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DJ Hijab: Breaking The Cycle & Gender-Stereotypes in Zanzibar

Updated: May 26, 2021

*Trigger warning: discussion around family indifferences, culture, religion, and gender equality*

Aisha Bakary Mohammed “Dj Hijab” | Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania | First Female DJ in Zanzibar (Musician)

Aisha Bakery Mohammed who goes by DJ Hijab is the first female DJ in Zanzibar’s historically patriarchal society. She is a Muslim woman and a non-conformist who continues to challenge and break gender-based stereotypes in Tanzania. Aisha uses her social presence, music, and documentary film making to advocate for the rights of women and girls to bring awareness of gender equality issues that continue to inhibit their ability to thrive and build a future for themselves. In 2019, Aisha was awarded The Woman of the Year Award organized by WomenFuture that strives to recognize inspirational women and role models in the region.

I was born and raised in Zanzibar. Music is my art. Music is my therapy that has helped me get through the hard times. When I am playing music, I feel more energized. I feel like my self. I am the first female DJ of Zanzibar. I started deejaying about four years ago when I was around 19 years old. I love music, I always have. I started learning by watching YouTube videos. At first, it was really hard to find a place to be able to practice because in our culture music is not allowed but in 2018 I met with Stone Town Records and they offered me space. The first time they heard me play they asked where I had studied to learn how to deejay and I told them that I was self-taught; they couldn't believe it. After I started practicing there I don’t know how or what happened but the next thing I knew I was signed to their record label. It is still hard to believe because it wasn't something I initially took very seriously. I started deejaying because I love music. It was a hobby and a creative outlet for me but the more I played the more I realized the potential deejaying had and that I could accomplish all of my dreams through music.

When I first started deejaying I was in university, but then I decided to stop. I was studying Information Technology (IT) and I was really good at it. Here in Zanzibar though, there are so many students who are still on the streets. Students who are finished their degrees and even their masters but still can’t get a job. It’s really hard. So, when I saw my dreams coming true through deejaying I had every reason to stop. I’m Muslim though and my mom believes in the Islamic religion so she still doesn’t understand why. She doesn’t even want to listen when I play or start to talk about music. It’s been really hard because music is not allowed in Islam. So, every day I have to tell myself that I will have everything that I have ever wanted in life from deejaying and that when that day comes she will understand it. That she will support it.

I have done interviews with some big publications and broadcasts like BBC and The Citizen. I also won Women of The Year 2019 Award but all of that doesn’t matter to my mom. For me though, I know what I’m doing and I know where I’m going. I see a future in deejaying. I see my future in deejaying. My dad passed away in 2015 and I’m still living with my mom, my stepdad, and my siblings. We are all still really happy and we enjoy our time together. My mom and I have a really good relationship, but ever since I decided to dedicate myself to my music it has affected our relationship. She is my mom and I love her a lot, but that is why I work so hard, to show her that I’m not just doing this for my livelihood but for her’s as well. That my future is her future. So, right now I have to sacrifice my relationship with her but I know it will all work out in the end. For me, I believe that you cannot live your life in fear. So, even though I have given up everything I’m not scared.

I love my mom. I do. So many people try to say that I don’t because I am doing something that she doesn’t like or approve of but I have nothing to say back to that because it’s not like I am doing anything wrong by playing music. I don’t drink alcohol. I wear my Hijab. I respect my culture and my religion. I am just playing music. I am doing something that I love and that I see a real future in; that is all. That is why I am doing it. Not to go against my mom, or my religion, or my culture. Some people believe that I am going against my religion, but for me, I don’t think that I am because religion is not about what you do or how you look it is about your beliefs. Your religion is personal it’s something you experience on the inside. Even when I am playing music I respect my culture, I respect my country, and I respect my mom. So, I don’t believe that I am doing anything wrong, but to do what I am doing you need a strong heart.

From the media, people might think that it’s been easy but it hasn’t been easy at all. It’s been very hard. If you go to my social media and look at the comments, there are still a lot of negative comments about me being a Muslim woman, wearing a Hijab, and playing music. I love being able to wear my Hijab while deejaying and I want to show people that it is okay but by doing so I still get a lot of negative comments. Most of them are from the local community here in Zanzibar. I think it has a lot to do about their lack of knowledge of what is happening in other parts of the world because I have a lot of fans who support what I am doing and believe in my dream. When I post something now though I turn off my notifications because I don’t want to see the comments. I am born and raised in Zanzibar, but I am still afraid of what they might say, but it all comes down to knowledge. We are born in a place where men have power over women. If I was a man, there wouldn't be any negative comments instead they would love me. They would support me. There are a lot of men in Zanzibar who are DJs, but it is only me, I am the first female DJ in Zanzibar and it is all very new to them.

One day I know that they will believe in me too because I know that when I die, that I will leave something amazing behind, especially in Zanzibar. I want to show the people here in Zanzibar that you can be a Muslim or a Christian, it doesn’t matter what religion you may be, that you can do something for your own life and for your society. I want to show them that you can create change from previous generations in ways that a lot of people won’t be able to believe and that you can inspire the new generations to come. I want young people to look up to me and say she was a woman, she was a Muslim, and she was DJ all while being able to see the life I create for myself through music.

I’m also teaching other young women here in Zanzibar how to deejay because I want to use my skills and knowledge to empower girls. Right now, I am teaching three girls who saw me in the media and reached out to me wanting to learn. I also teach a few men here in Zanzibar that come to the studio and want to learn as well. They love it, and so do I. People are always saying being a DJ is only a man's job, especially here in our land. But what I tell them is, “I am a woman, I am a DJ, and I am doing it. In Islamic law men can do whatever they want, they can be whatever they want, wear whatever they want, but as a woman, we can’t do anything. You can study, get married, have children, and die. It is our cycle. As women, we have no future. We have no independence. So now, it is time for us. It is time for us to have a dream and for us to change this cycle.

So, I have no regrets. When I was a kid, I always knew that I would be someone. I didn't know who I would be, but all I knew was that I would make a difference. That I would be somebody someday. My parents knew that I would be from a very young age as well. Since I started playing music, I have been on radio stations and TV. I also started my own project creating documentaries that specifically focus on women. Women who are very talented and have a lot to offer, but continue to live really hard lives. Women who don’t know where to go or how to start because it is so hard for us here. There is something about working with women that I gravitate towards because even though I am Muslim, I believe that we are all the same and we all deserve to be treated equally and I believe in this change. I believe in us.

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