“I love a challenge. Nothing’s going to stop me from going into a male-dominated field.”
Tezrah is speaking of her successful career as a DJ. She recalls that at some gigs, while loading in her equipment, she’s been asked, “Are you the DJ?”
“Yes, just watch me play,” she laughs. “I don’t mind being the underdog, because then there’s lowered expectations, and you just blow all the expectations away. You disprove any preconceived notion in their heads.”
Talking via Zoom from her home in Fairfax, Virginia, Tezrah is candid, engaging and frankly, a little restless. She’s been busy during the pandemic doing virtual gigs, working on musical production, playing Fortnite with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s daughter, training a six-month hound mix puppy, trading stocks, and as the weather warms up, doing more yard work.
It’s obvious that Tezrah, who was DJing multiple nights a week pre-pandemic, cannot wait to have her nights as busy as her days again. The journey to becoming one of D.C.’s most in-demand DJs has been circuitous, because Tezrah is a multi-hyphenated threat: a formally trained pianist and semi-pro soccer pick with academic training in neuroscience and design. These diverse experiences helped her discover her eventual vocation and inform her approaches to spinning.
After graduating from the College of William & Mary with a pre-med degree in neuroscience, she found herself at a professional and personal crossroads. A college athlete on a competitive scholarship and a lifelong soccer player, she tried out for the Washington Spirit and was the last cut from the roster. Offered a possible position on the semi-pro team, Tezrah points out the pay for women’s professional and semi-professional athletic teams is inequitable and difficult to live on.
Because she had played since she was five years old, it was not until adulthood that she thought about how the world of sports offers more prestige and money based on gender. But now she was facing that reality.
“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made in my life to quit and just play recreationally,” she admits. “A couple of factors went into my decision to stop playing. And then I had DJing on the side, and it just kept growing and growing. I love music and I love meeting people through DJing. I love making people happy and getting them on the dance floor and partying. So, it was a dream.”
Eventually, her skills were renowned enough that she became the resident DJ of glittHER, a popular monthly queer and lesbian party in D.C. that ran for three years. glittHER ended in July 2016 and Tezrah founded her own spinoff party, WhiskHER DC, the following year. Since then, she’s been in constant demand, playing at clubs across the area, performing halftime shows for the Washington Mystics in 2019, and being voted Best DJ by the Washington Blade in 2017 and 2018.
She admits, however, that despite her rampant success, she felt like an outlier in an exclusive boys’ club early on. There may be more visibility than ever on the DJ platform, but a 2019 djanemag.com survey points out that in the top 150 EDM clubs, the percentage of female DJs performing is just 6%.
The stats are more dire when we look for the number of DJs who are women of color, queer, trans or nonbinary. A New York Times article from April pointed out the erasure of lesbian bars across the nation. Only some closures are pandemic fallouts.
The Lesbian Bar Project counted only 19 surviving bars serving marginalized genders including queer women, nonbinary folx and trans men. In the District, A League of Her Own in Adams Morgan serves as the city’s sole lesbian/queer bar.
“I know women, nonbinary and trans DJs who are just extraordinary in the field,” she says. “They are very independent. They’re entrepreneurs.”
DJ Tezrah shares that some of her favorite DJs are DJ MIM, the Baltimore-based Vodkatrina, CYD, Vanniety Kills, Neekola, Lisa Frank, DJ KB, Jai Syncere and Farrah Flosscett. These are her collaborators and supporters.
They contact each other when there are new opportunities and venues. They come out for each other’s sets. Tezrah is grateful for the support and interconnectedness of the LGBTQ+ DJ community that has helped her thrive and flourish in her vocation.
Tezrah’s musical sensibilities — impeccably remixing Top 40, hip-hop, R&B, electronic dance music, and ‘80s and ‘90s pop and dance into an irresistible, infectious groove — have made her popular across the region, but she knows the importance of representing and working within the community by performing at LGBTQ+ clubs and bars.
“If you’re a queer woman, trans or nonbinary, there aren’t many places to go to. So, these bars are safe spaces, and we just have to go out and support them [and] be present at their events. That’s really the only way to do it.”
In addition to booking dates for upcoming gigs, and (fingers crossed) Pride Month events, Tezrah is working on her first album. She’s hoping to get back into the studio soon and wants to produce “a kickass dance song about making up for lost time.”
“I’ve always been obsessed with music, but I think a lot of people are. I made playlists in college. I made warmup CDs for my soccer team in college as well. So, it just all built up to DJing.” We asked Tezrah to create a mix CD on the spot with a series of prompts. Check out her tracks below.
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!
“Waiting All Night” by Rudimental ft. Ella Eyre
“Boss Bitch” by Doja Cat
“All That She Wants” by Ace of Base
“Back to Black” by Beyoncé with André 3000
Get People on the Dance Floor
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston
“Hallucinate” by Dua Lipa
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
End of the Night
“We Found Love” by Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris
If the Clubs Open Tomorrow
“September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
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