Zeina x UNTY
A couple weeks before the launch of the IX Collection, we met up with Mahmoud Gahallah to brainstorm ideas for the visual series for the collection. One of the pieces from the IX Collection features a woman on the back with a shaved head, which is a subtle statement against the expectations society has on them. He brought up someone who he felt worked perfectly with that concept.
We met up with her at her apartment in Garden City, on a Saturday night. Hady Ashraf behind the lens. The following is the visual series and conversation.
" This is my first year living in Egypt, ever.
I used to come every summer when I was a kid till I was 17.
I was born in Saudi then I moved to Kuwait then Bahrain then Dubai and then I went to University in Ireland. It was only when I was 17 when I left the Arab world."
" The one regret of my childhood is that I didn’t get so much sub-culture and I think my hunger for sub-culture developed pretty late, but sometimes I look back at the music I had access to when I was a kid and I was like “Damn it!”.
Even today when I look at facebook and people are naming their top 10 childhood influential albums, and makes me realize how much incredible music they had access to, where as for me it was only when I left the Arab world- where everything was categorized in a blockbuster style- that I was able to find good music. "
" Im more excited about affecting my own community in the hopes that the more community builders there are, the better society is at large. But I don’t look at the world through a marco-lens anymore, in the sense that if I read more about politics or being politically involved Im going to change something. I care about people, I don’t care about politics. Id rather do it at a grass roots level and Ill sleep better at night.
I studied Law. I did have a passion for law.
I ended up doing a really cool internship when I was in law school during my last year. I was interning in public defense, which is basically the lawyer that’s appointed to you if you have no money, in California. I was in San Francisco.
My first case was a murder case, there was young man who had killed his mom. That was a guy we were appointed to. This is a bit off topic but the whole point of that experience for me was that I went in obviously scared as hell to meet this guy, and he was a nice guy, and it was interesting to see how all the circumstances of his life mitigate somehow what he did because we all have a story and we all have things in our lives that affect our actions. When you look at it from an outside perspective, you think “Oh my god, you’re defending a mom killer”, but I think it’s important to realize that people come with a story. So that was one of the most interesting experiences of my life, studying law and doing that internship for a year.
I went to visit my sister in Toronto, she was dating a DJ at the time, she took me to an After-Hours, that was 10 years ago. I was 20. I sent him a message after I left town asking him if he can recommend any controller to start with and he recommended one and I bought it. I spent weeks trying to put together a mix, just for myself, and I finally got a mix. I went around the clubs in San Francisco for a few months. The rave scene in the US used to be much bigger in the late 80’s and 90s, then in the 2000s that started to die down. "
" And then I moved to Canada. I lived in Canada for 8 years.
If I could summarize the whole experience for me, it was music. From the minute I arrived till leaving, it was an education in dance music. From the first day, I met my crew and that was my crew for the next 8 years.
They were these people that run the label called HushLamb. It was Alicia Hush and Sarah Lamb and they’re my music mamas. Sarah is a promoter, and I met Alicia as a DJ, she's now playing her own productions live. They are a powerhouse. Not in the sense of big events but doing small events, super badass. Super organized. All of the elements that make you feel good at a party are taken care of. Amazing programming. They pay so much attention to the story and the experience of it and that was very influential in all my skills when it came to throwing events.
That was a big piece of why I felt like I was able to do unfamiliar because I had all this experience I wanted to share about throwing a party. Its not just about having a sound system and a DJ. "
" I didn’t have to go to Egypt, but I wanted to and that’s a really privileged place to be in, most people don’t have that choice and Im very aware of how incredible it is to have that.
For me I’ve always been amazed at how when you look at scenes and how they emerged you think that there were so many people involved in doing it, but literally it takes a few movers and shakers to get things going.
To have one or two good parties a week in a city, especially in a sub-genre of music I'm taking about, its great! Its more than enough. I think things are happening, much more than before here. "
" Unfamiliar the name is about the experience of seeing women in the helm of the night. From the DJ to the organizer to the promoter. Everybody involved happens to be a woman, something that is unfamiliar in Egypt. Maybe that is not such a novelty abroad but here it is. And I think it also ties in with the point that I was telling you earlier that in order to have a role model, or see something that amazes you, it needs to happen in-front of you. So if you go to a night where the whole entire night is just being rocked by female DJs you could think I could do that, I want to learn that, but if you have no example of that then things become stagnant. It’s also giving me space to introduce artists that people may not know. You might not be familiar with this artist, but eventually you should trust the curation of the night.
I obviously did not expect people to trust me from the first one.
I think its also important as a culture of wanting to combat the blockbuster things that haunt me in my life its like okay, there are people that are under the radar that are incredible and I think that I prefer people that are under the radar because they have a lot more to prove and they all come excited and thankful to be there.
I will be doing three more this season, the next one is going to be a valentines day edition, I chose this day because I thought it would be nice for the artwork that Chanel does. Chanel is brilliant. There is a category of talent that is not to discount, those people who work really hard and are really good, and then there’s this other category of people where its almost like the can draw in their sleep, Chanel is one of those people. I’m so happy to have her on board. "
" My phone keeps doing these weird things…Off topic, have you guys seen this movie called Tangerine? Watch it. It was shot with an iPhone."
" For me, I’d rather be a doer than a talker. I have something that I would like to encourage therefore I will be doing these events. Sitting around talking to you guys about all this is great, but really Im much more focused on being a doer in this case.
There’s so much inequality in dance music, there is so much underrepresentation of women in Cairo, men and women in Cairo don't see enough female examples doing things, I could do my part in changing that.
Two years ago exactly I got my first gig at Vent, and I met a lot of the people that are still supporting me like Ahmed Samy and Asem and all those guys. "
" The lack of women in dance music isn’t because there is a lack of women playing music. That is not the reason.
In Berlin, its done in an amazing venue, Club der Visionaere, which is a very renowned spot in Berlin with fantastic artists. And to be able to do Unfamiliar there, just that in itself, the combination of doing a concept that I love and doing it in Berlin in a club that I love, is incredible. I played my first set there four years ago, sort of became a summer ritual, and its always my favorite gig. One of my favorite gigs, that’s for sure. "
" I'm not compromising with my taste. "
" Do I need to pose? "