Interview: 'Mother of Electronica' Ma Faiza on the challenges faced by women DJs in India
There are few people like Ma Faiza to discuss the EDM scene in the country. The ‘Mother of Electronica’ in India has been spinning records for over two decades now, and has led the path for many an aspiring DJ. In a wide-ranging discussion, she speaks about the challenges she faced earlier on, and the future for woman DJs in India.
How is the scene improving, and becoming more accepting, for women DJs? Is it a good time to be a woman DJ in India?
Ma Faiza: The music industry worldwide is very male dominated, and sadly DJing is no exception. There are definitely more opportunities for female DJ’s than ever before, including in India, but it still is very challenging to be a woman in the music scene. It’s hard as a woman to be respected for just your music and your work rather than be objectified by the promoters and the crowd.
As India is still a very patriarchal society, its much harder here than say Europe for women to be allowed to be independent and free to work late nights in a male dominated environment where alcohol is present – for many families it is still unacceptable for a woman to be out late in the night, and also they rightly fear for their daughters physical safety. Hopefully more women in India can be emboldened to be DJs, by at least seeing other women DJs like me not only surviving but thriving.
Tell us a little about some of the personal challenges that you had to overcome in your own journey as a DJ. How do you see the future for DJing opening up in the country, and overseas?
Ma Faiza: These days, the role of the DJ in India has been increasing in trend. It can seem a lucrative and fashionable career to many, but I feel some of the magic from simply wanting to share the music that touches your soul and ignites your passion may have been lost when people look to this work as just a JOB. For me, the DJ is a conduit for the energy of the music, the place and the people. They are the modern day shamans leading the audience to a collective experience.
I actually never set out to be a DJ, so my journey to here has definitely been rather unusual! I initially found it very difficult and challenging to perform in front of very large crowds on big stages and felt very nervous even days before a gig. When I first started DJing in India, hardly anyone here had any exposure to electronic music (unless you travelled abroad or spent time in Goa), and the crowds here were not so receptive to the music I was playing. It was really challenging for me to stay in my musical truth and expression and not play the music that people expected at that time.
Thankfully for me, sowing those seeds of truth in my sound has allowed me to have a unique space in the electronic music scene, where my fans stay open to hearing different styles and genres mixed with my signature touch, trusting me to share amazing fresh sounds to elevate their souls!
How have festivals like Sunburn helped in promoting up-and-coming DJs? How important are such platforms for the growth of not just the DJ community, but also of the entire lifestyle?
Ma Faiza: Whilst festivals like Sunburn have definitely been beneficial for the growth of electronic music in India and putting it firmly on the global electronic music map, I feel that most of these big, commercial festivals have also been guilty of exploiting Indian DJ’s and artists by paying them far less than their foreign counterparts, not giving them the biggest platform they could – giving bad time slots and not honouring the hard work all the Indian DJ’s do every weekend relentlessly playing the music they love to keep the electronic music scene alive month after month.
Many times I feel these festivals are about a brand or branding and not actually about MUSIC. I personally much prefer smaller festivals – for example, Magnetic Fields and Sula Fest, which are created out of love for the music they choose to showcase and for the joy of sharing a collective experience.
Is there a word of advice, or pointers that you'd like to offer, for organisers of music festivals - perhaps for better artist management, or improved crowd control? How would you like to see things improving?
Ma Faiza: I’d like to see more alternative counter culture spreading at the bigger festivals here – more art, more healing spaces, more workshops and more use of natural materials and more creative use of technology. I’d like a “leave no trace” policy – where plastic waste is not tolerated, and where there is a deep message that any festivalgoer can take away with them, and apply to their daily life.
Do you often find yourself faced with concerns about culture, and morality? How do you deal with untoward reactions - do you ignore them, or would you rather encourage positive, meaningful discussion?
Ma Faiza: Being an out and proud lesbian, who often challenges the binary notions of gender, I personally have challenges with the fact that being gay or lesbian is still not legal. But being gay has never been an issue for me or to my fans. But we are so steeped in a way of thinking that is past - the current time curfews on clubs and music festivals, the almost criminalising of young people who just want to celebrate together. We definitely need to help effect change by having a dialogue with legislators and government bodies, by demanding old laws be challenged or changed for the better!
Is it true, in 2018, that there are more opportunities for rising DJs in the circuit outside of India? Do you believe that you'd gain more success by hitting the international scene, over the Indian circles?
Ma Faiza: I think there are definitely more opportunities than ever before for Indian DJ’s and producers in the global market. We have so much homegrown talent! The exposure and experiences a DJ gets internationally not only feeds inspiration for their art and passion, but also expands their profile in India and globally. I think as the electronic music scene is still quite nascent in India, there are more opportunities for DJ’s here – most of Europe is full of DJ’s and the competition is fierce.
Tell us about your idols. Who do you look up to, for inspiration? How did they help motivate you, in your chosen path as a DJ?
Ma Faiza: I’m still simply inspired by the amazing music that is being produced by small artists dotted around the world. My personal journey with electronic music spans more than 35 years, and whilst the sounds have definitely changed with technology, the fact that making music today is accessible to anyone with a good computer has meant that electronic music has so many different cultural influences, and for me this is one of the most exciting aspects of the music today.
We live in a time of redefining our music landscape, of fine tuning our past experiences of music with the here and now of being able to make any sound into music to become a cultural pot-pourri of sounds and emotions, many unique to specific places in the world, mixed with beats and grooves which could be described as universal – creating tracks wonderfully new and culturally rich.
How important is it to you, to include Indian, especially Bollywood tunes, in your live sets - particularly for Indian crowds? Is the large part of the audiences here really more interested in remixes, than original electronic music?
Ma Faiza: Whilst I never play any Bollywood music, I have always enjoyed bring an ethnic feel to my sets by including tracks influenced by folk and gypsy music from around the globe. I enjoy performing live with musicians layering an ethnic feel over my tracks, bringing something new and fresh every time. Worldwide I can see that people enjoy music that encompasses influences from their traditional music, and India is no exception to this.
What are your personal goals, as a DJ, for the new year? Do you have any EPs or albums expected? How much of your focus is likely to be on live gigs, and tours, over studio recordings and album releases?
Ma Faiza: This year I plan to open my own music academy in Pune, starting with a DJ module for beginners. I feel a need to dedicate more energy to helping and mentoring the future DJ’s in India. I want to teach not just the music or technical aspects of DJ’ing, as for me DJ’ing is so much more than just the technique. The course will also include more cultural information and life coaching.
I think believing in the music you love, meditation, exercise, nutrition, design, collaborating with others artists, recording, performance skills, music history and the rudiments of music are also very important for every DJ to know and I hope to include as much of this knowledge too. I know it will be the only course of its kind in the country!
A word of advice for aspiring DJs? How would you play mentor to some of the new names emerging in the circuit?
Ma Faiza: Some words of advice for aspiring DJ’s are - Be true be honest be REAL - don’t let the lack of opportunity dissolve your artistic beliefs into something just to fit in. Work harder on what you believe, as long as it’s authentic, it will find a way to survive. Be unique – stand apart from the crowd, and make your personality shine. Show your passion, and express yourself with your music.