More often than not, mention of the words Disk Jockey elicits images of a man. However, with the breaking down of barriers such as sustainability and respectability, there has been a marked increase in femme jockeys assuming their place behind the deck.
The history of women being relegated to only serving as singers, hosts and dancers is being re-scripted by women of all ages in Botswana. But one poignant question remains: are they stepping into a den that is yet to learn how to accommodate them?
DJ Zinhle, South African hitmaker behind songs such as Umlilo and My Name Is, has shown many that women can occupy the airwaves as much as they can be the heart of any party. Her success prior to the pandemic shutting down much of the entertainment industry ignited dreams in other women and girls to imagine the possibility of them entering the ring.
DJs such as Uncle Waffles and DBN Gogo rocketed to stardom in South Africa in the midst of the pandemic, bearing testament to the resilience of women in the field. On the local front, there have also been remarkable women who have made their mark in Botswana’s DJ industry. DJ Cupid is a YAMA award nominee and DJs CeeDeeA and Jam-n-I took home YAMA awards in 2021 and 2020 respectively. Such recognition from a listening public gives hope of different times ahead.
Speaking to Leatile Rapoo, the Managing Director of YDJ Academy, on how the enrolment trends among women and girls have changed over the years, he noted: “As the industry was male dominated, the uptake of women and girls was very low. “In a year we’d get at most one or two registrations. But since 2016/17, we have seen a lot of keen women and girls coming in to register or enquire about the craft.”
The Gaborone-based academy currently has 20 women enrolled and boasts an alumni count of well over 100 women. It is important to remember that these aren’t just numbers but people looking to be economic players in Botswana. Industry practitioners place DJ earnings between P3,000 and P10,000 per engagement based on experience and playing conditions. These are earnings taken by men more often than women, so the gendered inequalities many face cannot be ignored.
There needs to be a move from tokenistic hiring of women behind the decks. On many occasions, there is only one woman in a billing of many men. Commenting on the presence of cliques within the industry, Gaborone-based Dolly the DJ laments: “Unfortunately they’re all run by men who are also trying to recover from the damage done by COVID-19. I, like other femme DJs, end up getting the short end of the stick.”
So it is incumbent on those booking DJs to be alert to the presence and need to have more women in the forefront. The breadth of the industry and the opportunities it presents matter both in terms of achieving the 2022 Women’s Month goal to #BreaktheBias women face, and also in ensuring that women can make a living from this craft.
In the advent of social justice movements such as #MeToo, women are also not oblivious to the many dangers an unequal society pits against them. Too often when cases of violence against women are discussed, their whereabouts and the company they were keeping are pointed to as reasons they deserve shaming or blame. Speaking from experience, Dolly the DJ notes: “There are always men who want to offer you drinks on stage and even follow you after you play. I never accept their drinks and I always make sure to go to shows with someone I know in order to keep myself safe.”
The lack of security and compromised safety that women face in such settings should be a concern for all parties – be they the DJs, partygoers, or the organisers. Where men harass, grope and even assault women without fear of reprimand and consequences must warrant an immediate shift as more and more women step onto the playing field.
Music is an industry that generates billions upon billions. The people playing it deserve as much support, respect and equity as the people making it. With more women mastering the skills of being a Disk Jockey, we could be headed toward a time where festivals have a full billing of femme DJs. However, it won’t happen without direct influence from producers and clients alike. Every industry develops through accommodating change. It is only one’s hope that femme DJs will be met with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.