force behind the takeover, but the lineup is just as important to note.
Women obviously aren’t a novelty in the DJ scene, nor the music business at large. But the industry is still far from being an equal playing field. Like Plaku said, gender can still pre-determine how seriously a DJ is taken once they get into the booth. And these stigmas sometimes keep women from getting their due.
Monday’s takeover will be a celebration of the women making strides in spite of these hurdles, featuring DJs leading scenes in Canada and beyond. It’s far from Canada’s first women-only lineup, but it will be refreshing to hear sets spun by women on a station like Flow. Mainstream Canadian radio is often steps behind their independent counterparts, and the diversity of DJs featured is a reflection of that. Powered by PUMA’s She Moves Us campaign and in partnership with North York native DJ Charlie B, Plaku is putting in the work to bring mainstream radio up to speed.
But it was Charlie B who brought the idea forward. After organizing a 10-hour DJ takeover on the same station last summer, he managed to raise over $50,000 for Toronto’s Black Health Alliance. Using the same formula, he joined forces with Plaku to reimagine the takeover concept for International Women’s Day. For Plaku, this was true allyship. “Charlie B could have called anybody,” she says. “But he came to me because he saw the value. [Charlie] said, ‘I recognize what you’re doing, and I want to give you the opportunity to amplify these women’s voices so that way you’re recognized as a leader in this space.’
“As women, it’s so important to have male allies who uplift you and give you opportunities. Women’s month is obviously about women, but I do think it’s important that our cohorts support us,” she continues.
Not just for special occasions, though. “We need more people like that to do this continuously, not just for International Women’s Day or Women’s History Month,” Plaku tells us.
Ahead of the takeover on Flow, three of the Canadian DJs on the lineup shared what excites them about Monday’s takeover, what frustrates them about their industry, and advice for upcoming DJs. Their responses, which have been lightly condensed, are below.
What is the biggest misconception you’ve encountered about women in your field?
Jayemkayem: I think the biggest misconception is the same one that women find across many different industries: that women are not as capable as men are to do this job. Many of the most successful parties and events, in Toronto and all over Canada, have women running them. But there are still certain scenarios where patriarchal power dynamics are preserved.
Faka Khan: When DJing full club nights, I noticed that people are still surprised that it’s a woman behind the booth and that it’s still me when the night is over. No, I’m not opening or warming up for anyone else.
Killa Kels: The biggest misconception about women behind the boards is that we don’t know what we’re doing. I’ve had countless men come up to me while I’m DJing and say “You’re actually doing something back here?” or “Wow, you can actually DJ.” I’ve even had a guy bluntly tell me, “I didn’t think women could do that,” as if we have some kind of impairment. People also try to credit any of my success to me having relations with the men who hire me. So gross.
What is a piece of advice that you would share with aspiring and emerging women in this field?
Jayemkayem: First, treat every gig the same, no matter if it’s 10 people or 1000 people. Second, always say thank you—to the person who booked you, the manager, the bartenders, the woman who hands out candies in the bathroom. Third, be overprepared. Learn the technical part inside and out, how to set up and tear down, and how all the gear works together. That way even if something goes wrong you’re armed with the knowledge to fix it. And finally, have a small circle of trusted women who are in a similar field that you can lean on for support.
Fafa Khan: Go and see your favorite DJs play, follow them on social media and listen to how they build their sets. Then find your own sound and make sure to network any chance you get. Anyone can learn technically how to DJ, but having a strong crowd connection and good song selections keeps you hired and healthy.
Killa Kels: I would tell other women to be strong and stand your ground. Everyone handles tough situations differently, but I’ve always demanded respect from anyone I work with and will check someone for mistreating me or any of the women around me. If I don’t speak up, the bad, misogynist behaviour will continue and they’ll treat the next woman after me with the same disrespect. The industry won’t change on it’s own. It’s the women speaking up that are changing the culture to a space where we can all exist fairly and equally.
What about the cause drew you to this event?
Jayemkayem: For one, I love what Jessie’s Centre does and am always happy to draw attention to a worthy cause. Many teen mothers don’t have the support they need and I’m thankful for the work Jessie’s does in keeping vulnerable women and children safer. I’m also a big fan of both Lola and Charlie B, so it was an honour to be asked to be a part of this. I love what they do for our city and the opportunities they create for people and artists here. It was also exciting to be part of a group of women taking over a commercial radio station, which is something I’ve never really seen before.
Fafa Khan: It’s a great idea to merge smaller local foundations on to bigger platforms for more awareness. The all-female line up is always a favorite of mine, most of the DJs are my real friends and I hope to keep expanding the circles! Showcasing all of us just helps more women see that we’ve been here, we’re staying here and more are coming.
Killa Kels: The biggest draw for me was the fundraiser collaboration with Jessie’s Centre. Being a young, single mother, I can definitely relate to the hardships and stereotypes a parent faces on a daily basis. I love that we were able to help a great cause with our music! I also know and love my fellow Canadian DJs on the lineup. I’ve had the pleasure of spinning with them and can’t wait to hear theirs and the other ladies’ mixes on Monday!