Creating a Safe Space in Music: A Conversation with SYS Sister Sounds

by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: SYS Sister Sounds

Brian Hioe spoke to Margaret Tra from SYS Sister Sounds, a collective which runs DJ workshops for women and non-binary people in Vietnam, among other activities. The following article originally appeared on Electric Soul, a Hong Kong-based electronic music magazine and ticketing platform, on March 3rd.

Brian Hioe:  How did SYS Sister Sounds start? Where did the inspiration come from and what did you hope to do by starting the organization?

Margaret Tra:  SYS Sister Sounds started a year ago, I’ve been in the music industry for 10 years behind the scenes and threw workshops for women in business, the first one was in Hanoi. It went so well that I dreamed of coming back to teach Asian women how to work and thrive in the music industry and that’s how SYS Sister Sounds was born. As a DJ, I noticed women and non-binary individuals are unrepresented in the music industry and they need a safe space to enter it. I hoped that it would create a community and a safe space for women and non-binary people to learn and try out what the music industry is like. Even if they didn’t pursue music, I just wanted them to believe that it was an option and that it was available to them.

BH:  What is SYS Sister Sounds currently involved in organizing? Among other activities, I see that there are workshops, releases, a podcast, and etc.

MT:  SYS Sister Sounds runs DJ workshops for women and non-binary people, we also run other workshops such as how to write an e-book, how to run an online business and anything creative that we can teach women and non-binary people. We also run a label, where we aim to highlight female and non-binary producers/musicians which I want to push more of for next year.

BH:  What are the highlights of the work you’ve done so far? Anything you feel particularly proud of?

MT:  I’m really proud to say that I’ve taught almost 100 girls, and out of all of them 20 women have continued to DJ even if it’s just for fun. The highlights are seeing them out playing at bars and events. I am really proud that we created a community and a safe space for women and non-binary people to express themselves whether it’s through music or just connecting with like-minded people.

BH:  What have the challenges been to date in running SYS Sister Sounds? Or in trying to change the music industry in Vietnam and beyond?

MT:  The challenges have been negative feedback from men mostly, they say it shouldn’t be exclusive. For me, I believe I was meant to do this for women and non-binary people because I know how daunting it can be. There are events and workshops that include and welcome women however the spaces are taken up mostly by men. I have also come across making music and DJing being seen as a serious profession in Vietnam. Vietnam is still very traditional, so breaking that barrier is slow but it’s also exciting to see the possibilities.

BH:  Are there plans by SYS Sister Sounds to connect with similar organizations or projects elsewhere? What is on the horizon for SYS Sister Sounds, more broadly?

MT:  Yes, definitely, I ran workshops in London with Voices Radio and in Liverpool with Melodic Distraction. They were so welcoming and eager to push Pho The Girls. We also worked with Foundation FM, SISU, and Future Female Sounds, whether it’s just cross-promoting or getting the girls to do mixes for them which is really nice to see. I really want Pho The Girls to be worldwide, so I plan on doing workshops in Australia my hometown next year as well. I’m a new music producer but another goal would be to teach music production.

BH:  Is there anything you’d like to like to say in conclusion to readers? We primarily have an Asia-based focus and audience

MT:  For sure I’d like to thank the venues, girls who take the workshops and organizations like yours who highlight what we do and show how important it is. We need to create more space for women and non-binary people, especially in Asia, and we can only be doing this by being more open, allowing more fresh new faces to gig around, and supporting them through their journey. At the end of the day, we’re all students at our craft in anything that we do, so if we’re gentle to ourselves and to others the music industry can only thrive with gender equality.