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Fabric Presents Sama’ Abdulhadi

Sama Abdulhadi Fabric Presents Sama Abdulhadi


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    January 5, 2024

This set from the Palestinian techno DJ and producer is sleek and rolling, fueled by driving rhythms and punctuated by moments of emotional release.

When Sama’ Abdulhadi performs, a range of expressions plays across her face in quick succession: concentration, euphoria, mischief, grace, determination—and sometimes, fleetingly, something like a deep-seated weariness. If dance music is often regarded as a form of liberatory escapism—from drudgery, oppression, trauma—then Abdulhadi might be a spokesperson for escape itself. As the world’s foremost Palestinian techno DJ, a fixture in some of the world’s biggest nightclubs and festivals, she is proof that you can make it out of a system that wants to crush you.

Born in Jordan to a family of Palestinian exiles forced out by Israeli authorities who objected to her grandmother’s political activities, Abdulhadi returned to Ramallah as a child and first soaked up local hip-hop (and played for the national soccer team). She then moved to Beirut, where she discovered techno, and then Cairo to study sound design, work as a sound engineer, and DJ throughout the region. Her global breakthrough came in 2018, performing a Boiler Room set from the heart of Ramallah—part of an extensive lineup drawn from the Palestinian underground, including the experimental DJ and producer Muqata’a and the Haifa-based Jazar Crew—that has been viewed more than 12 million times to date. Abdulhadi plays a thoroughly international style of big-room techno, and as a globe-trotting DJ she enjoys a freedom of movement denied to many of her compatriots. (Even on her home turf, however, Abdulhadi has encountered obstacles: In 2020, her performance at a Palestinian mosque triggered a conservative backlash that led her to spend more than a week in jail.) Still, she has always taken pains to center her identity as a Palestinian woman. “It’s a lot of pressure, because I want to represent Palestine perfectly,” she told The Guardian in 2023.

Abdulhadi’s fabric presents mix showcases a hard-charging style behind the decks: 73 relentless minutes of throbbing ostinato basslines, sharply carved drums, and glinting synths. The mood is coiled and tense, evoking grinding teeth and clenched fists. She typically mixes in key, layering complementary synths and basslines in call-and-response-like counterpoints, and using syncopated patterns to break up endlessly tumbling four-on-the-floor grooves. Her single “Well Fee,” featuring Palestinian singer Walaa Sbeit, offers a potent distillation of her style: lumbering drums, rattling rhythmic accents, and hypnotic vocals. It’s a glowering, strutting, mean-mugging track that oozes intensity.

Melodies rarely extend beyond sullen two-note sequences, and the similarity of Abdulhadi’s selections, combined with her layered style of mixing, means that there are few standout moments. Viennese psytrance producers Psycrain & C.A.T provide a brief moment of contrast with “Goosebombs,” in which the beat drops away to reveal pensive piano and saxophone; it’s a welcome respite from the rhythmic juggernaut. Palestinian-born, Berlin-based producer YA Z AN’s “NADA-R” is another highlight, thanks to its eerie, glistening high end, though it’s overshadowed by the ravier, more synth-heavy tracks that bookend it.

The setlist draws from all over: Syria, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Germany. Those passport stamps paint a picture of techno’s globalized nature in the 21st century. Abdulhadi’s only explicit nod to the SWANA region comes at the end of the set, in a track by a duo called Acid Arab that pairs mournful Arabic-language vocals with strident reeds and a thundering electronic groove. It’s a multicultural affair: Acid Arab are a group of white Frenchmen; the featured singer, Radia Menel, is Algerian; Ammar 808, the track’s remixer, is Tunisian and based in Denmark. “[We] want to build a bridge between the East and the West,” Acid Arab have said. Their own experience shows how fraught that process can be. They have been accused of cultural appropriation, but they’ve also collaborated with artists from across the region, and in 2017 pledged to boycott Israeli venues other than those run by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs—a move that provoked criticism from anti-BDS listeners.

The timing of Abdulhadi’s fabric presents mix is bittersweet: It came out in late November 2023, in the wake of the Hamas-led October 7 attack on Israel, which killed roughly 1,200 people, including some 700 civilians, and in the midst of Israel’s ongoing reprisals against Gaza—which are estimated to have killed more than 22,000 people, the majority of them women and children—and increased settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. The release of the mix should have been a celebratory affair, the next step in a DJ career that proves anything is possible for Palestinians. Perhaps the aura of optimism around her Boiler Room set was illusory. Even last January, when she spoke to The Guardian, Abdulhadi said, “There was a point when people from Germany were buying tickets and flying into Palestine for parties. But now, no one comes. Nobody’s in the mood to do a party. Nobody’s even thinking of organising their birthday.” Yet even in a relic of false optimism lies an idea of hope, and perhaps therein lies its power. Before he was killed by Israeli missiles, the Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer wrote a poem equating his death to a kite flown over Gaza, as a symbol of hope to the children orphaned below. “If I must die,” he concluded, “Let it bring hope/Let it be a tale.”

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Sama’ Abdulhadi: Fabric Presents Sama’ Abdulhadi