The father of two discussed extensively his struggles to give the art of Dee-Jaying a makeover and turn it into what it is. He also shared with us his plans for the future as well as the reason why he remains a force to reckon with 20 years after he made dee-jaying a career.
His status as a family man may qualify him as an adult but free spirited and lively Jimi Amu, otherwise called DJ Jimmy JATT, displayed his youthful and jovial personality as he sat down with our correspondent for this interview held in his Lekki residence.
Let’s go back into your early days as a young boy. Share with some interesting childhood memories especially the ones that gave you a hint of what was to be your chosen career.
Growing up for me was basic. I was born in Lagos, precisely Lagos Island, Obalende. The neighbourhood then was just a small community. Everybody knew each other, which for me was nice. I was surrounded by fun and happy people and very liberal parents but my mum being a teacher will not allow you certain things. But then, there was still some level of freedom which explains why I can still turn out to be a DJ and my parents did not disown me.
What would you say influenced your journey into music?
I will give that to my family. I have brothers who were big influences in terms of music and my dad and mum too were music collectors. Usually we jolly party, not party like big parties o, but it was always a fun and lively atmosphere every time. Without a doubt, that influenced my love for music. I always say to people that if there is anybody that has a problem with what I become, it is the problem of my family. My dad, my mum, my brothers because the only thing I was surrounded with were entertainment and music related.My dad was into importation of electronic gadgets all over my house. He was collecting his own kind of music, the Nat King Cole, the Fela, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and my mum was doing same with the Bongo Zikwe, Abba, and my brothers too, the Shalamar, Solar era and I wasn’t really out going. I have always and still am an indoor person, so they dump them all in the house and go out and by the time, they come back, I am telling them what track is the best on the album.
You would have thought I would have turned out a musician because DJs hardly existed then, so I picked up music and when I got into my teenage years, I started doing my demos, started rapping and a little bit of singing, dancing but as fate would have it, I ended up as a DJ mainly because of the acceptance my kind of music (rap) had at that time. If you were rapping at that time (mid 80s), nobody will listen to you, so I started playing tracks for neighbourhood parties and all of that which made me a little popular plus I was the break dance champion in the neighbourhood at that time. My brothers were DJs too and I soon started following them to gigs I think that was what kind of directed me into doing it. It then gradually became something I found interest in and I started doing it in the meantime till I found something else, so I am still doing it in the meantime.
But the main time has become a life time.
Growing up as a child, before the idea of DJ popped up, what profession did you look towards?
To be honest, I always said Law because then there were three occupations everybody wanted to do, lawyer, doctor and engineer. Again, I am a strictly Arts student back in school, then for some reasons, people say I like arguing. I actually like to defend things and I have always had that since I was young.
What made you decide to make dee-jaying a profession?
There was never a time I decided to DJ. I started dee-jaying out of passion and love for music. It was a transition from being an aspiring artiste to being a great dancer to settling behind the deck to play music for people that want to dance. It wasn’t like I wanted, it just got to a point I said to myself if this thing can take my time and these people are ready to pay for it, I might just start collecting the money, so I made the decision to start collecting money for it. Looking back, I would not say there are regrets because I didn’t see it as a job.
And when you started to charge for your services and gradually made a career of it, what challenges were you faced with?
Luckily for me, my parents were very liberal and like I said earlier, I think my family should be held responsible for me being a DJ, so I didn’t have any problem from my immediate family, but by extension, people judge you from a distance, they assume that for you to be a DJ, someone playing music at parties, you must be a useless boy. It is bad enough to know that at that time, the disco hall is believed to be for stubborn and disobedient children and all they go there to do is womanize and involve themselves in negative vices and you as the DJ, you are perceived as their chairman. A lot of people didn’t want their children to relate with me. I had friends who I dared not go towards their gates, this is just one of the challenges, apart from the technical and other challenges, but thank God, it’s a different story now.
For someone who has come this far in the game, what would you say is the prospect of dee-jaying as a career in the present day Nigeria and in few years to come?
Well, I would say great. Things have changed. A lot of positive energy has been channeled into it. Back then, it wasn’t as easy but now, in a street, you can find close to a thousand DJs. While this is a good sign, it also has its negative consequences because there are no bodies yet to say which one is good or bad. Generally though, the future of dee-jaying in the country is bright. A lot of music are released daily and which are available for downloads, when I started, I bought the CDs of all the songs I played but now, some artistes practically beg you to play their songs.
In recent times, the industry has experienced an influx of DJs, what efforts are you putting in place to mentor the upcoming ones and ensure that they are on the right track, to allow for the longevity of the profession?
I have done that and I still do. I have always being mentoring from the day one I started out as a DJ. Remember, I said there weren’t a lot of DJs at the time, the onus lied on me to groom youths that I saw had interest in what I was doing and I put them through. The ones I put through then, are now established and putting some other people through now and that I think is the way it should be. I have always loved to share knowledge and that is what I do. Right now, I have boys in Asia, Europe, America and all across Africa.
A lot of times when you hear that I travel and I have gone to one country or the other, the truth is one of my boys is there, and when they (show promoters and organizers) ask him who he thinks they should bring from Nigeria, he is definitely going to say oh my boss, let him come so I go everywhere based on the number of seeds I have planted in terms of people. For example, if I go to South Africa, sometimes, Waxy facilitated it. He used to be my box boy, a lot of people don’t know that and he is top notch in SA. You look at it and feel good, it’s like your children growing up and succeeding, so for me, I’m shocked when people say when are you going to start mentoring? I think the question should be when are you going to get loud about people you have trained and how much you have mentored people? I have always done it, I do it constantly and that’s how it has always been, but then we were always looking at ways of doing it more that’s why we are coming up with a TV reality show.
Tell us a little about that.
I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. It’s a TV reality show for the DJ’s, it’s not a DJ competition we have done that severally. It’s not about the best scratcher or the best mixer, but one who can handle and is good at everything. I look at myself, although I might not be the best in terms of mixing or scratching or whatever but I like to claim the best because I do everything and I do it adequately well. Some DJs can scratch like hell but their song choice and ability to meet people and know what will work for them is bad, some other guy has that but his mixes are terrible, some other guy has that but not the approach to the business, so these are all the things that we want to develop in DJs and let them realize, especially understanding the business part of it as well. It has gotten to that point where people should realize it’s not enough to mix and continue talking, so that’s why we are putting up this programme and hopefully so we’ll be able to come up every year with an outstanding, successful super star DJ.
When is it going to kick off?
We are Nigerians we don’t use date and time but we are hoping it starts first quarter early next year. Hopefully.
You mentioned scratches, mixing, understanding the audience as things expected of a DJ. Are there more qualities or talents a DJ must have?
I wouldn’t say it’s a God given talent, that’s a lie, because I don’t know where they trained me to play music before coming to this world, but at least to an extent it’s something that has to be inside of you. You must love music, for me I grew up being a DJ because I like dance, so when I am dee-jaying, I put myself on the dance floor, there is something somewhere it is not everybody that has it , some people do it because of what is available to them and some only got into it because they look and say e be like say these guys dey make money o!, it doesn’t work like that, it’s not like buying and selling, it’s not business, so if it is not in you somewhere, it can only take you to a level, it won’t take you beyond.
Having spent over two decades in the trade and become a reference point in it, do you see yourself quitting anytime soon?
Quit! I ain’t quitting, I can’t afford to quit, if I do a lot of boys will give up if I quit. All I wanna show is that we can make better things out of the DJ rather than giving up. I am still a DJ and I am still going to be a DJ for a long time, the reason being that I think I am guilty for luring a whole lot of people into the profession and I owe it to them to always show them the way to go, so I am not going to stop being a DJ so when they get to a point they won’t think they should stop too. Take doctors for instance, at some point, they might slow down or even retire officially but they never stop being doctors, same with Lawyers. There is nothing like ex- lawyer or doctor, so I am thinking of getting to that point where there will be no ex DJ.
So what I am doing is constantly looking at new grounds to break to let the young upcoming DJs know that if I get into this I can develop from being a neighbourhood party DJ to being a national DJ, to be a major constant where the headlines come, to be a recording DJ to own your own album, and to probably own your own, TV reality show, radio show, radio station, TV station, to own your own night club, to go into merchandising, fashion line. Speaking of that, I own one, D triple J which is going to develop into a big one eventually, we already started with snap backs. We are starting to develop our own TV reality show, there are so many things. I am on the edge of shooting my first movie, as a DJ, these are things that we will unveil as we progress. I do this because I need all these for the young people in the field to say we can do this as well and we can even grow bigger because by the time they are ready to do it, the platform that will be available to them will be bigger than this, but I am a DJ and I will keep being a DJ, that is my primary assignment so I expect a guy that is just getting to it should see how I am doing my routine well, look at all that, get into it, and it keeps expanding, for me I don’t want boys giving up, because I used to do it, I make bold to say, if I stopped DJing, a lot of young boys will probably do same which is why I am doing all of these.
Let’s take it one after the other, starting with the fashion line. Tell us about it.
It’s the D JJJ fashion line and for now, it’s just a snap back line but definitely we don’t think it is going to stop there. We will keep working with the head and may consider going into some other designs soon but for now we are doing the snap back.
Tell us briefly about the upcoming movie.
I sit here and I am looking at some things, and in line with what I do trying to develop people, I have come across a lot of people that work with me in the Jimmy Jump off as a TV show , and they have great ideas and all that and I am like how do we develop this, I am not limited to just developing DJs but I look at all these other guys in different areas, then I am like this is work, we’ll create a platform whereby these guys can do what they want. We have a lot of cinematographers, script writers, young people that players in the movie industry, might not give room to operate. I see a lot of jobs vacancies and they want five years working experience, when will they get the experience if they (employers) keep saying that. I give fresh people the opportunity to come out and do their thing, I mean my website was the very first website that the guy that designed it did and since then he’s gone to do a lot of stuffs. So about the movie, it is what I have seen in a lot of my crew members, so I decided to exploit that as well, and like I said they will get all the detail.
When are you looking at for the release?
When we are satisfied with what we have done, the date will be revealed.
What is the movie going to be like?
Next question please.
Let’s delve into the origin of hip hop in Nigeria, you being one of its pioneers. What challenges did you face while creating a market for it, despite the strong holds the Apala, Fuji and Waka had on the audience?
It was tough. I mean, first of all, one of the major challenges was that there weren’t enough record labels in existence, and don’t forget in Nigeria as against now that all the labels are independent labels, KENNIS Music, Storm records and the likes, we know the owners, people who with their own efforts got it going but at the time I am talking about, there were major record labels. There was Sony Records, Premiere Records, EMI and all the big labels you hear about were all there at that time, but they were not in tune with the street as far as I am concerned with the youth market. I think they were all guilty of thinking this is what the people want and dishing out a whole lot of that as against trying to find out what they want, and they don’t even, sorry to say, irrespective, I don’t think they really developed people until the people developed themselves to a recognized level which boils down to the same five years working experience to get a job, I was talking about. If you don’t give someone a job to start with, how does he have the five years job experience? Same way, if you don’t give an artist, a raw talent that you discover on the road an opportunity, how do you find that artist to become a superstar, and that was what I think most of them were guilty of. It got to a point where everybody just took charge; some of the artistes then told me that it was at the road block or one of my shows that they decided to take charge of their own music. They said if this much could come there and watch him, they might as well come with at least 2,000 copies of their works, because many people used to be there.
A lot of artistes used to come there to perform or drop their cassettes then because there were no CDs so the mentality of independence started developing. I think Storm record as a label was formed right in front of my studio in Obalende, he started with Junior and Pretty, took their works to the studio and that was how it started, that was how the independence effort started which has resulted in what we are doing now, it is just that it is busier now because at that time, your music can only come out in two forms either vinyl which you cannot independently produce or it comes out on tape. The TV which becomes visual and all that were not available at that time and promoting music was tougher then because there were no twitter, Facebook, and the likes. There were no privately owned radio stations, the ones available were all government owned, and there were things they will tell their presenters not to touch, most of which were relating to the type of music we were birthing then (hip hop). Then the privately-owned radios started coming up and opened more to the genre. Not long ago, I was talking to some upcoming artists, I told them ‘you might be travelling round the world but don’t ever think you are doing more than the artists that were before you, it’s just that the opportunity that came their way weren’t as big as this. They tried a lot, in actual fact, they did more because to finish a song then usually took the efforts of about 20 people, but now to record, it’s almost as easy as just open the software on my laptop, knock in the beat, plug-in the microphone, and then record.
What would you say is responsible for your relevance even when a lot of young talents have found their way into the game?
Because I am always involved. I understand the power of change and I flow with it sometimes you are open to changes. I am not that kind of person that will say one era is better than the other, because I move with now. I’m like a moving encyclopaedia of music because I grew with the music that my dad collected, I dealt with the one my mum collected, the one my brothers collected and the ones I collected, and I am dealing with the ones my peeps (daughters) are collecting now. I am that kind of person that can tell you about Elvis Presley, Jim Hendricks, Will Smith, Willow Smith, Wizkid and if we are talking about artists long gone, I still can tell you about them, and I can tell you about what is coming out next, because I am involved. That is because I don’t disrespect, I think a lot of people in my own generation are guilty of saying there is no more music or music has finished, the truth is do the music now and do what is existing is now.
I am not one of the people that will tell you there is no more music, that’s not to say I wholly support a lot of crap that people do, but the truth is, the volume of music that comes out now is so big that the amount of crap in it is much but there are still a lot more content in it, but before the amount of music that comes out because of the cost and effort involved was so controlled and had to pass through a whole lot of process. You work with different people in the studio by the time you finish it will still pass through label signing and all that but now I can knock anything on my laptop without even playing to the person closest to me, I can upload it on the internet as my new single. It is as simple as that, that brings in a lot of untested music, so they come from the guy that thinks I’ve made the best music in the world and trust me once it posted, no matter how wack it is, there are some people somewhere that will like it and the guy does more and posts it.
Do you not fear that one day, you may be kicked out of the game by one of these budding DJs.
No, I don’t because as much as I am running, I am equipping people around me with enough force to run alongside. I equip them with what they need to have so I can feel threatened. They may not know this but I am psychologically putting them on the track for a race and I can’t allow them over shadow me. I can wait for them and let them catch up with me, so we can run together but I cannot allow them overtake. That’s why I do not feel threatened, and on my own part, I am doing all that is possible to get better by the day.
One common fear attributed to the art of dee-jaying is people not responding to the songs played. In 20 years of being an active as a DJ, has there ever being a time this happened to you?
No, because I am a very smart DJ. I always have backup on, trust me when I am playing a song, I already have three other songs lined up for you because I always think of the next songs, and I am very quick, so before it damages anything, trust me, I have switched. There is a way I do my own that even you will dance to the song that you have always told people that you don’t like, because of the way I will bring it and the way I will merge it with the last song, you will dance to it halfway before you remember it’s the song you don’t like and before you make up your mind not to dance to it, another song is playing, so I am quick with it. If I wasn’t sure for so long I am sure of it now, I always move the crowd, I am the master at that and I always deliver. Come with the biggest problem of your life, or be in the most sorrowful mood, I will get through and I have always done that. When people book me for weddings the older people are always worried, like the bribe’s mum but you know what, when the wedding is over, it’s those people that will come and say can I have your card because their child or whoever is getting married and they will want me to come and be the DJ at the party, and that is when I believe the job is done because those people that know me already believe in me, but those people that doubt and then come back to say ‘fun mi card e yen’(give me your card) and I get that all the time.
Speaking of which, how do you handle occasions like weddings which is different from the street carnival and gigs you are used to?
Trust me, weddings are not for every DJs, because at the wedding you have the little bride, the bride and her maids, the bride and groom’s aunties and uncles and of course, their parents, so you have four generation or five generation of people to play for, so you have to be able to cut across those people and satisfy all of them. A lot these DJs are either very young and can’t deal with the older folks, or are very old that they can’t understand what the younger people are saying, some are just there. I Jimmy JATT, I don’t have to tell them, I deal with the younger ones because I have two growing daughters and I know their music and their mind sets. I can play their party, I know all their songs then I will come to your own (interviewer) people and then deal with their kind of music, then the adults, my own people I know how to deal with them and then we will move further and deal with my brothers age group and they will dance and ask themselves, so I could dance this much and then we move to the older people, remember my parents, I will deal with them too, it’s all about connecting. How well you have dealt with the people and how well you are connecting, how well you have dealt with the music. I am into everything, and I am using this opportunity to let you ever think of any DJ for next wedding don’t think too far just call right now cool DJ Jimmy JATT.
What inspired the release of the Definition album?
It’s just in line with what I have always done. You get to a point where you think you can do things and let people leverage on it. I had passed the level of mixing CDs and other people’s songs, so I thought we might as well get into the studio and create our song and put it out there. Right now, if you go back to the album, it might look like 75% of the artistes on it are big names but if you remember back then in 2007, you will realize that they were up-coming at that time. It was just something that was necessary for me at that time. We owe it to upcoming DJs to tell them there is a lot that can be done.
Should we be expecting another of such?
Definitely, we have released a single early in the year, ‘Ko mi je’, with I.G.H.O, Muna, Orezi, and Sauce Kid. I have quite a number of songs recorded already, once I think we have enough materials, I am not putting a date to it and we are also working on a collective, like a movement, more like a record label. I have released enough information.
And is there a tentative title for it.
No, not yet.
Should you not have been a DJ, what will you have loved to be?
To be honest with you, I have sat down and thought about this, but whatever it will be, it will be music related, probably something that will make me behind the scene but will be around music and entertainment. I am a very shy person, it’s amazing how I have gotten away with it. I am very shy, that why I wear face cap, so it blocks half of myself, I don’t like being out there, but unfortunately, this Jimmy JATT guy has spoilt that for me.
Tell us what informed the birth of the Jimmy’s Jump off show
It was at the time, a request from fans who wanted me to be on TV and I didn’t want to be on TV doing a talk show, because I don’t talk too much. I also didn’t want to get on TV just mixing songs for people to watch, I figured that will wash off in matter of years, so we started the very first video mix show in the country and in a while lots of places at least it was the first on Nigerian TV. We did that for a year and added new segments to it.
Let’s talk about marriage and fatherhood. How long have you been married and how has it been?
I have been married for close to 17 years, people have the mentality that once you get married there are laid down rules and regulations you must follow. If you are dating someone as a girlfriend and you are having so much fun why should you think that once you are married you can’t continue with what you do. I don’t understand this is what makes us happy together, as for me and my wife we still live like boyfriend and girlfriend, we started like that and we are still like that. She is my babe and I still trip for her, added to that, I have two lovely girls and I look at three of them, and these are people who don’t treat me like DJ Jimmy JATT, so I am just loving my family. Sometimes, when they travel maybe on a vacation or something of the sort and I am alone, I’m like would I have been living this way, all alone? So for me, it’s been good and I love them unconditionally. That for me is the best thing I have in this world, if I am permitted to say ‘thing’ but of all that I have, my family is the best.
Tell us about your relationship with your daughters
Just like my parents, I am very liberal, especially in sensitive things like career choices. Unlike some families who believe that every child must be a lawyer because the father is. That must be a boring home, diversity; I mean there should be somebody who can bring some fun into the family. I’m not really going to say I am looking at my kids becoming a DJ, it’s not by force, my father was not a DJ and my mum wasn’t, but the truth is if they come up to me and declare interest, the essence of doing all I am doing for DJ is to help young people get into it and make life out of it and if that is what I am doing, are my children not part of the young people? The only thing is that dedication is key and of course, education too. You must get educated even if you may not practice, take Kelechi Amadi-Obi for example, he may not be practicing Law but the knowledge is working for him. So for my children, I have taken time to understand them, they like taking pictures, so I have bought for them a camera to help them with it. That even more fulfilling because that is something you would have done for pleasure and you are making money with it.
And your painting ability, you don’t seem to be doing much with it. Why is that?
Okay, I draw and I paint although I have not done a lot of it in a long time but it is still there. The DJ things have gotten me busy these days but I can draw and paint. I think I’m just an all-round arts person. Even though I don’t have a painting of my own, I still like to support, every wall in my house has paintings hung on it. Perhaps if I wasn’t doing something that I love doing, I would probably be painting for fun.
What other thing do you do apart from being a DJ?
Nothing. Of course every other thing I do is interwoven. I have a TV show, a production company, an equipment leasing company and I have little money in some other people’s business, they can always tell me how it is, I’m not involved in running it. But what I do primarily is DJ, I do naming, bachelor’s eve, even burial ceremonies. For bookings and details call…
Let them call me so I can get my share
Let’s get more personal. For someone who has been exposed to lots of songs, is there any song particular you like so much?
How now? Is that possible. How many years of music. No way, I have a lot of songs that come into my head but there are a lot of great songs.
From a DJ’s point of view, what is a great song?
Different songs do it for me. A great song comes in at different times and does for me what I want it to. A song that helps me keep the club going is a great song, a song that helps me get through hold ups and similar situations is also a great song. A great song when am at a wedding is different from a great song when am playing at a carnival. Great songs for me varies and it depends on when and where it is needed.
What genre of songs does it for you, knowing that you are exposed to a variety of them?
I’m very pop inclined but I am open to everything. I grew up being surrounded by everything. I listen to jazz, gospel, hip hop R&B, Fuji, Juju, a lot. I am not limited to a particular genre, I listen to and follow all of them but I am very pop inclined.
What is your take on fashion?
Fashion for me is self-confidence, comfort. I don’t follow trend, I buy things because I see it and I like it. I then try to make it work for m, not that boys say this is what is trending. That is why some people look like puff-puff in outfits because it doesn’t suit them. Sometimes, am forced to believe that my own fashion sense to some people might be monotonous because you always see me wear my caps and my glasses and most times jeans but that’s what I am comfortable in.
Finally, what’s your word of advice for youngsters who want to follow your path and become a DJ?
First of all, the music industry in Nigeria is really growing and it can only get better than this, as such the dee-jaying aspect of it will keep growing alongside and I think the part of entertainment in Nigeria that will shock the world in years to come is the dee-jaying because every other aspect has been explore thoroughly. For anyone that wants to come, I always say, it’s not like buying and selling or ordering for containers. This is passion driven. You have to have a passion for it, you need to let the love for it keep you going. It’s also not enough to say, I have learnt to mix. It is a whole package and all things must be learnt. When you are coming into a profession like this, you don’t start calculating how much you spent buying equipment and all. It doesn’t work that way.
Thank you very much for the chat, sir.
You are welcome.