Five years ago, the landscape of the Winnipeg DJ scene looked much different than it does today. DJs who identified as women were a scarce commodity. Back then, local DJ and radio personality Mama Cutsworth was feeling a bit lonely in a scene utterly overrun by men. Cutsworth is quick to point out that she’s not the only local female DJ but there were few others.
“You feel different if there’s no one of your gender around,” Cutsworth says. “I felt kind of alone. I felt so isolated, like I’m constantly an anomaly or a novelty. I either get hired or don’t get hired based on gender. After years of that, I was feeling fed up.”
Cutsworth feels DJing is still a relatively young art form. It first attained popularity in the 1980’s, rising from the hip hop scene at a time when the rap genre was not particularly en vogue. Even today, Cutsworth believes audiences are often forced to search through a sea of talentless people who use the title of DJ to find the best performers.
“It’s tricky,” Cutsworth says. “In mainstream culture, it’s still hard to see what a DJ is doing. It might look like they’re just pressing buttons. If the audience’s not really paying attention, they can just chalk you up to being a jukebox.”
She decided to start teaching classes on her own in 2012, hoping to inspire more local women to give the turntables a try. The teaching process has been rewarding for Cutsworth, who has seen 40 graduates successfully pass through her academy with 15 new grads this year alone.
Cutsworth does all the teaching, describing herself as “a one-woman deal.” Her aim is not merely to create more female DJs, but to inspire women into a more thoughtful take on the art form.
“My approach is including some songs that are maybe familiar to the audience and doing something unique and creative with them,” Cutsworth says. “Making people re-listen and rethink about music that they thought they knew.”
Mama Cutsworth’s DJ Academy for All Women completes its fourth season on Mar. 7 with an International Women’s Day Dance Party and DJ Recital. Fifteen graduating students will spin at the show, hosted by Cutsworth, in their debut live performances. The three previous recitals have been rewarding for Cutsworth, who is thrilled to see her equally nervous and excited students finally take the stage.
“It gets pretty epic,” Cutsworth says. “An entire line-up of brand new female DJs and they all have their own cool tastes and ... individual personalities in music.”
Cutsworth has also hosted CKUW 95.9FM’s Stylus Radio for over 14 years, a gig that she credits with launching her own DJing career. Creating cool mixes, sharing music and building playlists became an instant source of joy and confidence. It was only then that she first dared to take the stage.
“It impacted so many aspects of my life, one of them being my career,” Cutsworth says. “I feel very grateful for that radio station. I don’t know where I would be without CKUW.”