Island Hoppers: DJ Umar

Umar Ziyad or as he’s popularly known, DJ Umar, has been performing since the mid-90s and has witnessed the growth and evolution of the profession in the country. Today, as part of our continuing Island Hoppers series, which focusses on the lives of those who spend their days hopping between resorts, DJ Umar shares some of his thoughts and insights into the craft, the resort market, and the local DJ scene.

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HM: Firstly, how did you get into the business?

DJ-Umar: It wasn’t really planned. I was really into music even at a young age, and while I was studying abroad in Sri Lanka I really got into the club scene. Back home, I played around with tapes, and later did some house parties. Then I was asked to do a gig every night in Bandos for a fortnight. They had a proper DJ console and everything there. That was my first real foray into DJ-ing, really. I was quite young at the time too, about 18 years of age.

HM: What sort of music do you play or prefer?

DJ-Umar: I have an eclectic sensibility as far as music is concerned. I like wide spectrum of musical genres, including reggae, pop, rock, soul, R&B. And music from different eras. You get the picture. Also when you perform in a resort you have to bear in mind that you’re catering to a large demographic; there will be young people, there will be elderly couples, and people from different countries and backgrounds. So it helps to know different kinds of music. It’s easier now than it ever was; in my day, you didn’t have access to charts or anything, you had to get information second hand.

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HM: How has the DJ scene in the resorts changed over the years?

DJ-Umar: It used to be much more relaxed, some resorts had a very festive atmosphere, a good party scene. Everyone would join in, even the staff and management. Those days are behind us now; resorts are more business-like and so DJ’s have to be more professional. Also some resorts have resident DJs now, and you didn’t have that choice ten, or fifteen years ago. There are changes music wise as well, some places prefer ‘chillout’ and milder versions of house music to the stuff old school DJs did.

HM: What is it like performing at a resort?

DJ-Umar: It’s no picnic really. Your target is to entertain a group of people, from various backgrounds, nations and cultures; with different musical sensibilities. When you’re able to read the crowd and live up to their expectations, that’s a great thing. That’s what this is about. But some people get too caught up with what they want, rather than what the audience wants. They may only do a particular type of music. That’s well and good but resorts here are not like clubs abroad where you can pick and choose the kind of music that you’d want to hear by going to particular venues. The resort is a single venue and it has to cater to people with different sensibilities. So you need to have more variety in my opinion.

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HM: What do you think is the biggest challenge to people getting into this line of work?

DJ-Umar: Well, it takes skill and patience and a bit of money to get your equipment. To do your own gig you’d need a small investment, and sometimes that proves a bit hard for people fresh out of music school. Also you don’t just get gigs, you have to build a reputation, start small, doing gigs at cafes and parties and so forth. It takes time, so you need to persevere and be patient. You don’t become a resort DJ overnight.

HM: Do you think young people can make a living out of this? Is there enough demand?

DJ-Umar: Of course! It’s more lucrative than many other avenues. And with more resorts cropping up you’d obviously have more demand. It’s been increasing over the years. There isn’t enough local talent to meet this demand. My company UBER EVENTS AND ARTISTS MANAGEMENT conducts a two week workshop for people wanting to get into the field, but we haven’t been able to fill that gap. We need to consider involving the atolls too, because it would be easier for both DJs and resorts if the talent was based in the same atoll or region.

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HM: Do you have a word of advice for aspiring DJs?

DJ-Umar: I’d tell them to do it only if they are really passionate about it. It’s not just something you’d do for the ‘DJ’ title, it’s your life. You also have to be disciplined. You have to be serious and focussed. If you have these qualities you’re bound to succeed.