Cases of promoters demanding sexual favours for bookings are on the rise, especially targeting up-and-coming female DJs. There is also the view that some club owners go for looks rather than skills on the decks to attract more fans. BONIFACE NYAGA talks to insiders on an issue usually discussed in hushed tones.
It is an open secret that some promoters go for looks other than skills in female deejays to attract more fans.
On social media, and on event posters, their images are usually given prominence. Granted, there are many gifted female spin-masters, but interviews with industry insiders reveal it is a tough terrain, especially when some promoters demand sexual favours for gigs instead of giving the chance to the most talented.
One of the most popular female DJs in Kenya admits it is not easy for women, but it is important to maintain focus.
“There are club owners and promoters who demand sex for bookings. It is common in deejaying. But women face sexual harassment in all professions,” DJ Pierra admits.
“Women are always judged by their appearance, and sex appeal is a part of that. You need to look good but not trashy, desperate or easy; it’s not good for your brand.
“Because I work with a lot of corporates, I have had to keep a clean brand. There are some edgy photos that my team doesn’t allow me to post because I have to portray a certain image out there.”
Despite many milestones, female deejays all over the world continue to face discrimination: they are sometimes poorly paid compared to their male counterparts, denied gigs and sexually harassed.
Uncompromising ones like Nina Kraviz are credited with turning the tide with their wide repertoire and distinctive style. The Russian DJ has pushed back the stereotypes to become a leading figure in electronic music.
Her 2013 Resident Advisor interview was nicknamed “Bathgate”, because of the scandal that it evoked. A scene of her in a bath tub and another on the beach in a swimsuit sparked a major backlash.
She took issue with how the public castigated her for trivial things that a male DJ would get away with. The incident inadvertently made her a symbol for the fight against sexism in dance music.
“As a female deejay in the entertainment industry, you have to work twice as hard to get noticed. Most festivals and major gigs in Kenya, book the same female deejays, which is upsetting because Kenya has many other skilled ones," Nairobi-based female mix master DJ Coco-em said.
Until her highly successful Boiler Room appearance in May this year, DJ Coco-em was wallowing in obscurity; struggling to get bookings. The online music broadcaster streams to a live audience of over 400,000 viewers.
Her clip on Ballantine’s East Africa Facebook page gathered 190,000 views beating popular performers like MDQ, DJ Suraj and Camp Mulla’s Taio - who appeared on the same platform.
“Before, I had written to major festivals and event organisers in Kenya but none replied. I did not have a huge social media following so they didn’t consider me. However, since my appearance things have changed,” DJ coco-em explained.
"It seems bookers depend on the rankings of who is the sexiest, overlooking true talent. When these “sexy-deejays” don’t deliver, they make it harder for truly talented female DJs to get booked. Maybe if the media highlighted our skill, rather than looks, things would be different.”
Sex sells and many marketers use it to push all manner of products and services. For female DJs, sex appeal helps promoters and bookers sell tickets. It, however, has created a challenge for those who don’t wish to play that card.
“If it works for a female DJ to use her looks as part of her skill and creativity, then it’s okay. However, packaging yourself as sexy or hot, doesn't work for everyone," Nairobi-based event organiser, Lenny Ngugi says.
"We keep booking the same female deejays because they have proven themselves. Some can’t put on a four or five-hour show and most organisers look for performers who can go the distance.”
In hushed tones and back channels, upcoming female DJs are now reporting cases of sexual abuse. Many attribute the abuse to the objectification of female DJs on social media and entertainment blogs. DJ Shock is a veteran and the founder of East Africa DJ Association, and a vocal advocate of deejay rights in Kenya.
“Some of the young female DJs that I mentor have admitted to me that some promoters and club managers demand for sex in exchange for bookings, " DJ Shock says.
"Those who stand up for their rights are often victimised; so many prefer to suffer in silence. Even deejays who started out with a clean brand are having to post sexy photos on Instagram to get bookings.”
She asserts that though industry players are aware of the infractions, they are complicit in the matter. When she first got into the industry, cases of sexual victimisation though present, were not as blatant as they are now. In those days she was given opportunities without strings attached.
Nonetheless, she does admit that female DJs need to be more assertive and responsive to opportunities when they do arise.
“I would love to show up at a gig with a hoodie and crocks but these days that’s not an option. A few years back we could get away with wearing whatever we wanted, but now there’s pressure to look sexy,” a female DJ who didn’t want to be named toldBuzz.
“Male fans expect female deejays to look hot and sexy, so if you want to get work you have to look the part whether you like it or not. A club manager once scolded me for not having sexy photos on my social media. Some managers will give you the first job with no strings attached, but after you play there for a few times they demand sex, and if you don't comply you get fired,” she lamented.