* I once claimed to be staff to avoid paying fare in buses
By Benjamin Njoku
Jimmy Adewale Amu, popularly known as DJ Jimmy Jatt is one of Nigeria’s most influential and entertaining DJs. As a party-starter, beat-dropper, headliner and underground king who has been rocking the dance floor for close to three decades now, Jimmy Jatt has seen it all. He is revered for his role in setting the pace for hip-hop music in the country, dating back to the early 90’s when he debuted as a DJ. In this interview, he recounts the story of his life as a DJ and what one can do to become successful in the business.
What does it take to become a successful DJ in Nigeria?
Firstly, you need to acquire the necessary skills after which you procure start-up equipments. If you find someone who believes in your dream and can invest in you, start-up equipments are not really cheap but affordable. Whenever you are ready to come out, all the platforms are there for you to sell yourself. You can sell yourself through the social media and a good PR, but the most important thing is that you must distinguish yourself because a lot of people present themselves as DJs before they start learning the art. Secondly, you will need to build your music library. Buy every available music record. These days, you can always buy online, download or get complimentary copies from artistes. Then, you must have a good management team because it is business and so you need to structure it as a business empire. Sometimes, people see deejaying as a hobby and not as a profession.
What has been your most memorable experience as a DJ?
If I must remember anything, it’s not going to be a very pleasant one. It was the day I was to perform on a stage which was about 8ft off the ground and the woods used in constructing the stage suddenly collapsed.
How did you survive it?
It ended up being a great night for me even though people were saying it was embarrassing. But for me it wasn’t, rather it was embarrassing for the people that constructed the stage. Some of my equipment fell on my feet. I quickly put everything together and the show continued. It turned out to be a very good experience for me. Another one was when someone held me at gunpoint to play a song. He wanted me to play a particular song for him. The first time he approached me, I promised him that I would play it. But when he came the second time, I did not sound nice to him. The third time he pulled a gun and ordered me to play the song immediately.
Was there any time your mood affected the way you mixed your music?
There were times I wasn’t in the mood to play music. But the good thing is that I love music and that is why I went into the DJ business. I was on stage when I lost my mum; I was also on stage when my dad passed away. Those were the worst moments of my career as a DJ. I couldn’t abandon the shows; the music had to play on. My siblings called me while I was on stage that my dad just passed on. It’s not as if I didn’t feel the pain, but I couldn’t just get off the stage. I had to go on with the show without disclosing the sad news to anyone. It was not the best of times for me. I have done the DJ job for close to three decades now but I have never had a bad day.
What is it like to be a DJ for nearly three decades now?
When I started the DJ job, I never made a deliberate decision to pursue a career in deejaying. This was as a result of the way people were looking down on those who wanted to make a living as DJs. Then, DJs were seen as “never do well people” and rascals who lack parental guidance. In the first place, my mum was a teacher and you know what it means to be the son of a teacher. So, I was well trained. But when I started the DJ business, most parents wouldn’t allow me to come close to their children. I had some friends who would tell me they can’t come to my house because their parents wouldn’t want them to be seen around me. Sometimes, some of my friends’ parents would come to the studio to warn me that the next time they see their sons around me, they would get me arrested. All those threats and condemnations made me more determined to be successful in what I was doing. At a point, I became curious as to why people judged me negatively because I play music and entertain people. Sometimes, it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover, just open the pages and read the book before you can draw your conclusion. Some people believe that for you to be a DJ, you must be the worst person on earth, a womaniser, a drunk and a smoker, etc. Fortunately, I’m not into any of these things. That’s why when people ask me “when are you going to quit being a DJ?” I usually tell them that I am a role model to many young DJs. If I quit the job today, they will feel like there is no more hope in the business. They need to constantly see me grow from strength to strength for them to be encouraged and keep hope alive in the business. I want young and aspiring DJs to see a career in this and be hopeful about this job and let no one tell them ‘it’s not a job’.
At what point in your career did your realize you had become a brand?
Honestly, at the initial stage I didn’t think I made any concerted effort to become a DJ. But following the way and manner people were looking down on the DJ job, I made up my mind to change that negative perception. I don’t see myself as a brand yet, instead I see myself as someone who still has a room for improvements. I believe that when you feel you have arrived, there will be no next level for you. I always feel I can still do more, I can still be a better DJ and that’s what keeps me going in this business.
Are you planning to set up an Academy where DJs will be trained?
Of course yes. The Academy was supposed to have kicked off last year but due to some reasons it couldn’t.
Tell us why parents should encourage their children to enrol in your Academy.
Whoever I train is going to be a star DJ in Nigeria. I have trained many DJs without charging them any fee. I always feel this is my own little way of assisting and empowering young people in our society. Moreover, I am approached everyday on the social media by young people who want to go into the business of DJ. There is no way I can continue to tell them I don’t have the space. So, there is the need for me to establish a training centre where they can be absolved and actualize their dreams.
Was there any point you wanted to quit because you could not cope with the challenges any more?
Is there anybody who never wanted to quit his or her job at some point in Nigeria? This country has been unfair to a lot of people. What we earn can’t be compared to what our counterparts in other countries are paid, especially when it comes to the business of being a DJ. When I started the business, nobody saw it as a lucrative venture. They believed it was my hobby so they always felt they were doing me a favour each time they tell me that I would be on the wheels during their birthday parties.
Like I said before, I used to buy every song I played then with my money. So, every Monday I would be busy paying for the records I either borrowed from people or acquired with the peanut I made during the weekend. Last year, I launched my book titled, ‘The Jimmy Jatt Story’. The book recounts my story as a DJ. While I was coming up, there were times, I had no money to buy new records or transport myself to my destination. I usually jump from one bus to another claiming to be a staff. So, when you listen to 2face’s song where he’s saying ‘you are claiming to be staff because you have no money’ it is not fictitious, it is a real life story. I would hang at the back door of a long bus, where the conductor who is collecting the fare would not possibly get to me before I jump down to join another bus. A few occasions, when they did, I ended up claiming to be a staff. It worked for me while it lasted.
How affordable are you?
I am very affordable. In fact, I am the cheapest DJ in the country. Unfortunately, many people have not bothered to find out what I charge for a show because they have this mindset that it will run into millions. Honestly, I think I am one of the cheapest DJs in town.
What genres of music do you like the most?
Before I started my career as a DJ, I loved hip hop music. Then as an aspiring entertainer, I was into rap music before I later delved in the world of the DJs. I had a demo tape.
As a renowned DJ, what’s your impression about the Nigerian music scene?
I will say it’s improving with the speed of light. These days, it is easy to make music, unlike yesteryears when artistes hit the studio to record their songs. All you need now is your laptop. You can stay in the comfort of your bedroom and knock something together. Immediately you upload it on the Internet and millions of people across the world are listening to the trash, feedbacks will be sent to you. I am a realist, the volume of music our artistes are making these days lack quality. Unfortunately, the buying public who are the final consumers of music are celebrating them. If people are not celebrating these songs, the artistes will go back and work harder. The reverse has been the case; people that are doing the good music have turned round to water it down, because majority of the people do not want quality. Sometimes, when I play outside the country I enjoy being a DJ because people out there accept different genres of music: playing a bit of reggae, calypso, hip hop, RnB, Afrobeat among others. But in Nigeria, it’s not so. We are becoming too selfish and self-centered that all we want to listen to is our local content.
Whenever you want to perform, what do you do and how do you select your music?
First and foremost, I am very equipped in term of the genres of music I want to play. I have my laptop loaded with music. Sometimes, I cross- check everything and see what I am lacking in term of new songs that might just not be in the right places. On a daily basis, I am buying music online; I am going through my mails and checking out who sent me what and where I am needed at any point in time. Some times when I play outside the country I intend to enjoy DJ more because people accept more genres of music play a bit of reggae, a bit of calypso hip hop, RnB, afro play a bit of everything.