The daughter of a Pakistani immigrant family living in London, Manara has first-hand experience of the fact that in a multicultural country, a ‘blending of cultures’ generally means ‘assimilation to the dominant culture.’ As a South Asian female DJ, she is all too aware of the weight of other’s expectations on her: the music she is expected play at clubs, the clothes she is expected to wear, the words she is expected to say during an interview. The effects of living under the invisible gaze of mainstream culture police show themselves in Manara’s self-confident demeanor paired with her distrust of journalists. Her reaction to the constant “selling out of underground scenes” of music journalism is to refrain from interviews almost altogether. It’s no surprise that Manara, her R&B edits full of cheeky vocal samples and beats that could be deemed ‘uncouth’ by the neat and tidy house-loving nightlife gentry, found herself among sister labels Fade To Mind and Night Slugs, largely credited with breaking the European club scene free from its otherwise boring house/techno dominance.
BARIŞ BİLENSER & PINAR ÜZELTÜZENCİ
She resists London club scene’s homogeneity by asserting her multiculturalism through the heavy use of samples in various languages in her sets. In addition to the parties she hosts, she has shows on BBC, Rinse FM and NTS. With their abundant incorporations of minority and female singers and producers, Manara’s sets interpret underground club music through a feminine perspective. Manara taught herself how to DJ after she was rejected from a university radio program 12 years ago, and re-entered the scene upon the insistence of Fade To Mind co-founder Kingdom when they met in Los Angeles and he asked her to play an unexpected party. Soon after, she started a show—the BBC AZN Network, a lighthearted jab at the BBC Asian Network— with a friend on Radar Radio, which cemented her return to DJing. The Eid parties that they regularly host have become a safe space for young Asian woman to get together and enjoy themselves freely: “We have a party every Eid, because Eid actually if you’re a girl can be kind of shit. The boys all get to go out and have fun but you’re at home, taking a couple of nice selfies because you had your makeup done for no reason. So a week after Eid, when everyone’s a bit free, Ramadan has ended, and the devil is released from his jail, we do a party.”
Manara’s pro-minority parties and the BBC AZN Network gained rapidly in fame, started attracting the attention of the ‘underground swindlers’ she calls the media, and the rest is history: her well-known mixtape for Fader, a show at Boiler Room London, the ‘Beauty Blender’ sets she does with Grime artist AG, and an offer to do a show from the real BBC Asian Network. “We live in an age I think where people are finally starting to realize that parody is not necessarily insulting,” she says about this development, “You know when everyone was wearing those COMME DES FUCKDOWN hats? Comme Des Garçons actually liked that shit, because bootlegs make your brand stronger.” She adds, laughing, that she has acquired plenty of fake Gucci and Louis Vuitton during her Istanbul visit.
The fact that practically every other person walking down the street is a DJ in one form or another has not escaped her notice, either: “Everyone wants to be a DJ now. And some people are really rude about that, kind of snobby. My logic is if everyone wants to be a DJ, why don’t I just teach all my friends how to DJ? I never really had a female mentor doing this, so I like to be that for other people. After Kingdom did that thing for me, I started doing it for others, like ‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to do perfect mixing’. Nobody at our sets is going to care—if they do, fuck them, that’s so boring. It’s so masculine and macho to be obsessed with perfection.”
“SO A WEEK AFTER EID, WHEN EVERYONE’S A BIT FREE, RAMADAN HAS ENDED, AND THE DEVIL IS RELEASED FROM HIS JAIL, WE DO A PARTY.”