HAVANA, June 8 On the roof of a restaurant in the heart of Old Havana, the duo Pauza mixes traditional Cuban sounds and electro rhythms: on the island, female DJs remain few in number but have found their audience.In a chic atmosphere that contrasts with the poverty of the neighborhood, the customers – mainly Cubans from a new middle class with the best purchasing power – sway their hips in front of the two young 29-year-old women, recognizable by their long black hair, identical outfits and hats.
Suddenly a trumpeter and a percussionist arrive on stage, whose chords mix with the sounds of the turntables.
“We are Cuba, our music has to sound like Cuba,” explains Paula Fernandez, who created Pauza with Zahira Sanchez. “We have a country where what is most there are the musicians, there is an incredible talent from a musical point of view in Cuba!”
The two friends discovered the job of DJ ten years ago, in “a course intended only for girls”, recalls Zahira.
For four months, they learn the basics. “At first it was just a hobby, but we started to really like it,” says Paula. Very quickly they make their decision: “we are going to be the first and only female DJ duo in Cuba”.
“Obviously, female DJs, there aren’t many of them in Cuba or in the world, it’s a mostly male scene, but I think that, as there are few of us, that makes us special!”
The success is with go: those which one nicknamed at the beginning “the girls with the hats” from now on animated a number of Cuban evenings and were invited to play in Turkey and in Mexico.
At 23, Sally Beltran says she has encountered more pitfalls on her way, in this island still marked by sexism and where salsa is the dominant musical genre.
“There is a lot of machismo and very few female DJs in Cuba, so you are always asked more when you are a female DJ, you have to try harder than a man”.
Sally, who works on her look with Asian dresses and colored wolves on her eyes, now manages to make a living from her profession: “at the start of my career, many people did not believe in me and finally I proved to them that yes, I could do it and now I’m here!”
“Breaking the Monotony”
As she mixes in a bar on the Malecon, Havana’s famous coastal boulevard, Sally is delighted to see that “the public likes (seeing a female DJ), it’s quite unusual and it catches the eye”.
Playing the electric guitar, she trained in the profession at 16, but it was not easy. “Really, the hardest thing at the start of my career was learning because (…) I didn’t have turntables at home, it was quite complicated because it’s like a musical instrument, you have to of practice”.
In an island hit by shortages of basic necessities, hoping to equip yourself professionally as a DJ is a sweet dream.
Many have to rent or borrow turntables. “Here, being a DJ is super difficult because there is no equipment” and “no stores” to buy them, testifies Alexander Leal, known as Xander.Black, experienced DJ from 46 years old who leads, on a roof in Havana, a DJ course reserved for women, the first organized in ten years.
Tired of seeing this sector “governed by men”, he had the idea of this workshop lasting two months, with ten students.
“In the world, there must be about 70% men (DJ) and 30% women”, “and in Cuba, 90% men and very few” women.
Among the DJ apprentices, Alexandra Garcia, a 20-year-old student.
“In music, I find a way to express myself and I want to learn everything related to the world of DJs”, explains the young woman with a thin voice and a body covered with tattoos, who hopes ” break the monotony” and help feminize the profession.