Most Nigerians, usually, are obstinate about giving honour to who it is due. But here at YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine, not only will we not be part of that, we won’t also get tired of saying it as it is: Jimmy Amu, popularly known as Jimmy Jatt, is Africa’s biggest disc jockey. With an international award to back it up, many of us can’t just stop adulating him.
On Monday, August 4, 2014, our Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, paid him a visit at his Lekki Phase 1, Lagos home – and for well over one hour, the crowned king of the wheels of steel shared with him how he has been able to remain relevant in the last 25 years, mistakes many artistes make, his forthcoming 3-in-one event and more. Roll with them…
What makes a good DJ?
There’s no direct definition. For me, I always feel it should be someone who first of all has the skill to do a good mix, because these days, a lot of people don’t. But at the end of it, it’s not enough for you to know how to just mix. If you don’t know how to move the crowd, if you don’t know what to play at the right time, you will also miss it. For me, I think it’s the best man who knows how to reach a crowd properly and knows what works at every minute and every second. That’s for me a very good DJ.
What is the costliest mistake that any DJ can make?
I think the costliest mistake for any DJ is to assume that because you probably have a big name, whatever you do will always be cool with people – and I think that a lot of people also make that mistake.
What do you like most about being a DJ?
The fact that you can turn people on. I mean, you change people’s mood from being sober to being excited. That for me is always the sweetest part of it. You go to events, a lot of people come in moody, sober; some are even already tired from home and they come with, let me just attend for the sake of it and then, before they go, they are all sweaty and excited and they hardly can close their mouths from laughter.
What don’t you like about being a DJ?
I personally will not say there’s anything, but I think sometimes the perception of DJs is not exactly where it should be. Especially in this country and I’m not talking about myself now. No! But DJs as a whole. I think I attract a reasonable amount of appreciation. But I think people generally do not appreciate DJs in this country on the level they should.
What is the greatest thing that being a DJ has done for you?
First of all, appreciating the fact that I’m still alive and I’m able to as a man meet my obligations or like they say, make ends meet and meet up with my responsibilities. This is what I do. I’m very grateful to the job for that and the fact that it doesn’t come as a job to me; it comes naturally. Something that I enjoy doing, I’m passionate about it. So, the fact that it takes care of me that way as well as makes me happy.
What has being a DJ not done for you?
Being a DJ, especially in Nigeria, is yet to buy me a private jet (General laughter). It hasn’t done that for me yet. But that’s a joke though. I think deejaying has done a lot for me as a person and when I look at myself, I’m grateful to God for where I am and mainly what I have attained as a result of being a DJ.
Let’s rewind now. The journey into becoming a DJ, how did it start and what prompted it?
There was no deliberate attempt or intention to be a DJ. I came up in the 80s as a dancer, aspiring artiste. In the 80s, you are in school, you don’t say when I’m done, I want to become a DJ. I don’t think it’s a deliberate thing. But I just was brought up in my environment where music was key. I love music. My dad, my mum, my whole neighbourhood. My brothers as well. So, I fell in love with music and I started aspiring to be an artiste and then from aspiring to be an artiste, which was wrong at the time, as against literary things… I was more into break dancing and all that and then, my brothers were collecting music a lot, besides deejaying and at one point I got influenced by that, got into deejaying, and felt like I’m more comfortable here. So, it wasn’t planned. Even when I got into it, it wasn’t like okay, this is what I’m gonna do. It was just like, let’s do this in the mean time and see how it goes, but in the mean time has led to a life time.
You’ve been into this business now for 25 years, what would you say has sustained you, what has kept you going?
I think it’s just passion. Initially, at the beginning, it was passion-driven. If you were to look at it from the business angle, one would have left it after a year at most, because there wasn’t really anything in it at the time. Except for the passion and the love you have for it and the satisfaction you derived from doing it. But in terms of monetary returns, it wasn’t that much at the time. All you spent your money on was buying records every time, because there was always a new song to buy and how much can you possibly make every day? So, it was passion-driven in those days. But I think right now, it’s better because things are a lot more easier in terms of getting the music. You can always find complimentary CDs given to you. I mean, songs mailed to you. So, the music itself does not take all your money anymore. So, you are able to at least plan and say based on this…And then we charge a whole lot more now than we used to charge. So, I think it’s just in a better condition right now.
When exactly did you start making money from being a DJ?
I haven’t started making money (General laughter). With the kind of money I know that people have in this country, when I look at myself, I’m like, oh boy! Why now? Why didn’t you choose something else? But truly, I’m grateful to God, but I won’t say I’ve started making money, because it is relative. Some people are billionaires and they think they still need to work harder and some people have only a few millions and they think they own the world. So, making money is relative. Maybe for me, in terms of being grateful to God, I am grateful, I am appreciative of what I have made as a DJ. But then, I’m still alive, I’m still strong, I’m still working, I don’t think I’ve even done half of my life time yet. So, there’s still a whole lot of grounds to be broken.
To make money from your line of business, what must one do? Reason being that we still see a lot of DJs who are poor…
A lot of times I think a lot of DJs are guilty of not seeing what they do as their profession. A lot of DJs still see it as competition and for next to nothing, they will do a job just so the other person doesn’t do it. I mean, I know club DJs that are playing in some clubs and they complain every night. So, why are you there? Just because you want to say I’m the one playing in that top club. Do you understand what I’m saying? And a lot of people do it. But that’s not to say everybody is guilty of that. But I think a lot of time, people do not realize that this is a business and as such they have to structure it, develop the brand and make sure that people will want to buy that your brand. A lot of times some DJs are guilty of not positioning themselves well; a lot of DJs are busy backbiting. You just want to get a job because you think ah, let me chase this guy out of that place and then you are ready to do it for no fee.
Most people attain success in what they do, but find it difficult to sustain it. Where do you think that they normally get it wrong?
One that I think is very common, especially in showbiz, is that somebody comes up today and then in his own community, everybody is hailing him, he thinks he’s on top of it and then he starts acting like men, I’m the man. In your mind, if you ever see yourself as being on top of anything, you can’t grow anymore, because for you to think you are on top, you don’t see the room ahead of you and you don’t see the space ahead of you. So, there’s no more growth and if there’s no more growth, only one or two things can happen – it’s either you remain on that level and people will overtake you or you start coming down. So, I’ve seen a whole lot of this and that’s why I’m expanding it now and saying entertainment or showbiz people. I’ve seen artistes that I’ve heard their music on radio like 10 times and they think they are as big as Michael Jackson, when you are just getting started. What other growth are you going to attain? And I see a lot of that. But as for me, my own, I think it is not a secret: I’ve never seen myself on top of anything. So, I strive to move to the next level in everything and every time I’m like, okay, what next can we do? What’s the next level? What’s the next level? And if you continue to challenge yourself; even the biggest man or the richest man or the strongest man in the world, you can’t get to the height of anything.
Alright! How does it feel to be celebrated as Africa’s No. 1 DJ?
I hear that a lot, but I don’t see myself as that. Although I really appreciate it. It started because I won a competition, an African championship one time, long ago and I think the organizers have ceased organizing the competition. So, the last person that won is still holding on to it some 25 years after (Laughing). But really, for me, I do not see myself as that. The only thing is that it is good when you hear it because you now want to live up to that, and then that has helped me as well. I’m like, okay, this is placed on you, you might as well make sure you try and live up to that and that’s a challenge in itself, and I’ve always used that to develop myself every time.
Each time you get to an event, what do you normally consider before playing any song?
What kind of people are gonna be here? I read the minds of the people. I think that’s what makes one DJ better than the other. Everybody has access to the same music selection, the same equipment. So, what makes you different? For me, I’m a born disco boy! I started grooving when I was young. So, it’s just in me. I get into a party setting or a gathering of people, if I look around and know that these kind of people are here, I play what will suit them. And sometimes I might need a little bit of time to really settle into it and say, let me study these people. It doesn’t take me more than maybe 10 minutes of settling into it and I will have an idea of how these people; musically, how their minds work and I’m not talking about 100 percent, but the majority of the people. So, once you are able to do that and know what works, you go in that direction. And for me, to be honest with you, I’m still waiting to have a bad day as a DJ. Right now, never!
You get to interact with artistes a lot. Who is the best artiste that you have dealt with and why?
Ah! That will be a tough one, because I think I’ve dealt with different artistes at different times and everybody is good in their areas. I always tell people when they condemn some songs; I’m like, I think what you are dealing with is that they are playing the song at the wrong place. If you are seated there and you just need something to sooth you or whatever, we know the kind of music to play. If we go to a club and we are popping champagne and all that, the music that will feel like a good music there will be the contrast; the music that people will appreciate the most in a club setting will not work when you are, let’s say, table for two and in a romantic setting. Do you understand what I’m saying? And so most times when people say one song is bad, I tend to always say men, maybe you are dealing with the wrong song or a good song at the wrong place. So, in terms of artiste; if you are asking me who’s my best artiste as a DJ, that makes music that as a DJ I play every time and people get on the dance floor, it’s different from that artiste that I think passes serious messages through his songs. I mean, it will be tough to say one person. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that in any category, whatever you decide, whether it’s dancing time, romantic time, sober period, conscious music, a 2Face (Idibia) will always come into play. I’m a 2Face fan; I’m like his biggest fan!
As someone who gets to interact with these artistes, what advice do you normally give them, especially as regards their being here today and nowhere to be seen tomorrow?
There are two things. I mean, God can just look at you and grant you the grace and you just do one song and the whole world will log on to it. It’s now left for you to put all that together and make sure that you can always deliver on that. Like I said, sometimes, it doesn’t boil down to the music alone. There’s management, there’s PR, there’s a whole lot to be done and if you don’t sustain it that way, you might have it one minute and you will not have it again. Other times, it is the artiste himself. Like you have that big song and you think yeah, now, I have arrived and instead of him to now look at how do I do this again; he feels men, I’m the lord. The span of a song right now is so short. Gone are the days when you probably have a song in January and it’s still fresh in December. Right now, if you do a song in January, by January ending, it’s sounding like old school. So, it’s constant work and God’s grace most times. I think there’s a bit of luck and a whole lot of work basically. It’s not just about the music.
What distinguishes Jimmy Jatt as a DJ?
I’m uniquely Jimmy Jatt. I’m just my own self and I have my own style. I do my own thing my own way and it works for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t study other people. I go to clubs a lot, I listen to radio a lot, I move around a lot, so I tend to grasp what other people are doing. The ones they are doing right, I take, the ones they are not doing well, I try to avoid. I mean, no man is an island. You learn everyday and develop yourself every day.
What is your dream as a DJ?
For me, I’ve gotten to that point where I realized that single handedly, maybe with a whole lot of other DJs, I’ve attracted a lot of people into deejaying. So, I feel like I owe it constantly to move ahead and let them know that and also to debunk that impression where people think deejaying is a hobby or it’s something that you do within a particular period; maybe a particular age and you stop. I know DJs that are 50 and older. Around here, we tend to always try to age on time. So, for me, at this point, I’m just gonna let people know that this is a career and you can always develop constantly and grow till you are due to retire. And that you can make a life out of it. Constantly, that’s what I try to do and to let young people know that they are not in the wrong profession.
Let’s look at the man, Jimmy Jatt. What are those things about you that people do not know?
I’ve been in the public eye, maybe for 25 years. I doubt if there’s anything left about me that they don’t know…
But there must be some things that people still don’t know?
I doubt it! I’m trying to see, I’m trying to check (Thinks). Me; I’m just as plain as my hands are (Displaying them). So, there’s nothing dodgy, there’s no secret; I don’t have anything to hide. I think I’ve granted too many interviews and every question that I’ve been asked, I’ve answered honestly. So, really, I don’t know. Maybe if anybody wants to find out, I’m launching a book in some weeks. If you read that, you might find one or two things. And of course, if the book comes out, it becomes public knowledge.
Let’s meet your family…
I’m married; I’ve been married for over 18 years. My wife’s name is Jennifer. We have two daughters – Oyindamola and Oyinlola. I look at my family and I’m like, which family looks like that? The next one I see is Obama and Michelle (U.S President and wife). And if that’s the No. 1 citizen in the world, and we have something in common, I’m always very happy. Most times people tell me: you should have more kids. I’m like, I’m okay with the two. Besides, I’m very excited with the three female in my life. They are the best things that have happened to me…
You don’t bother at times about not having a son?
No! no!! I’m not…Even though I’m from a royal family, I’m from the 10th ruling house in my town and I don’t think the throne will get to the 10th ruling house in another God knows how many generations (Laughing). And even if it comes to my house, I’m not the first son in my house, so it won’t come to me. So, I don’t need that boy, boy, boy factor. It’s not needed, and to be honest with you, I’ve come to realize; I think God gives you what you want. For me, I’m happy because I’m a bit hard with men. I don’t tolerate nonsense. But with the ladies, I’m just the sweetest person. So, my girls are like my girlfriends; my wife is my wife. They don’t do no wrong, they can’t do any wrong. Females are meant to be pampered and I like to pamper people. So, I’m just glad that that’s what I have.
You sound romantic, are you romantic?
In my own way o! (Laughing) But I’m not the flower –loving type. I don’t give flowers, I don’t see the essence of that. I still don’t understand that thing till tomorrow.
Away from work, what does Jimmy do for relaxation?
Unfortunately, I’m hardly away from this work. Even when I’m not working, you have your laptop, you are working on your play list, arranging music, you are buying or downloading songs. It’s still music-related. Otherwise I’m just chilling with the family and yes, spending quality time with them. Even when I take a break, as long as you travel with your lap top, there’s work to be done. I’m sure you can ask any DJ, there’s never any time you are not working. So, truly, I think my spare time is still an extension of work.
It’s glaring that the Lord has been so nice to you. What more do you want from God?
(Laughs) – That is if they won’t complain o! But truly, I’m not in any way close to that. I mean, there is Dangote, there is Mike Adenuga, there is Femi Otedola…You understand what I’m saying? There’s still a whole lot I won’t mind to have, but I’m happy and I’m grateful for what I have now.
If you had not settled for what you do now, what else would you have loved to do?
Whaaooh! Really, growing up, I thought I was gonna be a lawyer. But maybe I wouldn’t have been a good lawyer, because me, I’m too forgiving. I might turn out to be that kind of lawyer that would be representing someone and I would say, maybe as they are about to sentence the guy; I might just beg the person: Ah! Guy, abeg! Oju lori oju sanu, if you know what I mean? I’m that soft. I might even beg and say this guy has suffered a lot; you know they locked him up for like 3 months and this judgment, let him just go. So, I’m thinking I might not have been the best lawyer. But as we were growing up, that was what was on my head and people used to say I argue a lot. So, I might be a good lawyer. But I will argue, argue, argue and get the right judgment and then still come and say it’s time to settle out of court.
Jimmy Jatt, no doubt, is one of the most influential people in Nigeria’s entertainment sector today. How does that make you feel? Also, how do you feel about the shortcomings of the industry?
In terms of being influential, I mean, it’s nice to be seen as that. And about my influence now, maybe I need to explain that. It’s not influential in that way where you are like a godfather or something; you are influential because you can help young people come up, you can help develop people, you can put in words here and there and things can happen for some people that need that. So, it’s in a good way. The shortcomings in the entertainment industry mainly are in terms of structure. It’s so bad right now that artistes don’t even make money from releasing their albums anymore. That’s why you get a lot of singles these days. People are not eager to release albums because there’s no money coming in from there, either in form of physical sales of CDs or royalties. There’s really no money coming in. Except you are lucky and you are getting a whole lot of shows. So, it’s only until you get on stage and you jump around that you make money from music here and the moment you are not getting shows; if you had not invested the little you had well, in terms of yourself, then you are likely to go broke, because there’s no royalties and piracy is killing everybody. So, these are basically the shortcomings. That’s why you see artistes that have made great music in the past and if you look at them now, they are not exactly what you expect. And this is what you will not find in an organized environment. I mean, there are people that would not have to sing their songs again, but they will get royalties for life. So, the royalty thing sustains them and that’s like your pension or whatever when you are not really active. But that’s not really happening here.
On Sunday, August 17, 2014, Jimmy is going to be celebrating his 25th year in the showbiz industry, can you tell us about the event?
It’s my 25th anniversary of being out there in the entertainment industry; I think from 1989 till now. There’s never been a time if you have to discuss deejaying or discuss the music industry; especially deejaying, if it’s just two people you want to mention, there will always be a Jimmy Jatt, from that 1989. I didn’t start deejaying in 1989, but I became or rather I decided professionally to settle into it in 1989. So, from 89, you will probably say Jimmy Jatt and this other DJ or this other set of DJs. In 95, you will probably say Jimmy Jatt and these other DJs; in 2000, you will say Jimmy Jatt and these other DJs; 2005, Jimmy Jatt; 2014, Jimmy Jatt and this other bunch of DJs. So, it’s a celebration of consistency. For me, I was reluctant before to celebrate, but the people around me were saying men, it’s not just celebrating 25 years of being in the industry, it’s like celebrating 25 years of consistency and relevance in the profession and for me, that was what convinced me to say men, let’s do this. Because I looked back and I’m like, if you don’t do that, a young guy that is just getting into it right now might think it’s something that you just do for 3 years, 4 years, because you can’t do it for long. But if you look and you can see a man that has done it for that length of time and he’s still going on; because right now, I have the renewed energy; I’ve done more this year than I’ve done in God knows how long. If I show you my calendar right now, we are very busy. So, for me, I think it’s just on-going and it’s a way of giving hope to young DJs to say, see, you can do this and you can always move on and move on…
What exactly is going to happen on that day? We heard there will be a book launch (Avant-Garde: The Cool DJ Jimmy Jatt Story, by Peju Akande and Toni Kan) and so on?
Yeah! It’s a 3-in-one event. It’s the 25th anniversary dinner; a book launch is there and you know, it’s just my own story. If you know me well, I’m not the type to have parties and celebrations like that. So, I’m like, if I’m gonna do this, I don’t want a situation where I’m calling people again for a book launch later or an album release later. So, what I’ve done is, I’ve joined these events. The dinner itself should have been earlier in the year, but because the album wasn’t ready at the time, the book wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to do three different events in one year, I just felt like okay, let’s hold on with the 25th anniversary till that album and the book are ready. The book, like I said, is just my own story. The album, we’ve tagged it the biggest collaborative album out of Africa. And at the last count, we had close to 60 artistes already on the album. I worked with well over 20 producers. So, if you look at the total number of music people that have come together to work on this album, I do not know when or who for now is gonna pull that kind of collaboration. So, I’m excited about the album. I think the last big collaboration like that was Definition, which I released in 2007. But this is a lot bigger. The album is titled The Industry. So, it’s a whole lot of reflection of the music situation right now. There are a whole lot of artistes. Everybody! I mean, it’s easier to count who is not there than those that are on the album.
NB: First published August 2014