Sabeerah Najee is a black, female, disabled DJ who is passionate about normalizing the conversation about race and disability in the music industry.
She is a member of Soulection, which has been a cornerstone of creativity for innovative musicians, crate-digging DJs, and open-minded fans from across the world. What began as an independent radio show has since blossomed into a global community of artists and audiences, united in a borderless, genre-bending, musical movement.
Sabeerah has worked with Accessible Festivals on the Accessibility+ program in conjunction with GV Black to benefit BIPOC people with disabilities in the live music scene.
She also chatted with our Programs Director, Leah Barron, about her unique perspectives and life experiences during Inclusion Festival ONLINE. You can check out the full conversation on YouTube, or by reading the transcript below:
[SABEERAH] I am twenty seven. I have spina bifida. I DJ for a living. Well, I DJ as a passion because I love DJ’ing. I’m an artist as well. I am affiliated in Soulection which is a collective. Well, it’s not just a DJ collective. It’s a collective of DJs, producers, artists. The list goes on. It’s also a radio show, it’s also its own festival, and show, it’s also a tour. (laughter)
[LEAH] You mentioned that you have spina bifida. Can you share a little bit about what that is?
[SABEERAH] Spina bifida is a birth defect in which your spine doesn’t completely close within the womb, depending on…depending on the level of severity. So it can either be in an upper closure of the spine, or lower closure. And depending on where that closure is, that also determines the severity of your disability. So, for example, if your spinedoesn’t close and the upper part of your spine. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee you won’t be able to walk. It doesn’t completely, you know…deem you into a wheelchair, so for me, I had the lower closure, the lower opening of the spine, so. The surgery itself is what kind of caused my disability. I’ve been in a wheelchair all my life, it’s never really been a thing for you not to say that things were always accessible to me as this was pretty much a learning process for me and my entire family. I was always kind of told that, like, oh, you can do it. Like, you can figure it out. You can do this. We can help you figure it out. Like, let’s just it was I was always… my independence was always pushed whether, you know, it had to be crawling around and getting out of my chair to get to something or climbing something as much as it freaked out my mom and like my grandparents to this day it still does, cuz I was always willing to just kind of push that limit just to see how far I can go. And like what I can do, just to see what my limitations were.
[LEAH] What are your thoughts about inclusion in the music industry?
[SABEERAH] Inclusion for me means everyone, disabled, to able-bodied, however you identify, you’re included and you’re represented. I asked you, yeah, to introduce me as a black female DJ and artist, because those are the things that I represent, being black, being a black woman, being disabled. Both of those things I represent. Not only does representation matter, but so does being present matter. When it comes to inclusion, there are some spaces that say they’re inclusive, but with inclusion comes comfortability and safety. If a space can provide that safety and that comfortability, then that’s real inclusion. For example, like I have like, my friends, a lot of my friends are non-binary, a lot of my friends are trans. If they don’t feel safe within a space that’s supposed to be inclusive, then that’s not inclusion. I think we need to include more safe spaces, you know, a festival, a show is a little overwhelming. Security and protection is important. Maybe if there are people more on alert of things happening and just pretty much really monitoring people, I think if we feel protected, we’ll really feel included. I think as long as people are protected, especially.
[LEAH] It’s interesting that you mentioned the safe space. In thinking about expanding on our ideas, one of our thoughts was to actually create a Sensory Zone, or an Inclusion Zone, that anybody could go to, to take a break if they needed to, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be somebody who is having sensory overload. Somebody might be having a mental health challenge, or they, like you said, might not feel safe because of something that was said, or a conversation that took place. But to be able to have that quiet space to retreat to seems like it’s a really important thing for people.
[SABEERAH] Exactly, someone to speak to within those spaces that, you know, people can go to and say, hey, look, this person that… I overheard this conversation, something was said about me. In this way, I was like that, and like, you know, someone who can just listen and understand and can relate, you know? Relatability is really important. Speaking to someone who can relate, on maybe a multitude of levels, is really important. For example, therapy, speaking to somebody who may be disabled can relate to me more than another therapist that can, you know, that may be able-bodied, because maybe two different kinds of impacts on me, and just kind of creating a welcoming, a welcoming environment. For example, when I first went to a Soulection show, the actual fanbase and, pretty much culture itself, is extremely welcoming. Nothing like I’ve ever experienced, because when I went to a lot of other shows, I always felt like, a little uncomfortable, a little out of place. But when I first went to those shows, it’s a warm environment, and if we can create that with the people experiencing that, from able-bodied, to disabled, to non-binary, to trans, to BIPOC. That’s really important as well. When I first went to those shows, you know, the culture was like, do what you love, these shows are all about love, everybody enjoying and having a great experience with each other. This is about unity. This is about all these things. Pretty much the rules were kind of set before you came in there. Same with AFROPUNK. I’ve had that experience with AFROPUNK, like the rules are already set. So when you get to AFROPUNK, you go in that festival, it’s nothing but love, you know what I mean? And I think if you have those rules set, you can create an environment where, you know, if you know those rules, then all… you have no choice but to just share love, and you share that experience with each other in a positive way.
[LEAH] As you were talking and sharing these great ideas, I was just thinking, as I’ve been having a few of these conversations for Inclusion Festival ONLINE, it seems like as the music and industry takes this time to pause, that it’s really a powerful opportunity to reflect and also that we can continue to have these conversations and co-create this new new normal as we move forward with regards to the music industry and keep these ideas flowing and going, and make sure that people feel really safe, and comfortable, and included.
[SABEERAH] Yeah, exactly. I do feel like there definitely needs to be more BIPOC and disabled people in the industry making rules, creating programs. For me, when it comes to the disabled/BIPOC community, I definitely feel as though we need more representation. And not only do we need representation, we need more speaking power to create these kinds of things, and these kinds of rules, create these kinds of spaces, for not just each other, but everyone. There isn’t, there isn’t enough of us outside of myself. I’m probably know only one other physically-disabled person in the music industry. And he’s an artist. And like, that’s as far as it goes. His name is Ethereal. Really, really, talented artist from Atlanta. And I believe he has spina bifida, like myself. That’s as far as it goes. I don’t see anybody that looks like me who’s an executive in the industry or, you know, so I definitely feel like we need to open up that door.
[LEAH] Absolutely, yeah. Well, I really appreciate you taking this time to have this conversation, and I hope it’s helpful for people, you know, just to hear about some of these things, it’s a very unique perspective within the industry especially. So I hope we can move towards it being more normalized.
[SABEERAH] Absolutely. Absolutely. This HAS to be normalized. There’s so many things that need to be normalized now, and we have so much time now to speak on it and create a normalized conversation, and with the normalized conversation comes a normalized perspective, and then once that perspective becomes normalized, change becomes obvious and necessary then.
[LEAH] You just gave me goosebumps when you said that. Thank you for taking the time and having the conversation, that’s really important, and I really appreciate it very much.
[SABEERAH] Thank you. I really appreciate this conversation.
Sabeerah is pictured wearing an orange scarf and sitting on a light green chair. Her hair is dyed with pink, blue and yellow hues.