Shalim Ali: nothing is better than being with friends and dancing

Through DJ-ing, I make a difference to people by playing music they love – and having a night out builds independence so clubgoers should be supported to stay out late

Shalim Ali DJing

It is important to have things in your life that you are passionate about.

For me, it is music and my work as part of the DJ crew for arts charity Heart n Soul. In a previous Community Living column (autumn 2022), I shared how the organisation feels like my second family. I DJ once a month at a club in east London with the DJ crew.

To be a good DJ, you have to think of the dance floor, not yourself, and bring in the crowd.

I play 80s and 90s tracks and, when the crowd goes mad, it is such a buzz. It is heartwarming and a blessing. I get paid to DJ but it is not just about the money.

DJ-ing makes me happy because I make a difference to people by playing music they love.

I got involved with Heart n Soul when I came across a flyer for a disco night run by the charity when I was 15.

Newbie at the disco

I had never been to a disco but I have always loved music and grew up listening to my brothers’ vinyl, from Michael Jackson to Prince and Madonna.

My brother drove me from our home in Camberwell, south London, to the venue in Deptford, 25 minutes away. I was nervous but focusing on the music made me more confident.

There were loads of people enjoying old school disco. I had a great night and joined the Squidz Club, the charity’s club night for young people.

I asked how I could become a DJ and staff supported me to learn. I had a mentor to teach me practical skills like how to mix.

I got my first gig on a Friday night at the charity’s base in Deptford when I was 20. I brought my own CDs. It was amazing, everyone said I put on a really good show. I played 1990s boy bands such as Backstreet Boys and Boyz II Men as well as some Britney Spears.

My favourite tracks include Prince’s Purple Rain and Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. My idols are DJs such as Timbaland, Dr Dre and Fatboy Slim. I like the way they mix and pull the crowd in – and they are amazing record producers too.

Music makes me feel excited and happy and makes me want to dance. There’s nothing better than being out with friends and dancing. Sharing our love of music makes me smile.

Having a social life is so important. If you go to gigs, you have to use your common sense and this builds your independence. It is so wrong that, in some services, staff will not support people to go out late. People are not babies – they are adults and should have the choice to spend their lives doing things they enjoy.

In the future, I’d like to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to come to DJ nights and clubs. I’d like to support more female DJs as the industry is still male dominated. I’d love to be able to design a club night and be a creative producer as well as a DJ.

On the board

I became a trustee at Heart n Soul in 2014. The organisation saw I was a hard worker and dedicated to its work. I knew I could bring something to the table.

If someone with a learning disability is interested in being a trustee, I suggest they research what a trustee does and how board meetings are run.

People who need support are entitled to reasonable adjustments, such as going at a slower pace or having simplified information.

As a British Bangladeshi, what appeals to me is breaking the barriers; I think trustee boards should involve a range of people from different backgrounds. As well as this, organisations should reflect the people they work with – on their boards as well as in their staff team.