You either love or hate Soraya Allam. One of Thailand's hardest working female deejays acknowledges that fact without qualms. Soraya, better known as DJ Cleo P, is definitely out there. At a superficial glance, she can be viewed as brash, loud and all over the place, but if you take the time to get to know her, it's inevitable you'll fall in love with her wild shenanigans, honesty and lust for life.
Photo courtesy of SORAYA ALLAM
"People can say whatever they want about me, or they can gossip behind my back. I don't really care. I've always been this way, and I know that I'm staying true to myself so the haters don't really matter to me," she says.
A mix of Thai, Iranian and English, Soraya is an exotic beauty in her own right. She knows that part of her popularity in the deejay world also comes from her looks and the way she dresses. Covered in tattoos, Soraya often wears revealing clothes that flaunt her toned body and honey-coloured skin, invoking a raw, tough sex appeal.
Not only fully booked for club events and fashion parties - from Versace and Loewe to H&M - Soraya, the only female deejay in the revered Bangkok Invaders crew, is also making a name for herself in neighbouring countries, especially Malaysia where she deejays at least once a month.
"All the things I've done, I think that I can express my individuality the most through deejaying. There's no need to compete for anyone's attention. My deejaying style is quite natural, and it's very me," she says. "I can play all sorts of music, depending on the night and the crowd, as I don't really have any ego when it comes to my job.
"I'll do what the clients ask me to do, but my personal favourite now would be electro and trap [Southern hip hop and crunk]. All things underground basically."
Growing up with a club-owning father who was behind the notorious, now defunct Superstar and Noriega, Soraya has been well acquainted with the nightlife since childhood. She started going out when she was 15, and looking back, the 30-year-old feels that all the years of partying have instilled a deep-rooted musical knowledge in her. When she was 20, Soraya began working as a stylist for artists at GMM Grammy, and once she grew bored, she dived into the hip hop world where she picked up dance steps from music videos.
"I was never trained properly. I never went to dance classes. I taught myself to move and became a dancer. Then people started asking me to choreograph, which surprised me at first, but I stuck with it and it's something I still enjoy doing," she says.
A life-long friend of the Thaitanium crew, Soraya at one point aspired to become a rapper. She was asked to feature in one of Thaitanium's songs, and even released a single, but her rapping career didn't exactly pan out, and the plan to release a full album was eventually dropped. It just so happened that she began to fall in love with a new musical style, electro, out of boredom with hip hop music.
"Then I became interested in deejaying, and it was my ex-boyfriend who first taught me how to do it. He was also a deejay. I think he spent three hours trying to teach me, but it didn't go very well! Then I just kind of taught myself and practiced after I learned the basics from him. I think being a dancer helps with beat counting, so I didn't really have a problem when it came to beat matching and things like that," she says.
But before making herself known as a deejay, her new career choice raised a lot of eyebrows.
"It was hard proving myself in the beginning. There were a lot of sceptical people - even my own friends doubted if I was serious about it, and if I could do it properly. Everyone thought I was so fickle because I kept changing jobs, and that I was trying to do too many things," she says.
It was Thaitanium's manager who gave her the first break at a Honda music event in Hua Hin three years ago. Soraya fondly recalls that her set went quite well, and she managed to draw around 400 people to her tiny stage, but the most important thing was that she had proven the naysayers wrong.
After that her reputation began to grow, and now she is one of the most in-demand deejays in the country. Being a female in the business has its perks and drawbacks. The pool to choose from is quite small, so the competition isn't as gruesome, but it also transpires that most female deejays often have to show a little skin to become in demand, and their skills are often overlooked.
"I've always liked to dress sexily even before I started deejaying. If you ask me what my style is, I'll say 'sexy, cool and provocative'. There are many kinds of sexy, and it depends on you how you want to come across. For me, it's not just how you present yourself, it all comes down to the music. Having said that, I know there are criticisms of the sexy type of female deejays. Personally, I really don't care if some deejays want to flash their boobs. I just know what I like, and what I want to wear. I won't change just because people say something bad about it," says Soraya.
"I know how to take care of myself very well. I've been around a long time and I grew up with boys, so I am not easily intimidated and I know what my limits are. I think I'm quite tough."
Soraya's plate is almost full with a hectic schedule and future plans for a collaborative track. Even with a stable source of income from deejaying and overflowing acceptance, she reckons that she will most likely continue to deejay for five more years, and then pursue her interest in establishing a serious music appreciation school for children.
"But in the meantime, I'm living my life, and I'm having a lot of fun."