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An inside look: securing your spot in the Belgian hip-hop scene as a female artist

We're seeing more and more female creatives claiming their place in Belgium’s hip-hop landscape. In our first article, we sat down and talked with women working behind the scenes in the Belgian hip-hop industry. PR people, journalists, event planners, and stylists gave us their views and feelings on being part of this man-flooded scene.

In this second part, we wanted to have the point of view of female artists in Belgian hip-hop; their experiences and feelings working in an environment where women in the spotlight are not as common. Topics such as the challenges they’ve faced, the confidence they've gained and how they persevere are what we talked to them about.

Article by Sarah Tiflati, pictures by Louise Cardon de Lichtbuer, this project was made possible thanks to the financial support of Vlaams Journalistiek Fonds / Flemish Journalism Fund.

DJ 22HEURES30: "I DON'T OFTEN WEAR GIRLY CLOTHES, WHICH BRINGS ME ONE STEP CLOSER TO BEING BOOKED FOR MY VIBE"

22heures30 is a 21-year-old Brussels based DJ. Her career started this summer when she brought the canceled Vestiville afterparty to life. She's currently collaborating with the rising singer and rapper Lyna (also featured below), accompanying her on showcases and sets as her DJ. Recently, she became an official DJ at NRJ radio.

“I try to bring a lot of diversity to my mixes. Usually, the female DJ's mix differently than men, with more whining and dancing sounds. But I try to change it up: I play as much whining as trap and rap music, trying to please everyone. I just follow the crowd’s mood.”

“I obviously get stressed, playing alongside talented artists that have been doing this for a very long time. I’m new to this world. I learned everything by myself but I enjoy it all so much that once I’m playing my set and see that the crowd is enjoying it, every ounce of nervousness and stage fright disappears. I’m mixing in big parties and clubs, but in the end, it’s just what I love.”

“The issue when you’re a female artist in hip-hop is that, at first, you often get booked for your looks rather than what you have to offer as an artist. I don’t want that and I’ve tried to change it. First, with my looks: I naturally don’t dress very girly. I’m more into street style and oversized fits, so that brings me one step closer to being booked for my vibe. Secondly, my stage name "22heures30" is full of mysteries, one of them being that it doesn’t give away whether I’m a man or a woman. And at last, I usually don’t give any preview of my mixes to the bookers. It’s a risk, a 'hit or miss' luck, but I want them to book me with trust. And so far, it’s been working out just fine.”

PHOTOGRAPHER ASHLEY DE BUCK: "IT'S IMPORTANT FOR ME TO BE PAID EQUAL AS A MALE PHOTOGRAPHER, WHICH DOESN'T ALWAYS HAPPEN"

Ashley De Buck is a 25-year-old hip-hop and nightlife photographer. She got into photography as a teenager and now it's a big part of her day-to-day life. 

“For me, it all started very quickly. One day I was shooting an event without any experience, and the next thing I know, I started to photograph several parties. I became a female photographer in a man’s world. No matter how hard you work, people are always assuming you got where you are because of somebody else, because you’re a girl, because you’re privileged etc…. So to make it as a female artist in hip-hop, you have to have thick skin.”

“One time, a male photographer told me that I got where I was thanks to another male photographer. Supposedly, he was the one that had gotten me all the gigs I shot at. He also told me that the only reason I was booked was because of being pretty, which allegedly made it so much easier for me. It was unimaginable for him that I had gotten where I was because of my talent or my craft. It’s not because I’m a woman that I get a lot of opportunities. It’s a very competitive field, you have to be good at what you’re doing. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so supportive of other female photographers and female artists in hip-hop, we stick together because we know what it’s like.” 

“When you’re a photographer, it’s hard to find consistency in jobs where you are actually going to get paid. So when you find that, the next thing is to be paid an equal amount to a male photographer. It doesn’t always happen, as if we weren’t worthy of it, despite all the hard work we do.”

DJ MARIA GREEN AKA MIMI: "WOMEN EMPOWERING OTHER WOMEN ENCOURAGES ME. I KNOW THE STRUGGLE AND I LOVE TO SEE OTHERS SUCCEED"

Maria Green aka MIMI is a 25-year-old DJ, curator and manager consultant from Liège, now based in Brussels. She started 5 years ago, throwing events and DJ'ing at parties, from private events to bigger places like the theatre of Liège. She's also a member of the Lait De Coco collective, which organizes events called LDC Night. Her sets explore different genres, going from electronic music to hip-hop, taking the crowd to different places.

"When it comes to DJ'ing, I'm a perfectionist. I'm rarely satisfied with my sets. I suffered from mansplaining so much during these past years. I've been pressured by other male DJs and technicians of certain venues who tend to assume that I don't know what I'm doing. I don't want it to happen anymore, therefore I need to be the best, from playlists to behind-the-decks skills. One quote I've had men tell me is that "The DJ industry is messed up because now it's "cool" to book women and they attract a lot of people", or " You're lucky to be a female POC DJ, that's why you're being booked."

"I've been treated differently my whole life. I arrived in Belgium in 1998 as a refugee with my family and we lived in a center for a year. My parents always taught me to fight for what I believe in and to fight even harder because I was not born here. I'm sensitive and every single time I get a different treatment, I need to stay focused or else I just lose all confidence. It took me a while to know my worth and I'm thankful for all the people who've supported me. Ever since I started doing me and listening to my guts, things started to make more sense and attract blessings."

DANCER, CHOREOGRAPHER & GRAPHIC DESIGNER SAMANTHA MAVINGA: "THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE WITH YOURSELF IS THE FIRST TO FULFILL. POSITIVITY AND SELF-CONFIDENCE ARE KEY"

Samantha Mavinga is a 26-year-old dancer, choreographer, and graphic designer. She started dancing in front of the TV to Michael Jackson, Missy Elliot and James Brown. After that, she danced in youth centers and eventually got into Top K Dance school, a dance school in Grâce-Hollogne (Liège) offering different types of dances from hip-hop and breakdance to salsa and jazz.

“As a female artist in hip-hop, in my case as a female dancer, you have to stand up to the men you’re competing with. I often get underestimated in this field. But the thing is that I used to breakdance a lot, so I’m physically strong. I can dance with the same strength as a man and perform just as many choreographic tricks as them and people are often surprised by that.”

“That’s the issue with the human mind. People have this habit of judging right away, solely on somebody’s appearance. The main challenge I’ve had to face is to create my place and to try to get the recognition I deserve for my talent and my professionalism, not my physical appearance.”

“I’ve gained confidence through hard work and experience. In the beginning, I was a very shy girl. People’s opinions of me and what they thought, would get to me because I didn’t have a lot of confidence. But as I said, the more I worked and pushed through, the more I loved myself. Positivity and self-confidence are key. Self-love is an extremely important factor as well. When you look in the mirror, truly accept who you are and love and value yourself. Only then people can value you. The relationship you have with yourself is the first to fulfill.”

SINGER LYNA: "I'D RATHER HAVE YOU GIVE ME YOUR HONEST OPINION THAN TO FLATTER ME"

Lyna is a 21-year-old singer from Belgium. She’s been singing ever since she was 4 years old and started participating in talent shows like 'The Voice van Vlaanderen', 'The Voice Kids' and 'My Name Is...'.

“Music is everything to me, I do it 100%. I don’t have other hobbies, it takes all of my time and attention. My mom is an important pillar for me because she helps me so much. My dad also is a big inspiration to me. He’s an Arabic singer and he still does music at 54. Seeing him never stop, still believing in himself and getting the recognition he deserves is what pushes me. I have a little bit of him in me. 

“Being a female artist in hip-hop, especially a female musician in Belgium is not a common thing compared to men doing trap music for example. My biggest challenge was to be taken seriously and not as a gimmick. Since most producers are men, you have to be assertive and tell people that this is the real me, I can be in this industry and find my place.”

“People, mainly men, treat me differently sometimes. Because I’m a girl, they’ll be nicer and gentler to me. But I’m a very hard-headed person. I like people giving me their opinion and critics. I’d rather have you give me your honest opinion than to flatter me.”

WHAT'S NEXT?

We are looking forward to an environment where we can all be respected as equals. How we choose to express ourselves and the work we do is directly related to this. Make sure to keep your eyes open for future female talents claiming their place!

Also: don't forget to check out the first article in this series where we sat down with women working behind the scenes in Belgian hip-hop.



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