In Cuba, a few female DJs have found their audience

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Havana (AFP) – On the rooftop of a restaurant in the heart of Old Havana, the Bauza duo mix traditional Cuban sounds and electric rhythms: on the island, there are still few female DJs but they find their audience.

In an elegant setting in contrast with the neighborhood’s poverty, the clients – mostly new middle-class Cubans with the best purchasing power – swing their hips in front of two young 29-year-old women, recognizable by their tall black color. Hair, costumes and hats are identical.

Suddenly a trumpeter and a percussionist arrived on stage, their strings mixed with the sounds of turntables.

“We are Cuba, our music should sound like Cuba,” explains Paula Fernandez, who created Bauza with Zahira Sanchez. “We have a country where musicians are the most, there is incredible talent from a musical point of view in Cuba!”

The two friends discovered a DJ job ten years ago, on a “girls-only course,” Zahira recalls.

A Bauza duo of DJs mingle on the rooftop of a restaurant in Havana, on May 16, 2022 in Cuba. YAMIL LAG FB

For four months, they learn the basics. “At first it was just a hobby, but we started to really like it,” says Paula. And soon they make their decision: “We will be the first and only DJ duo in Cuba.”

‘Effort over a man’

Ten years later, Cuban DJs are still a rarity.

“We’ve never felt any macho pressure,” Paula asserts.

“Obviously DJs, there aren’t many of them in Cuba or in the world, it’s a mostly male scene, but I think since there are so few of us it makes us special!”

Bauza DJ duo, May 16, 2022 in Havana, Cuba
Bauza DJ duo, May 16, 2022 in Havana, Cuba YAMIL LAG FB

The success is with go: those who were initially called “Girls in Hats” henceforth an approximate number of Cuban evenings and were invited to play in Turkey and Mexico.

On this still sexist island where salsa is the dominant music genre, 23-year-old Sally Beltran says she has had more pitfalls coming her way.

“There is a lot of masculinity and very few female DJs in Cuba, so you are always asked for more when you are a female DJ, you have to try harder than the man.”

Sally Beltran participates in a ladies-only DJ class on the rooftop of Havana on May 30, 2022 in Cuba.
Sally Beltran participates in a ladies-only DJ class on the rooftop of Havana on May 30, 2022 in Cuba. YAMIL LAG FB

Sally, who works on her look in Asian dresses and colorful wolves on her eyes, has now managed to make a living out of her profession: “At the beginning of my career, not many people believed in me and I finally proved to them yes, I can do it and I am here!”

“Break the monotony”

As she mingles in a bar on the Malecon, Havana’s famous seaside street, Sally is happy to see that “the audience loves[seeing a DJ]it’s quite unusual and eye-catching.”

Playing the electric guitar, I trained in the profession at the age of sixteen, but it was not easy. “Really, the hardest thing at the beginning of my career was learning because (…) I didn’t have turntables at home, it was very complicated because it’s like a musical instrument, you have to play it.”

DJ Sally Beltran mingles at a bar in Havana on May 22, 2022 in Cuba.
DJ Sally Beltran mingles at a bar in Havana on May 22, 2022 in Cuba. YAMIL LAG FB

On an island with a shortage of basic necessities, hoping to professionally equip yourself as a DJ is a sweet dream.

Many are forced to rent or borrow turntables.

“Here, it is very difficult to be a DJ because there is no equipment” and “no shops” to buy it, Alexandre Leal, aka Xander.Black, an experienced DJ of 46 years and host, on the rooftop of Havana, witnesses a DJ session Dedicated to women, the first course was organized ten years ago.

DJ Alexandre Leal, aka Xander.Black (c), hosts a female-only DJ class on the rooftop of Havana on May 30, 2022 in Cuba
DJ Alexandre Leal, aka Xander.Black (c), hosts a female-only DJ class on the rooftop of Havana on May 30, 2022 in Cuba YAMIL LAG FB

Tired of seeing this sector ‘governed by men’, he came up with the idea for this workshop for two months, with ten students.

“In the world, there should be about 70% men (DJ) and 30% women,” “and in Cuba, 90% men and very few” women.

Among the trainees is DJ, Alexandra Garcia, a 20-year-old student.

Alexandra Garcia and Sally Beltran participate in the women's only DJ class in Havana on May 30, 2022
Alexandra Garcia and Sally Beltran participate in the women’s only DJ class in Havana on May 30, 2022 YAMIL LAG FB

“In music, I find a way to express myself and want to learn everything related to the DJ world,” explains the young woman with a thin voice and a body covered in tattoos, which she hopes will “break the monotony” and help feminize the profession.

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