Growing up in West London in the Middle Eastern community, Ellie Prohan had very few role models to look up to when she was younger. Through her success in music though, it’s clear that she’s fast becoming the role model that she never had, inspiring young women in the industry and breaking down cultural stereotypes. “I think if I would have seen a female gay Middle Eastern woman in music, the cogs would have moved in my brain. Middle Eastern children in general are always expected to be doctors or lawyers or dentists,” she explains.
After gaining a university degree she invested in her own business, feeling the pressure to do things by the rulebook initially: “I did all the things that would make a Persian single parent proud, and then it got to a stage in my life where I just wanted to do something for me.”
Frequenting London venues like CC Club cultivated her love for the hip-hop and R&B that was emanating from the USA at the time — genres that she’s still heavily influenced by nowadays. “Growing up on a council estate in West London, the bourgeois clubs weren’t where I felt comfortable,” she says. “UK music wasn’t as big then as it is now, so we were really relying on the US scene and I grew up on it massively. All of my childhood I remember The Box TV, we used to watch music videos from TLC, Destiny’s Child, Q Tip, A Tribe Called Quest...”
Ellie admits it was a rarity to see a woman on the decks in nightclubs back then; but when she did, and saw the club going wild, she realised it was something she wanted to pursue. Over the last few years her career has skyrocketed, moments such as playing Boiler Room being a milestone.
“I don’t think I really realised what I was getting myself into in terms of exposure,” she says. Although the stream has now been taken down from YouTube, it amassed over 350,000 views. “Which was amazing, I just didn’t know that people cared enough to see this crazy Middle Eastern gay girl on the decks having the time of her life, because I tell you something, I enjoyed my Boiler Room more than anyone else,” she smiles.
One of the qualities that has drawn her ever-growing fanbase is her infectious and energetic personality, which has also led to an illustrious career in radio presenting. She was recently appointed as a new voice of The Apple Music 1 List, and just announced her Kiss FM Tuesday weekly specialist show. She admits it feels like divine timing, after demoing for the London station back in 2017. Now a prominent voice across national and global radio, it’s an exciting prospect for Prohan — especially as an opportunity to pioneer underrepresented artists and communities.
Creating more equality in the industry is also something she feels passionate about, particularly when curating line-ups for her own LGBTQI+ events Glo and Ellie & Friends. Her journey in highlighting any intersectionality, such as race, gender and sexuality in our industry is a topic she speaks passionately about.
We discuss the amount of work still to be done, and whether we’re any closer to where we should be in terms of representation. She believes that 2020 was going to be the year for festivals and promoters considered intersectionality when booking their line-ups as it was the heat of discussion in 2019, but unfortunately they didn’t have a chance to prove it because of coronavirus.
“I still feel like there’s a lot of work to do,” she says. “I would love for our industry to reflect society as it is today in everything that we do; any line-up I put together I’m very conscious of the intersectional make-up of the whole night and any of my peers who do the same, they are my inspiration and we do have a right to be allowed to represent our communities — we also do have a right to be asked what and who we identify as. Because that is also a big part of the conversation. So the short answer is we still have a lot of work to do, and the long answer is, we’re going to see in 2021.”
During lockdown Ellie launched a series called ‘Eat, Dance & Discover’, bringing together her community and celebrating culture through food and music. She also revealed a new playlist for Gay Times highlighting LQBTQI+ hip-hop artists. “I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and so I don’t ever want to take it for granted and not make the most out of it,” says Ellie. “So 2021 is all about pushing myself, letting people get to know me a bit more, widening my community, DJing, doing live stuff if we can — if not, it’s all about culture for me. That whole underpinning of culture and being that representation of the gay Middle Eastern girl in the music industry, and bringing people together through culture.” Ellie Prohan is a pioneer in many respects, with a passionate outlook for making changes and inspiring others to walk in her footsteps. Long may that continue.