DJ Shanique Kelly – Building community through music

Shanique Kelly. | Photo by Kezia Nathe

Shanique Kelly, also known as Softieshan, only got into DJing three years ago but has already made a name for herself in the city as a sought-after event producer. She is a regular presence at some of the local popular venues and she also runs ‘LEVEL UP,’ the city’s only monthly Queer Rap and Hip-Hop party.

As part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, and her brainchild of a government grant application, she will host Elevate at the Club House – a one day festival style event that wraps music, food and art in one space on Sept. 14.

“I applied for a grant last November with Creative BC and came up with an idea. I like to do work around engaging communities, for me, particularly women in the black community, so I came up with the idea of a one-day event celebrating different black females, non-binary singers and DJs, and that is what Elevate is about,” Kelly says.

Representing minorities

Kelly got into DJing accidentally after attending some workshops organised by Intersessions, a grassroots organization that runs DJ and sound workshops geared towards women and members of the LGBTQ+ spectrum to address the gender and sexuality based gaps in the music industry.

“I was practicing for fun and we decided to do a fundraiser event for Black Lives Matter. That was the first event that I organised as a DJ, and after that everything started to snowball,” she says, talking about her career transitioning into a DJ.

Kelly now runs the Vancouver chapter of the Intersessions and she also started a regular monthly queer rap and hip-hop party called “LEVEL UP.”

“At the event last month for Pride, over 600 people were there – that was a huge milestone for me,” she adds.

Identified as female and queer, not because she grew up feeling it but because she fell in love with someone who isn’t a man, Kelly says that just by engaging a new type of relationship, she realised there is a whole new community that exist who are black and queer.

“Where are the representation for queer black people?” she wondered.

So she feels strongly about building a safe space for members of these marginalised communities after getting feedback that many of them don’t feel safe in a lot of the nightlife spaces.

“The DJ scene is quite male-dominated. There are not a lot of spaces for female lineups. I think the representation is important. It is hard to know that you can do it if you don’t see anyone who looks like you doing it,” Kelly says.

Combating racism

Born and bred in Vancouver, Kelly is a second-generation immigrant with family roots in Jamaica. In a city where the black community only accounts for 1.2 per cent of the population, and is scattered around, she feels there is still a degree of anti-blackness that exists here, as well as worldwide due to lack of understanding; and hence it is important to build a space for people to feel good and feel safe.

“I think when you grow up in a minority group, it’s can be difficult to gain access to your own culture. A disconnection to culture happens which can become really isolating” Kelly says.

To combat racism or any kind of prejudice, she believes taking the time to educate ourselves is always a good place to start.

“It is so easy to only read the same thing you always read, there are tons of artists of totally different nationalities, people telling their stories. A lot of racism exists because we didn’t take the time to get to know each other so it is based on really harmful stereotypes that is rooted in hate and division,” she says.

For more information, please visit: