We catch up with the German-born, Afghan DJ who has made waves in Hong Kong not only with her blistering sets but with her generous philanthropy
By Graham Turner|
Many would consider a set at Clockenflap to be the crowning achievement of any Hong Kong-based DJ. But Yelda Ali, aka Y3LDA, has made our city a base to not only deliver her unique sets – a delightful blend of hip-house, alternative RnB, nu-disco and trap – but for her altruistic agenda, planting the seeds for actionable change in the city. Time for a chat.
Your background’s unusual, so how do you like to introduce yourself? I’d like to consider myself a freedom fighter, entirely unrelated to region. My purpose is to ensure I, and those who cross my path, believe they are enough and can live exactly as who they are. This entails not having to conform to societal or familial expectations which is often a fight, as many of us well know.
What kind of music do you spin? Bass is incredibly important to me. If the bass is kickin’, whether it’s disco, hip-hop or deep house, I’m likely adding it to my Serato software.
You also run Camel Assembly, tell us about that...
Camel Assembly is an international community of creative female leaders who gather to make change. It started as a brunch amongst my girlfriends and I in New York City, and was based on an organic culture of collaboration over competition. We came together to exercise our creative muscles and make change – we launched internationally in Hong Kong in 2016 with that same intent. After seeing the global relevance of these traits, we’ve launched in seven cities across the world, led by some of the most inspirational leaders I’ve been blessed to call my sisters.
What projects do you have coming up? I'm currently wrapping up my #DAMSELINDISBOOTH tour, which has spanned from Hong Kong and India to Nairobi and Dubai. Once I get home, to NYC, I will be in post-production for a project I've been working on for the past four months, spanning nine cities and four continents. Mentality takes a local lens on a global epidemic: mental health. I’ve been interviewing local residents and making music with local artists, forming the sound of each city's ‘mentality’.
Any thoughts on the Hong Kong scene in general?
Be willing to try something new, be active in pursuit of new music and homegrown creativity, and support the artists you believe in. There’s new talent coming out daily so there’s no reason to have music from 2004 on repeat, at least not solely. In global terms: Women are gaining ground, but we all – DJs and audiences alike – need to value talent more than anything else.
Any tips for others in the industry?
It’s important to break down barriers between audience and performer – whether it’s the type of music you're playing or how you create loyal communities. Building a following on the ground has been a huge asset to my DJ journey; I wouldn't be able to tour internationally if I was waiting for a promoter to book me, or waiting for a social media following to validate my talents. I owe a lot of my journey to having real people in the real world support me, show up for my gigs and engage with me on a personal level. You can't recreate in-person connection – scrolling your days away will kill you.
Lastly, is there somewhere people can go to find out more/listen to your mixes etc? My favorite platform as a DJ, Audiomack.