In a shifting blur of draped silk — her sari that drifts as she moves to the beat — DJ Zahra keeps her head down and nodding, hands moving gracefully over controls, glancing up once in a while to smile at spinning dancers.
Born in Tanzania to Indian parents, she is Zahra Dhanani: lawyer, activist, mediator, creative educator. And in the moments in-between she is DJ Zahra, the queer glam queen and founder of the trailblazing Funkasia, Toronto’s long-running queer Asian dance night.
Dhanani works as legal director at the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC). On a daily basis, Dhanani is advocating and educating for equal access to justice for women, youth and children at risk of violence.
“I have a lot of pots on the stove! I spend my time travelling across the province training groups on how to serve the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our country. It’s about understanding power and equality, and accessibility of the legal system.”
While Dhanani’s work may run the spectrum of seriousness, the lawyer-activist knows how to do it up, cut loose and party. And this is where she claims the title glam queen.
Dhanani giggles, explaining unabashedly her enthusiasm for lipstick, and a wardrobe full of vibrant, beautiful saris.
“I love bling! I’m a product of Bollywood, the Indian film industry. The Bollywood films have thoroughly informed my personality. Yes, I’m a social justice activist. But I’m a social justice activist that loves makeup and creativity. Everything from home decor to creative fashion.”
Dhanani comes to Ottawa for a youth leadership conference with Jer’s Vision as the keynote speaker on March 7. Later that night, Dhanani will slip into DJ Zahra mode, kick back and spin with Jas Nasty at the East African Restaurant. And yet for Dhanani, this is not departure from her activism. She considers even her music to be a form of cultural advocacy.
Dhanani speaks emphatically, emphasizing the meaning of her words with impassioned rhythm.
“I am inspired to creativity, but only with meaning! Even as a public speaker, when I speak I engage the youth in music and dancing. In the end it’s all about social change. And even my music reflects a commitment.”
Tag: Zahra will DJ a night of Bhangra, East Indian, and dancehall reggae Mar 7 at the East African Restaurant (376 Rideau) and featuring Ottawa’s Jas Nasty.