A vast majority of Moroccan electronic music DJs and music producers are men. In a lineup of DJs for an electronic music club or festival, it is common to see just one woman, if any, among a long list of DJs.
“I think I know all the women that are actually working professionally as a DJ, and they are not more than 10 people,” Soumaya Laghiti, who performs as “DJ Stranger Souma,” told me. A successful music producer and DJ in Morocco, she is also a member of SATAT, an electronic music band and self-described “powerhouse of female energy.”
Laghiti brings a collaborative spirit to all of her musical projects. Growing up in Morocco with few models of successful women DJs, she freely shares her musical expertise and industry knowledge with aspiring women musicians, to elevate them alongside her in their careers. She calls her generosity toward younger women artists her “pacific feminist battle.”
“I’m doing it very pacifically by sharing what I know and teaching girls how to produce and mix,” Laghiti said. “Even when the boys are blocking things, they will be surprised that even if they didn’t share anything, some people got to learn.”
With this ethos, Laghiti became a mentor in a program called the FeMENA residency, which is dedicated to empowering women in electronic music and digital arts in Morocco. It was founded by 4S’, a nonprofit organization that supports cultural actors in music and digital arts. FeMENA has hosted artist residencies for women and non-binary DJs to learn about music production and management and advance their careers.
Fadoua Rasmouki is one of the success stories to emerge from the FeMENA residency. One night in June 2022, a year after completing the residency, she was hanging out at the SottoSopra and noticed that the bar had a DJ booth but no DJ. In her characteristic boldness, she approached the manager and asked if he would hire her. She was offered a residency that month and has performed at the SottoSopra every Friday night since. Rasmouki, or “DJ DramaDrama,” has become a celebrated DJ in Rabat’s nightlife.
“I just went straight forward to make my own scene,” Rasmouki said. “I had to walk into that place and ask the manager if they needed a DJ, and I had to convince them that they needed one and that they need me.”
Women trying to get booked as DJs often encounter men who are only willing to hire male DJs or collaborate with male producers. As a result, women, who are already underrepresented in electronic music, are barred from opportunities to perform and produce. Rasmouki says that even though more women DJs are appearing in lineups, typically only one woman will be booked in a longer lineup of male DJs—to offer the appearance of inclusion without creating real equality.
“I’m not going to do that thing where, ‘Let’s call a female DJ,'” Rasmouki said. “I’m not going to be a female in their lineup. I’m going to be a whole event, if they want to call me on my own. Just ‘Drama.'”
Meryem Makhchoun had a promising start in music. She started to DJ five years ago and hit her stride in the summer of 2022, when she was booked for a party every weekend. Yet her constant encounters with sexism from other male DJs and producers gradually eroded her passion and motivation to stay in the industry. At the end of the year, resolving to prioritize her mental health and wellbeing, she quit.
“When you see a lineup in a party, it’s only men. It’s very rare to see women getting booked. It’s always the same names,” Makhchoun said. “So I was like, why am I doing all of this?”
Women DJs and producers of all levels of experience, ranging from beginner to veteran artists, are targeted by sexism in their everyday work. Women DJs are frequently belittled by their colleagues, and their musical expertise discredited.
While working as a DJ, Makhchoun had several experiences when men from the audience would interrupt her set to give her advice on how to mix properly. Once, an audience member approached her while she was performing and started playing with the buttons on her mixer. During another performance, a male DJ approached her during her set and asked if he could play instead of her.
“I am doing my job here. Why are you bothering me? And you feel like if it was a guy [performing], he wouldn’t even have the courage to do that,” Makhchoun said.
Makhchoun was conscious of being treated differently from her male counterparts. She says the men she collaborated with would frequently talk down to her or speak to her in a rude way. Her ideas were regularly dismissed during joint musical projects.
“It makes me feel like I am useless. I felt demotivated. To feel like someone underestimates you or makes you feel like you are not enough,” Makhchoun said. “Especially when it’s something that you really love, and you want to share something that you love with people, and then someone just comes and destroys this ambition and motivation you have. You feel like you just don’t want to do this anymore and that you have no value.”
Laghiti, or “DJ Stranger Souma,” says that she started her “pacific feminist battle” after a sexist encounter at her first ever DJ set in Morocco. She was opening for a male DJ and good friend, yet he abruptly ended her set early.
“He saw that the public was on fire, and then he came up to me and told me, you need to shut it down. It was the first time I encountered misogyny directly,” Laghiti said. “I think maybe he felt unsafe or threatened.”