Digging Deeper with Egyptian DJ Zeina

Egyptian DJ Zeina is possibly the hardest working woman in the business. She’s also one of the country’s most respected audio-creatives.

Digging Deeper with Egyptian DJ Zeina
Fady Nageeb

I remember first hearing about Zeina (Instagram) only a few weeks after landing my first writing job for a music publication. I’d been put on the list for her Unfamiliar night where she was hosting Julietta of Half Baked records/BLITZ Club. Fairly fresh-faced and still acquainting myself with Cairo’s scene at the time, Zeina and her club nights were completely off my radar.

Come the night of the gig, I remember making my way down a narrow hallway leading to that cramped, smokey dancefloor of the now-defunct nook on Cairo’s short list of clubs called Zigzag (previously VENT). I didn’t realise it at the time, but the faces I saw on the dancefloor, I would soon learn were some of the key DJs, producers, promoters, and even visual artists who would go on to shape and grow Cairo’s underground dance music scene to what it is today.

I also clearly remember that feeling of being in the midst of a grass-roots club night for the first time. I hadn’t been to London or Berlin yet, but hearing local and visiting DJs playing side by side in a clanky make-shift club, a minute’s walk away from Tahrir Square in 2017 was something else. Throw in the fact that this remains the sole female-only club night in the city, and the experience becomes even more special looking back. And then, of course, there was Zeina.

That’s the thing about Zeina, she is this indisputable talent and presence in the industry that everyone unites upon, no matter who you talk to, what their background is, or what their taste might be. She’s got everyone’s support, she’s on every promoter’s lineup, clubbers pay attention to her sets, and she’s often spoken of with this sort of reverence that’s attached with only a handful of names. 

Between staying busy playing, organising, and working on her music in Cairo, travelling to play and connect with SWANA artists and promoters from Saudi Arabia to Tunisia, or going off on international dates after signing with Interwave, a high-profile booking and management agency out of France, Zeina found time to chat with me about her career, identity, process and what she’d like to see more of on the dancefloor.


So you’ve spent the past year playing in Saudi, Tunisia, Lebanon and all across the region. Tell me more about your experience and the growth you’re witnessing around us.

First of all, travelling and connecting with people in the region, to me, has been one of the most heartwarming, affirming experiences in my career. Simply because, for me, human connection fuels creativity. So, when I connected with people from the region, it felt like we saw each other. It’s almost like now we’re waking up and acknowledging each other. 

On my first visit to Saudi, I really didn’t have any expectations.

When I went, I felt so affirmed. No conversation felt like small talk. And I felt like these are my people. Why are we constantly looking abroad for validation when it’s right here?

I think warmth is our currency. When people come to see us from abroad, they’re floored by our hospitality, and it’s for everybody. Arab hospitality isn’t just for show, it’s who we are. 

You’ve recently joined the roster of Interwave alongside seasoned veterans and exciting young talents from all over the world. Tell us about this.

I started working with them in January of this year, it’s been good! 

I’ve been organising and building for myself for the last 15 years, so it’s been a happy step forwards and upwards to combine my momentum with theirs, to work with a professional team and be a part of a beautiful roster of artists.

It’s a misnomer to think that if you get an agent, you sit back and the agent does the work for you. It’s the opposite, you create your momentum, and the agent helps you with their own momentum, their expertise and their professionalism. And together, you build a relationship that pushes you forward.


And how has it been keeping up with gigging more consistently, regionally and internationally, post-COVID?

There are still some adjustments I need to do about being on the road. It’s understanding how to take care of myself, and that’s a process that starts in Cairo, even before I hop on the first flight. Being mindful of what makes me go in the best shape, starting with small things like sleeping and eating well. And those little elements give me the sense that I can do this in the long run. 

I’m happy I’m not doing this much travelling in my 20s, because back then I was hungry and I wanted to do it all. Now I think I have so much more intentionality with what I want out of this. And I think, ultimately, apart from sharing music, I want to feel joy, I want to feel comfortable, I want to feel settled in myself. I don’t want to lose myself in the process.

I was always really interested to find out why you opted for Cairo as a base when you were living in Canada for years and gigging from there constantly.

After being in Canada for seven years, I came to Egypt to play a party (and escape the Canadian winter) and I never left. 

I have been thinking a lot and trying to figure out what the currency of my life is. And for me, it’s people, warmth, and comfort. All of these I think are Egypt’s most incredible qualities, whether people are annoying and in your face, or kind and generous, you’re getting something real, you know, this is what gives me life. That authentic exchange. 

Being here is fundamental to my well being because these are the things I value in life.

Now that Egypt’s been your permanent base, and you’ve toured a lot over the past decade. What do you want to see more of in the region, especially now with all the developments that have been happening recently?  

Egypt always had a long-standing dance music scene from the late ‘90s up until the last 10 years, which brought us some very exciting sounds. I wouldn’t say we’re plateauing now, but I see a lot of people in the scene unsure how to proceed. No one is stepping forward like “Hey, I’m going to open up a space, I’m doing this, or that.” We’re in a difficult spot, financially, as a country. 

I’ve also been thinking about elevating people’s experience on the dance floor. Because what I’ve been finding is that a lot of people are not connected to their bodies, they don’t understand how to be present, or manage their limits, or be a good vibe at a party. 

It would be really interesting to go back on an individual level and see what are elements that make people feel connected? How can we help people understand their connection to their physical selves, and how that impacts their enjoyment of a party or a space. I’d love to see some awareness on that. 

When I’m on dance floors abroad, there’s a bit more awareness on how to take up space, you know? There’s a mindfulness aspect that I think we can insert into our experience. We need more people there to listen. 

To discover more of the region’s most exciting artists, and to learn of creators like Zeina, visit our Music archives.