DJ Haram, born Zubeyda Muzeyyen, is a DJ, event coordinator, and zine-writer raised in Paterson, New Jersey, but now calls Philadelphia her home. “Haram” describes a practice or idea that is forbidden in Islam, while Haram herself refers to herself “post art post activist,” with tongue-firmly-in-cheek. Her upbringing, experiences in diverse environments, activism, and distinct musical stylings all gel together in her energetic live sets. While Philly and Jersey club songs get the most playing time, don’t be surprised if you hear Middle Eastern songs you’ve never heard before thrown in the mix.
Before playing at Baltimore’s hottest party, Kahlon, alongside tour partner and roommate DJ Precolumbian, Zubeyda discusses why she chose the stage name “Haram,” the influences of Philly and Jersey on her life, and tells the story of how her life changed when she met DJ Precolumbian.
Q: Why do you think it was appropriate to choose your stage name –
DJ HARAM: Ha, ha – no one asked me this ever, even when Browntourage interviewed me, they didn’t ask me that. I feel like using the name Haram, like most ideas I have that end up being good – not saying all ideas I have end up being good – but, even my good ideas usually start out as joke. Then i’m just like wait – this is actually kind of legit that I use humor as a way to come across good ideas. Anyway, it was kind of joke because I was like ha, ha, ha there’s that thing that everyone takes really literally from the Quran: music is haram, you can’t listen to any stringed instruments; only drum rhythms and vocal-only music is halal. I chose it for that reason initially, but then I was like actually that kind of really fits with what I want a DJ name to convey: where I’m coming from, my background as a Muslim and Middle-Eastern person, and also indicates what I play.
^ DJ Haram’s mix for Browntourage.
But I also feel that it refers to my attempt to communicate the nuances of where I’m at – being a Muslim and being queer and being a DJ, spinning global bass and repping the motherland as an American. A lot of people would say that what I do is Haram, and that I’m not a real Muslim. I’ve had both Muslims and non-Muslims deny my “authenticity,” you know? I’m not at the point where I’m afraid of the scrutiny of Muslims who think they know the most about Islam or the scrutiny of freedom-loving Western people, so I’m just going to use that name. But to my peers who are also queers and outliers in the Muslim population, I think they can relate to it to a degree.
“A lot of people would say that what I do is Haram, and that I’m not a real Muslim. I’ve had both Muslims and non-Muslims deny my “authenticity,”
Q: Growing up in Paterson, what was your primary artistic sources. Where did you pull from, growing up, besides your family’s tapes of music?
DJ HARAM: A lot of shit that was playing on the radio: Power 99 in Philly, Hot 97 in New York. That’s the hip-hop, R&B station, which had all the hits. There’s a large South American diaspora in North Jersey, notably the Peruvians in Paterson, which is why me and Chaska (DJ Precolumbian) were meant to be. So a lot of stuff migrant scenes would be bumping. Besides the radio and hearing hip-hop and rap and pop there, I feel like most of the stuff I would hear around the neighborhoods and in my friends’ houses were different – like people’s old country music that their parents also made them listen to. And then I guess just all the bullshit little playground stuff – that was definitely influential – learning dances and cool moves and lyrics. I’m like damn I’m still the kid that can’t master the moves!
“My parents, who are both immigrants and both have a very anti-assimilation – they’re situated in a struggle against assimilation very hard”
Q: How did you get first involved in activism and your advocacy work?
DJ HARAM: I don’t identify anything I do exactly as “activism” or “advocacy,” I think I try to engage political reality and be radical. I think the legitimate starting point for that was how I was raised by my parents, who are both immigrants and both have a very anti-assimilation – they’re situated in a struggle against assimilation very hard. Especially my father who immigrated here very later, got a lot of shit for being a Middle-Eastern dude who had a heavy accent, and 9/11 happened and you know what? I grew up with parents who do hate the state. The “American dream” doens’t work for everyone, you know? That’s where it kind of started with me. But then when I got to community college, I was all trying to be a leader and I started a little student group, and that was the first time I started doing “activisty” stuff. I mostly just try to do the creatively-engaging radicalism thing instead of legit advocacy or activism these days, but it’s definitely there in my past.
Q: In a past interview, in Browntourage article, you said you disliked the phrase “the queer Mecca”, and why is that? Was it the label itself or was it just semantics?
DJ HARAM: I dislike that people wold be using the word Mecca like that, in a way that’s not talking about legit Mecca. I’m just like y’all don’t even know where Mecca is. That’s orientalism, you take a word and remove it from its context completely and turn it into something to accommodate your reality, which is like white-queer reality. So that’s why I don’t like it because I was like – Mecca?! So this is just like a buzzword to mean “place”?
Q: So you don’t necessarily have an issue with labels, you just have an issue with how words redefined, would you say?
DJ HARAM: I definitely don’t have a problem with labels. I definitely was against labels sometime in middle school, I was like “don’t label me!” But sometimes its useful for people to label themselves and find each other.
“Sometimes its useful for people to label themselves and find each other”
Q: How did you meet Precolumbian?
DJ HARAM: Well it’s kind of a funny story. I was living in New York because it was the closest city to Paterson. So I was like let me move here, but then oh my God, I can’t afford it here and everyone around here is kind of mean. And so I was traveling and trying to find what city I did want to live in. I ended up in the woods in this terrible hippie-conference thing. One of the only other people of color there was this beautiful, beautiful person named Indee who was formerly Chaska’s roommate who now lives somewhere else, but I was just like “y’all – I’m trying to get out of here. It’s raining and we’re all camping and everybody has white dreads and it’s terrible” and they were like “let me take you to Philly baby” and they got this sexy-ass voice, and I was like, I’ll just follow that voice. And then they took me to Philly and were “stay with me for however long” and then I stayed with them for a week and then I kept traveling.
“I was traveling and trying to find what city I did want to live in. I ended up in the woods in this terrible hippie-conference thing”
[To Precolumbian, on the couch next her] And then I think I met you – did I meet you during that week or were you gone?
PRECOLUMBIAN: I wasn’t sure. I was gone and had just come back from a trip.
DJ HARAM: You were traveling from Cali, so I met Chaska real quick when I was staying there, but it was cute. When I was on the road, I was in Wyoming, bumble-fuck nowhere, the only place to look was up at the stars. Chaska and another roommate living in the house called me and left me this adorable voicemail where they are both talking at the same time, and [they said] “we want you to live with us” because their house is a squat, and they had three bedrooms open, so I guess they thought ‘we might as well offer this up to someone.’ We kind of met really short and got to know each other by living together, which is a good way to get to know each other pretty well. We’ve been living together since we moved out of there – living together and chillin’.
“When I was on the road, I was in Wyoming, bumble-fuck nowhere, the only place to look was up at the stars”
Q: Where will you be in five days, five months and five years?
DJ HARAM: In five days, I will be preparing for about eight events that I’m going to have my hand in, in the next two weeks. Notably, Chaska and I are doing the second of our NY party series called Stage Fatality, which is going to be in Ridgewood, Queens at a spot called June. It’s happening on Friday the 13th, which is three days after the five days, so I’ll probably be preparing for Stage Fatality. But then I have a bunch of other shit, people coming through for shows in Philly, and Persian New Year, all that stuff. Five months, I’ll probably be preparing for a trip to the Middle East, because a bunch of my really, really beautiful friends all pitched together to get me a trip to go, so I’ll probably be saving money for spending money and stuff like that and preparing to go. In five years I will be – I think? I don’t know, man! [To Qiana Kitt, DJ] What did you say?
QIANA KITT: I said out of the country!
DJ HARAM: Yeah that’s real. I think in five years, I’ll be in the same spot that I am in now, aka figuring my shit out, but probably situated with more confidence and experience and all that. But I’ll probably still going to be in the struggle, calling myself a “freelance artist.”