International Women's Day | Vanessa Maria

3 years ago we labelled Vanessa Maria one of the most important young voices in music. This International Women's Day we're here to celebrate the DJ, presenter and host proving us right.

International Women's Day, a global holiday birthed as a call to action to greater gender equity, women’s rights and ultimately an applause for the achievements of women. This year’s IWD we celebrate #EmbraceEquity, a discussion of why equal opportunities are insufficient and how we can provide resources to fit people’s needs. We had the utmost pleasure to pick East London-born Vanessa Maria’s brain on her position as a woman and her outlook on the music industry. Vanessa takes the ‘DJ’ title and completely flips it on its head. A multi-faceted woman who’s incorporated her hardship and struggles with music to result into incredible success. She impeccably utilised social media platforms. Through her TikTok presence where you’ll witness a wide-verse of topics discussed. Commonly stemming in music, for instance sharing her concerns with financial stability as a D.J. and sharing advice regarding entering the creative industry. There’s some non-music discrepancies atween, like sharing her dewy skin secrets and developing a ‘mindset for success’, despite age.

Typical British gloom occupies the atmosphere, as I abode in the homely comfort of Sazzy & Fran in Bethnal Green, impatiently poised. Nerves rattling goosebumps, then only to be soothed immediately by Vanessa’s attendance. Unequivocally warm, Vanessa bubbles as she dives into divergent topics of with myself, Martyn and Sarai. It could be argued we solved every current controversy trending on your Twitter feed. Personally, as a woman and a creative creaking the door into the industry, this conversation transpired any material currency and was wealth for my mind.

Who will you be celebrating this International Women's Day?

bell hooks, I love her so much and honestly she has got  me through some  of the hardest hurdles and lessons in life. I think about her words and   her refreshing outlook on life, love and relationships. Love for example, has been something I have not only carried in my interpersonal relationships, like romantic and platonic but also how I navigate my career, my personal life, my professional life and family life. Her outlook has transformed my life. I think that is someone who I will always hold dear to my heart. I think All About Love and The Will To Change have made me look differently at how I live my life, relate to people and the reasons why I am working in music. I want to use music and  my platform to connect with people in the most loving way possible.  I’ve always found community to be the best way to connect, it can be full of love, belonging and acceptance when done the right way. This is particularly important for women in music and female DJs, surrounding yourself with supportive women is so empowering.

You spoke as a "female DJ", do you think you are breaking any stereotypes?

You know what, there are so many women in the game who have come before me and are doing the same things as me and much more. Annie Mac is an absolute legend and everyone in between who has been breaking down barriers is incredible. From Tiffany Calver to Shy One, Sherelle to Helena Star, this list goes on and on and on. I feel like I’m not doing anything particularly different in terms of being a DJ, I’m just being myself.   What’s interesting  is that some of the experiences I am having are similar to some of the experiences that women had as DJs years ago. It just shows how much is left to be done despite the changes already made, it’s the same sh** on a different day. Last Friday, I was moderating a panel for the Lady of the House at the AVA conference. It was looking at the past, the present and the future of women in dance music. It was fascinating , an amazing woman called Lynn Cosgrove was sharing her experiences. She actually founded Ministry Of Sound Saturdays and was the first and youngest Female Vice President to sit on the board of directors at Sony UK.. She literally brought house music to the U.K. and is an absolute don. 

 Lynn had the same clubbing experiences as AmyElle , who is a new upcoming DJ and Producer. They shared a lot of experiences about feeling lonely on the dance floor and how it was quite an isolating experience being a woman in nightlife. There is almost a  forty year gap between them but their experiences are so similar and I guess that's why we're still sitting on panels today. There’s so much work to be done, things have changed but I personally feel like until we’re just saying DJs and not female DJs, there’s still an issue.

Why should women want to pursue this industry, if these experiences still exist?

If you are passionate about something, do it. You LITERALLY only have one life to live and you want to make sure that you make decisions that honour who you are as a person, what you care about whether it’s DJing or being a tree surgeon. I have been in situations where I am like you know what I’m just gonna do this thing, but it’s been in conflict with who I was. I experienced that in the music business side of things and I was like this is actually not who I am. It takes a lot of courage and opportunity to leave these positions. It is not a viable option for everyone and that’s an honest truth. If you can and are able to access a space where you are creatively free and honours who you are , do it irrespective of the doubts you might have around you or if you are capable. You’re capable if you believe in it and I do think if you work hard and have opportunities, there’s people who will sponsor you, coach you and mentor you. There will be people who talk about you in rooms you aren't even in. That’s very powerful. So if there is anyone having doubts or if anyone wants to make a space for themselves in a certain industry, I think you’ve got to think about what you want to do and then think about the support systems you need to put in place.

How comes you continue to put yourself out there and preach your experiences alongside your work?

Be the change you want to see! Change is always like a grassroots sort of thing to me. But I do think it needs to be coupled up with an institutional force to make waves. When I think about mental health and wellbeing, especially in the music space we need more senior people, institutions, and companies, to start taking responsibility. I think decisions need to be made around restructuring policies, especially for the often toxic working cultures people find themselves in. Then just the industry in general, needs to change. As much as people are open, like myself talking about how it is hard to navigate, we are still in the same working environment. We’re burnt out. People aren’t getting paid enough. We are in a cost of living crisis. Corporations need to put their money where their mouth is and start supporting the people who need it most, starting off with all marginalised communities.

To specify, by "we" you mean general people?

Yeah, general people !

Moving forward this year and the next couple of years, what sort of policy changes are we making? What work are we doing in the back end of boardrooms that is, let's be real, boring and unsexy but probably going to have the most impact on everyday life? Writing reports and collecting data is not luxurious but it has weight- just check out all the work Black Lives in Music are doing! Posting on social media is great but it’s going to be the mundane tasks that we don’t post that will create the changes we want to see.

So benefitting the common person?

Point, Periodt, Purrrr

Follow Vanessa on Instagram & TikTok

Article by Ness Williams

Creative direction and styling by Sarai Pinney

Photography by Martyn Ewoma


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