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  • Writer's pictureUrsula Vari

Valida: Beats, Films, Activism – A Bosnian-American DJ’s Unyielding Stand for Palestinian Rights



March 2, 2024, Downtown Los Angeles

Words and Photos by Ursula Vari


At a time when Pro-Palestinian voices are silenced, when the few celebrities who dared stand up for the people of Palestine were fired from their jobs, dumped by their agents, or doxed, when standing up for justice and the rights of the Palestinian people is deemed antisemitic, there are still those brave souls who fearlessly use their platforms to amplify the cause of a Free Palestine and to show the world the truth about the 75-year occupation and the ongoing genocide. Valida Carroll is one of those voices.

 

A music producer and DJ who also holds an MA in Dance Ethnography from UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Department, many know Valida from her signature  KCRW (89.9FM) show, where she has been an on-air Music host since 2010. While working on her MA thesis music documentary film, Concentric Beats, Valida honed her mixing skills and soon earned her place in LA’s nightlife by throwing underground parties and DJing at high-profile events for the likes of Justin Timberlake, Lisa Bonet, Jason Momoa, Flo Rida, Sandra Bullock, and many in the spotlight. She was also featured at SXSW and prominent clubs globally in Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Hong Kong, Mexico, Tokyo, San Salvador, Puerto Rico, and her native Sarajevo.


Valida performing at Aviator Nation, Malibu. Photo by Vanessa DiPersia

She fondly recalls her time curating and deejaying Desert Nights, the highly successful and intimate evening of live music at the Standard Hollywood that brought back the sounds of the 60s’ Laurel Canyon music scene. Her talent and love for music continued to evolve through her remixes for Jenny O, Foster the People, as well as her original compositions. Her self-produced debut EP,  Mixed Signals was released in 2021 garnering almost half a million streams on Spotify. Her career highlights also include Colors Remix, her beauty line of vegan organic lip and cheek tints.

 

“Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer” Valida states on her Instagram profile and if you dive deep into her stories and posts you can feel her passion for justice. What struck me the most about Valida was her straightforwardness and “no-bullshit” attitude. As a Bosnian, Valida knows oppression and ethnic cleansing. She knows genocide. Her whole existence has been permeated by the murders of her maternal grandfather and great-grandfather by Serbian nationalists. Under President Tito’s brand of socialism and communism and the centralized party's mission to create a sense of cohesion and identity throughout a newly unified Yugoslavia by denouncing ethnic divisions, nationalism, and religion, Valida, like many Bosnians who were born post-1945, grew up in a society devoid of public religious rites. “The emphasis was on brotherhood and unity amongst all people. Religion was seen as archaic, divisive, and unproductive in nation-building” Valida remembers.  

 

Once a de-facto refugee, she has seen the world, she has seen the best and the worst of humanity, yet she continues with her relentless activism, risking her career and everything she had worked hard for through the years.


Valida with her mother, Sabiha in Los Angeles, February 10, 2024

Valida’s passion for social justice was ignited early in childhood. Born in the small town of Gorazde, in Bosnia and Herzegovina (at the time Yugoslavia). Her mother, Sabiha worked as a journalist and was an activist who fought fiercely for women’s rights and protections. Her mother’s activism was awakened when her prominent community organizer father was killed by Serb nationalists in the mid-50s when she was only 7 years old, leaving behind her mother and her two younger siblings in a post-WW2 ravaged Bosnia. Sabiha went on to become the managing director at  Radio Gorazde and eventually became a journalist who got to meet and interview the late Yasser Arafat of the PLO on several occasions. Valida’s father was second in command at Gorazde’s state-owned Pobjeda manufacturing plant - a subsidiary of UNIS - one of Yugoslavia's biggest conglomerates. Throughout her childhood, she felt the presence of simmering ethnic tensions between Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats.

 

Valida at the Baghdad International School circa 1987

Valida’s family relocated to Baghdad in the mid-80s. Her father was sent to represent UNIS in the region, and her mother was a war correspondent for the Sarajevo TV and Radio, regularly sending reports on the Iraq/Iran conflict. Arriving at the bustling metropolis with its “wide boulevards and palm trees” from her small town was at first a “culture shock,” but soon, Valida found herself immersed in deep friendships at the Baghdad International School with youth from Italy, Korea, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, US, India, Iceland, Sweden, and many other countries. After her father’s assignment ended, the family moved back to Bosnia, but this time to Sarajevo. Valida enrolled in Sarajevo's First Gymnasium, a high school specializing in languages and linguistics. Still, she had difficulty fitting in. “I was too Americanized and most girls shunned me” she recalls. She found refuge in music and reminisced about her time in Baghdad. In 1991, not long after she graduated high school, the Yugoslav National Army -which then became the Serbian Army- bombed the neighboring Dubrovnik.  Understanding the looming danger, Valida's parents decided that she and her sister would soon join their mother in the Middle East, where she lived at that time, until the political situation improved.


Pershing Square, Los Angeles, January 6, 2024,

The ethnic and religious tensions in Sarajevo continued to escalate and in September 1991, Valida and her sister boarded a plane to Istanbul. The final destination was Riyadh, where her mother and stepfather worked. However, they were never granted a Saudi visa. After a few weeks, her mother and stepfather relocated to neighboring Oman, where Valida and her sister were granted entry. “We never thought we would need to stay in Oman for more than three months,” Valida says. Having enrolled in the Sarajevo School of Philosophy, she planned to return to Sarajevo to finish her exams there in December. Her father remained in Sarajevo and urged patience. However, the situation spiraled, days after the majority in the Bosnian parliament, comprised of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, voted for the referendum to secede from Yugoslavia which was boycotted by Bosnian Serbs. Backed by the Yugoslav People’s Army, the Bosnian Serbs launched an attack on Eastern Bosnia and placed Sarajevo under siege on April 5, 1992. Within days the war spread through most of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region succumbed to the worst violence Europe had seen since the end of WW2. It was estimated that over 100,000 people were killed during the conflict between 1992 and 1995 and around 2 million people were displaced. To this day the delayed UN intervention and the lack of world powers to end the bloodshed and lift the siege of Sarajevo continues to be a source of scrutiny and debate.

 

The mass killings and other atrocities committed against the civilian population by the paramilitary Bosnian Serb forces were helped by troops from greater Serbia. The Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were summarily executed over the course of three days, was eventually deemed a war crime and genocide by the UN.


Valida and Lawrence Sanchez in Westwood, January 12, 2024

Valida's arrival in Los Angeles marked a new chapter and a deep dive into LA’s underground culture and music scene. “Inspiration was everywhere in LA”. Convinced that talent, drive, and surrounding herself with aligned people, in a nurturing community could lead to a “respectable" career in music, Valida bought her turntables in the spring of 1997. After spending two years at Santa Monica College,  she transferred to UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures Program. 

 

Having seen the infamous Barbara Walters 20/20 special, Valida became hellbent on finding a way to connect academia to the underground house music scene and club-culture, legitimizing raves by giving them cultural merit. Her mission culminated in a 30-member  multi-media theater performance that she co-produced and received funding for, which brought to life the meaning of raves and their ability to galvanize the community through dance. 


Valida and artist Chloe Fuller, March 2, 20224

The prolific period continued to unfold with Valida’s undergraduate thesis project, Youth of Sarajevo: After the Aftermath - a documentary film about the Bosnian war. Her curiosity and drive for story-telling were unstoppable. She continued with her graduate studies by winning a highly competitive Pew Charitable Trusts Fellowship, which provided the training and funds for her tour-de-force Concentric Beats, a documentary film about dance culture in America. She was living her dream. Making art and music became a full-time endeavor. Her hard work finally bore fruit. She was headlining LA’s popular underground clubs, and high-profile private events and secured several residencies across LA’s rich nightlife space. By the time KCRW reached out to her in 2007, Valida was a household name in the Los Angeles nightlife circuit. “It wasn’t the right fit at first” she recalls, when asked about joining the station ranks. "The sound they were looking for was “ eclectic", and at the time, I was deeply rooted in LA’s DJ culture and electronic music and didn’t see myself compromising my sound.” However, a few years later, after launching her weekly live music series Desert Nights at the Standard Hollywood -an homage to 60s and 70s legendary Laurel Canyon counterculture- she saw her music direction expand. In 2010 she joined the KCRW DJ roster. In the same year, she began taking music production classes. After a few notable remixes, 2012 saw the release of her debut composition, Mine To Take, which landed syncs on a couple of TV shows. The pandemic moved Desert Nights online. In August 2020, she celebrated 10 years with the successful music venture. Valida continued to immerse herself in producing and engineering her tracks at her home studio, eventually releasing her first EP Mixed Signals in 2021. She still maintains a presence on KCRW and continues to work on her vegan, hand-made organic beauty line Colors Remix. 

 

I first met Valida sometime in 2021, during a brief encounter at one of her music events. The next time I saw her was in the crowd of thousands of voices demanding a Free Palestine at Downtown LA’s Pershing Square. Statuesque and with her eyes filled with passion and the pain of shattered humanity, she screamed for justice. On her social media account, she is unapologetic and even ruthless when speaking truth to power. A woman who is not afraid, a woman who is at every protest, who often doesn’t sleep because of how involved she is in the movement even behind the scenes. “This is what I have to do, I can not “not” do it,” she admits. Sabiha, her mother joined her at several of the protests and I saw two generations of the strongest of women roaring for Palestine. When after an action we walked back to our cars in the middle of Beverly Hills, a couple of Zionist men began hackling us. “Do you even speak Arabic?” one of them yelled from their car. Valida stopped and roared back in fluent Arabic fiercely lecturing the sorry fellows, who widened their eyes and hastily rolled up their windows in disbelief and shame. They picked the wrong woman to bully and disrespect. I sat down with Valida over the course of a few days to hear about her life, her humanity, and her activism. Here is what I've learned.


Los Angeles, Mach 2, 2024

 What has your experience been like speaking up for Palestine?

 

 I started speaking up for Palestine shortly after arriving in Los Angeles. My godmother was a member of Jewish Voice For Peace, and she introduced me to this wonderful organization in the late 90s or early 2001. I remember going to pro-Palestinian protests with her. I didn’t associate anything negative about it until I started posting it on social media. First, it was on Myspace, where a few "well-meaning” colleagues from the music industry tried to “educate” me on the issue. Then, I learned that many in the music industry didn’t share my views. This became more apparent in the recent escalations, mainly in 2021 when I voiced my sentiments on Instagram and more recently when October 7 happened.

 

How did being vocal about  Palestinian liberation affect your ability to get work? 

 

Being vocal about Palestinian liberation is the most efficient and effective way of discovering someone’s values and ethics. This could be an organization or a person. In general, speaking about Palestinian rights is, by and large, the most taboo issue one can speak on. Palestinian erasure and denial of the most basic human rights are so entrenched in our society that even opening up the discussion can be viewed as antisemitic, which is pretty wild. My employers have asked me not to discuss this topic on social media. I have been denied opportunities due to not following company directives. I have also been passed on by booking agents and event planners because of my views regarding Palestinian liberation. 

 

Do you see any similarities between the Bosnian war and what is happening in Gaza today? 

 

There are many similarities when it comes to the Bosnian and Palestinian genocides. However, what is happening to Gaza is destruction on a whole new level. During the Bosnian War 1992-1995, the UN Security Council imposed a no-fly zone. There were no indiscriminate bombings and fighter jets. There were tanks and shelling and an arms embargo that was imposed on us, but mercifully, there were at least no fighter jets dropping 2000-pound bombs on defenseless civilians. But the war of starvation, summary executions, sexual violence, civilian tortures, and lack of food, electricity, and running water were also present during the Bosnian aggression.

 

For anyone afraid to speak up for Palestine due to potential retribution, what is your message to them? 

 

I understand that people are weary of speaking up. I was too. For many years. It’s not just a loss of opportunities. It’s also the loss of friendships. Not everyone is on the same journey, and you must be ready to lose some people and opportunities. But ultimately, there comes a time when the need and desire to speak up becomes intolerable, and remaining silent cuts at the very core of our humanity. I think a situation in which our taxes are supporting dozens of children being killed daily is such a time. 

 

Your grandparents were devout Muslims in Bosnia. What were the challenges of practicing their faith in your home country? 

 

Yes, my grandparents on both sides were Muslim. I don’t think they found it too challenging because Islam is about modesty and not boasting about your religion. They prayed privately, went to the mosque on special days, and observed all the traditions. Religion wasn’t forbidden per se. People still celebrated religious holidays, but it was done in the privacy of your home and not in a public setting. 

 

You have a very strong relationship with your mother. How has her advocacy for a free Palestine and her meeting with Yasser Arafat affected you? 

 

I have a strong relationship with my parents, but the two couldn’t be more opposite regarding advocacy. My father is more of a “do more, talk less” person who keeps to himself, and my mom is the do more and talk more kind of person. During our Baghdad years, she met PLO’s Yasser Arafat and interviewed him for a Yugoslav daily newspaper. They subsequently met two more times after that in the next 10-15 years before he was assassinated. She also met and interviewed Abu Iyad, the PLO's second in command. I didn’t give it much thought or importance at the time because I was too young. In retrospect, and as I grew older, I think it was incredible that she got to do that. 

 

What have you found to be the most effective way to advocate for our Palestinian brothers and sisters? 

 

Every action counts. At this point, after the world has consistently ignored the plight of Palestinians, starting with the 1948 Nakba and the constant attempts of their erasure, showing solidarity in any way we can is a big deal. Amplifying their voices across social media is a great way to show allyship, going to protests and community events, calling your representatives, donating to Palestinian causes, supporting Palestinian businesses, advocating for inclusion, creating art, engaging in direct action, supporting the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment) movement, wearing keffiyehs in public, there are so many ways. Sometimes, it’s just being there, holding space so that we can cry together, making sure they feel seen and heard.

 

What does your advocacy entail aside from attending the actions and protests?

 

With my background in arts and media, one of the ways I can be most impactful is to challenge the official narrative and resist falling in line. I must point to the double standards of American and European “liberals" who tout human rights, feminism, and animal rights but fall short when those same standards are applied to the Palestinians. Two pretty spot-on acronyms describe this phenomenon: PEP (Progressives except for Palestine) and FEP (Feminists except for Palestine).

 

During your time in Baghdad, what memory stands out the most? 

 

Baghdad holds so many special memories. I don’t know where to begin.  It was a magical place. What made it so special was that it was so different from my hometown, Gorazde. Baghdad was so massive in size. The air was hot and desert dry. It had these beautiful and colorful street markets with shiny, glittering storefronts. It was a bustling place with people everywhere. When I think of Baghdad, I think of my school, The Baghdad International School. I think of music and Majda Rumi on TV. I think of my friends and the mix of cultures and home parties. I think of delicious Middle Eastern food, especially Lebanese food. I think of singing Christmas Carols at the Al Rashid and Babylon hotels and the Shakespeare School Theater performances. There are so many things I still hold on to. Baghdad truly is a magical place.

 

What was your first-ever protest?

 

I remember a pro-Bosnian protest at the Federal Building in Westwood either in 1994 or 1995. I also remember a “Right to Dance” protest there in 1998. My first pro-Pal protest was also in the late 90s at the Federal building

 

What do you feel is the most challenging aspect when advocating for Palestine?

 

One of the more significant challenges we will inevitably encounter when advocating for Palestinian rights is the lack of more robust institutional support. Advocating for Palestinian rights is often met with pushback because the pro-Israel lobby by AIPAC is so powerful in the United States that they have hijacked most of our legacy media outlets. They also work in tandem with ADL (Anti-Defamation League), which often conflates the issue of advocating for Palestinian rights with antisemitism. This leads to a frustrating outcome that even voicing a benign "Palestinians deserve equal human rights” can be met with stark criticism by the very institutions whose job it is to protect ALL human rights. It’s maddening, the double standard.

 

We often feel helpless and overwhelmed, because the call for a permanent ceasefire and a free Palestine is not getting through to our statesmen and stateswomen. How do you process the frustration, helplessness, rage, and sense of powerlessness during these times?

 

I channel my frustration and helplessness into direct action. We started to organize shortly after the bombardment of Gaza began in October. We understood immediately that the Israeli response to the October 7th events would be brutal, and as is always the case, vastly disproportionate, and we needed all hands on deck. We meet weekly in different circles and action pods online and in person. We march, call our representatives, amplify Palestinian social media accounts, and support Palestinian businesses. There are many ways to join resistance actions in the diaspora.

 

In addition to music, you have a great passion for making movies and have produced and directed several projects. What was your experience like directing Concentric Beats?

 

Concentric Beats was my love letter and protest song for a dance music movement I was passionate about. When I set out to create Concentric Beats, it was at a time when I saw the music and culture around jungle music changing. The music was getting increasingly darker, formulaic, and losing its reggae, soul, and jazz roots which initially made me fall in love with this unique subgenre of electronic dance music. The parties were mirroring the music and were starting to feel increasingly homogenized in terms of audiences. The playfulness and fun that initially sparked my interest was slowly disappearing and people started to feel too serious and self-important. For me, the film was a cry for help. I eventually started to frequent drum and bass parties less because of this. I craved a more eclectic sound and feel. In 2001, I started my weekly event, Proper, which regularly featured jungle/drum’n’bass DJs, but it wasn’t the only type of music featured.

 

What was the most challenging part of turning your passion for music into a career and how did you overcome it?

 

Taking a year off between my sophomore and junior years was probably the best thing I ever did to solidify my desire and overcome my fears of making music a central part of my life. It offered a much-needed pause to take stock of my life thus far. It allowed me to process who I’d become as a direct consequence of moving around so much in the second decade of my life. When I took that pause, I realized that music had to play a leading role in my life, not just because I loved it so much but because it seemed a practical option in Los Angeles. There were people around me who were fast becoming role models. People who were within reach. Even though I knew I had to get my degree, I made sure I was growing my network and presence outside UCLA’s walls just as much as from the inside.

 

What do you see as the role of radio stations when it comes to social justice advocacy? What do you wish they would do differently?

 

American radio stations, for the most part, are designed to maintain the status quo. They serve the advertisers, the big donors, and their agenda. Even smaller public stations are not immune. They may not be selling ads like commercial radio stations, but underwriting is a big part of fundraising, which is essentially advertising. Except for a few, most radio stations actively participate in the political messaging of our advertisers and big donors. 

 

Who are the people, your heroes that inspired you the most, and the ones you look up to?

 

I am inspired by everyone who dares to act and speak up on this. My Palestinian friends who have had to endure unfair treatment and suffer in silence with their disenfranchised pain but somehow still carry on and find joy inspire me profoundly. My Jewish friends who have joined JVP and IfNotNow and stand shoulder to shoulder with their Palestinian brothers and sisters in fighting for a Free Palestine and equal rights for all are a huge inspiration. There are also several BLM activists that I have been following on social media who have been a massive source of inspiration, and then other artists, musicians, and DJs. There are so many people from all walks of life who are coming together and demanding an end to the apartheid in Occupied Palestine. It’s incredible to see. And finally, and most importantly, the Palestinian people and the resistance in Gaza and the West Bank and other parts of Occupied Palestine who, with their courage and steadfastness, in the face of such brutal oppression and aggression, are showing the world what it means to love your people, your culture, and your land. I am in awe of their strength and resilience.


Pershing Square, Los Angeles , November 25, 2023

For Boycott-Divest-Sanction information visit the BDS page

To find protest in your area, please visit this page.

For actions in the Los Angeles area check Palestinian Youth Movement.

A grassroots initiative to disrupt media complicity in war crimes: Unmute Humanity


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