The story of disc jockey in Nigeria cannot be complete without DJ Jimmy Jatt. Influenced by his older siblings, he took to music essentially out of passion. But today, he has built a legacy rooted in juggling beats at the biggest gigs in the continent.
From the very beginning, how did your parents react, when you showed signs of being a Disc Jockey?
My immediate environment kind of sharpened and shaped me. It was glaring what I was going to become. I was surrounded by music. My brothers were into this, before me. Having that kind of background, it was not surprising to anyone from my immediate family that I ended up here. But that does not rule out negative vibes from other people in the neighbourhood.
You actually started as a rap artiste, when rap was not popular?
The rap thing also came from my family. My family members were all music lovers. They were all buying records. In those days the records would have the lyrics written on the flip side of the sleeve, which makes it easy for whoever wanted to sing along. Rap albums then usually came with instrumentals too. I started writing some of my own songs, using those instrumentals. And people started urging me to record my own rap songs. Yes, I got some of my friends and we started experimenting on rap. Like you said, rap was not popular then. But the most I did with that was going to clubs to play and shopping around with my demo tapes, but no one paid any attention.
Looking back at all that transpired vis a vis your position today, what do you think you got wrongly then?
I don’t think I did anything wrongly. It was just the environment at that time. Even now, it is difficult for us to embrace things. But it is changing now because of the social media networks. This has really bridged the gap; when there is a trend in Europe or America, it gets here with a click of the mouse.
How does being part of every big gig in the sub-region make you feel?
It feels good. It is a result of dedication and hard work. To say the truth, I do not go to any gig, believing I am Jimmy Jatt. I go there feeling I am a rookie, who wants to learn. What I do is try to do it so well that people present are impressed enough to look for me when the need arises. One leads to another and so on.
What does a DJ need to have to deliver to an audience?
Your IQ and psychological level play an important role. You need to know your audience. What I do at every event is to determine what they want. That helps me decide what to dish out. So I will say it is the ability to read into the minds of the majority of the people at the same time. But a DJ should not make the mistake of thinking that what worked in gig A will work in gig B. It never works that way.
It was easier for a DJ to scratch on vinyl, how do you achieve that with CDs and files today?
I use both vinyl and CDs. CDs are actually digital turntables. They work much like vinyl. But I work with what is called the Serato. I call myself a Serato DJ, someone who combines all the formats.
Assembling many artistes for your album Stylee testifies to the cordial relationship you have with them. How do you maintain that?
I have always been a part of the industry. Many of the artistes who are big names today knew me when they were just starting out. In the entertainment industry, everything is mutual. We support one another. Stylee has many other tracks. And over fifty artistes worked on that album. In fact, at least a hundred persons worked on the album when you include the engineers and other crew members. It was a sweet experience, and we are set to repeat it again.
I will reveal that when the time comes.
In Stylee, 2Baba sang about getting instrumentals from you when he was hustling. Is it true or was he just music-talking?
It is easier to knock beats together now because you can get soft wares and do it right on your lap top. Then it was not easy. I had this knack for juggling beats to create a new one. The artistes would come to my studio at Obalende to ask for this beat or that beat. I was giving artistes beats, and I am still doing it.
During performances, how do you coordinate the beats with an artiste you may not know his plans?
I discuss with the artistes to know what they want to perform.
Does this happen always?
Sometimes, we do not discuss. But as a DJ, I know most of the songs from any artiste, so it is easier to determine what the audience would feel like having from the artiste.
What if you cue what the artiste is not ready to perform? Has there been an embarrassing moment trying to do this?
Not with me. But most times the artistes usually would come back to tell me that I helped their performance. But that does not mean it cannot happen… in this matter, experience comes into play. Artistes are always blown away when I back them up.
Are you encouraging your kids to take up this career?
They are already toying with my instruments. But they are in school right now, and for me, education is key. Toying with my instruments means they are interested in it, but if they decide to do this after their schooling, I will not object to that. But I cannot impress it on them that they must take after me. My dad was never a DJ.
Is it true that you adopted the name ‘Jatt’ to honour your brothers?
Well, it is part of it. But my brothers actually came up with the name. They took the ‘J’ from Jimmy, ‘A’ from Amuh (our surname), ‘T’ from Tayo and ‘T’ from Tunde. I am actually grateful that they included me, because at that time, I was not really a part of their business.
You job attracts a lot of women. How do you cope?
The same way I cope with men. Everyone wants attention, fans always want you to give autographs and take pictures. It is part of the job. I have been encountering them for over two decades I am a veteran. I appreciate them because they are coming around out of love.
While climbing the ladder did you at a point want to give up?
Well even now, it is not as if being a DJ pays so much. But I held on to what I was doing because I was passionate about it. Yes, there were times when you would wake up and wonder if this would actually take you anywhere. But I was enjoying what I was doing.
When you are at an event, where you are not the DJ do you sometimes get disappointed at what DJs are doing?
It is a two-way thing for me. When people see me at events, they simply assume I am the DJ or part of the DJ crew. If it is good, they give me the credit but if it is bad, it rubs off on me as well. So when I am at an event, I just pray the DJ would do well so that I can get the credit. Aside this, it also gives me the opportunity to tap from the person. When it is good, there are one or two things I can get from there. But there are a whole lot of good DJs out there.
How have you been trying to mentor younger ones?
Am I trying? I have been doing that from when I was climbing. I have always had protégés around me. You possibly cannot name ten DJs in Nigeria that didn’t have links with me. Some DJs that passed through me are everywhere- America, Europe, Asia and South Africa.
How do you juggle you busy schedule with family?
When I am not working, I try to be at home. I make it up to them by staying at home. Unfortunately, it is not only the DJ thing that takes me away. Sometimes I am part of committees on events. My children understand because they were all born into this schedule of life. My wife has never known me with any other thing apart from this. But mine is not an exceptional case. Some bankers leave home as early as 5.am and don’t get home till 10pm. It is the same thing. It is just the peculiarity of our environment that you have to do more than you should do to get by. If I can play fewer gigs and be as comfortable as I want to be that would be cool for me.
Technology is modifying things. Where do you see the DJ business in the next ten years?
Technology has affected this field positively and negatively. For someone like me who started by carrying records, it has changed, because of MP3. I can carry a hundred thousand songs on my laptop, unlike in those days when I would buy a ticket to Abuja and pay so much for my luggage, containing records on the plane. Technology has also helped in that I can go online to search for any song I need information on. Sometimes, I could actually download them free of charge, which is bad. It is helping the DJ and putting the artiste at a disadvantage.
That is piracy?
Yes, that is why I said it has two sides to it. For me, I have bought truckloads of records over the years.
Are there times artistes bribe DJs to play their songs at gigs?
Nobody tries that with me. But artistes do ask that their songs be played but not with money. However when I get such songs, I first and foremost listen to them. If it is the kind of song I can’t play, I will make my position known. What happens sometimes is that some artistes bring you a song that is supposed to be for a wedding and ask you to play it at a carnival.
Your experience as a DJ must have equipped you as a music producer too?
Of course, I produce. But I am basically a DJ