Interview with Jimmy Jatt of the Coke Studio Africa

Jimmy Jatt is a Nigerian based DJ who is participating in Season One of the Coke Studio Africa show. This is a unique music show that brings together artists from different genres, eras and regions to create a modern and authentic African sound through musical fusion. Read on to see what he thinks of the show, his time there sofar and his music in general.

Who is Jimmy Jatt?

I am a Nigerian based DJ. I perform everywhere from Nigeria to the US so you could call me Worldwide Cool Jimmy Jatt. (Laughs)

What music did you listen to growing up?

Growing up, I was exposed to pretty much everything. My dad was a James Brown loving person. He also loved Nat King Cole, King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Fela and really anything great at that time. He was into that 60s and 70’s kind of vibe. My mum on the other hand was more into Abba, Bonny M and Dolly Parton. She liked a lot of soft rock or what you would consider country music at the time. So I was exposed to a lot of different types of music. My brothers, were collecting music of their own time as well like the 80’s groove and funk including Dynasty, the Whispers and Cooler and the Gang as well as some Nigerian stuff. Later, I started collecting music. So I became the guy that knew music from The Whispers to Will Smith to the stuff my kids are collecting now. I’m like a moving encyclopedia of music.

How did your career begin?

I actually started DJing out of my passion for music. I used to be an aspiring rap artist and I used to breakdance back in the day. Then it got to a point where guys wouldn’t let me be a part of the breakdance or rap competitions in the neighborhood because they felt that they knew what I was about, and how good I was at the time – let me brag a little bit (laughs).  So I became the guy changing tracks and that’s how I got into DJing. As for music itself, I think I was just born into a music loving family. My dad, mum and brothers were all collecting music, so in my house it was a normal thing to listen to and mess around with gadgets and records.

Do you remember the first time you got your hands on some decks?

I can’t really remember but it must have been one of those times when my brothers wanted to show off my break dancing skills at parties. They were much older and sometimes they would smuggle me into parties that I wasn’t meant to be at so they could show off what their little brother could do. Then from there, I started changing records for them as well. So I can’t really put a time to the first time I got behind a deck.

JMMY-1

Were you good at Djing from the beginning?

Surprisingly, even when I thought I was still working to be a good Dj, people were already talking about my skills and what I could do. I wasn’t even measuring myself against the big DJs at the time because I wasn’t going to any of the hot parties. So I thought I was still trying to be a good DJ but other people in my neighborhood at the time were already talking about how awesome I was. I think I’m just blessed because I got respected and recognized before I really got started.

How would you describe your sound?

My sound is hip-hop inclined without a doubt. Like I said, I came from being a break dancer to an aspiring artist. So when I started, I was very heavy on hip-hop. It gets to a point though, where the business or demand requires that you become more of a commercial DJ. So I became a crowd pleaser. I just want to please people, make them want to dance and generally do something that the majority would appreciate. When you become a crowd pleaser, you have to touch every genre of music. So I just play for the people and I think I’m very good at that. I can get into a place and within the first few minutes figure out what the people there are about and the kind of music that works for them. That’s where my own strength lies.

You’ve traveled virtually all over Africa. What would you say the most popular style of music is across the continent?

I think it varies as you move around. When you go to South Africa, it will be more house and techno style stuff. Other areas are more laid back and others are very African. The great thing about Africa is that it is becoming like one country. Due to cable TV and internet radio, we all have an idea of what is going on everywhere. I know what’s going on musically in Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone and other places like South Africa and yet I live in Nigeria. So it has become more travel friendly for DJ’s. All you have to do is get to your destination a few days ahead of time and check what is happening in the club scene and on radio to get a better understanding of what that city is about. It’s definitely easier than it used to be. Before, I might have come into Kenya for example without having any idea of what’s happening here. Google is your friend.

Why do you love music?

I love life and I think music is life. I mean, what would the world be without music? It would be a really boring place. A lot of people want to live till they are 90 or 100 years old but they would probably only want to be around for 20 years without music because it would be boring. So I love music in the same way you love water. Next to water, there’s music.

How is African music different?

African music then and now is very different. The music from the past was very indigenous whereas today, it is a fusion of a whole lot of stuff. You will hear African music that has been influenced by reggae, R&B, hip-hop and even some other types of indigenous African music for example Juju, Afro beat etc. That is actually what’s really big right now. In Nigeria for example, the Afro beat scene is huge and I think it is spreading across Africa and the rest of the world. When I travel, I usually try to be sensitive and play all types of music so I’m not seen as just a Nigerian DJ. Most of the time though, I find that people actually want me to play Nigerian music. I think the same thing is going on in a lot of African countries which is great.

What inspires your mixes?

I draw inspiration from people. When I started DJing, I was known for Hip-Hop, but now I like to regard myself as the crowd pleaser. I’m more about the people, their energy and what they dictate in terms of what works for them rather than what they tell me to play. What their energy says or communicates shows me the kind of music that will work for them. Plus, like I said, I’m a travelling DJ so I don’t perform the same thing everywhere. The music differs as you move around and the influences are different from place to place and from people to people.

Which DJ’s inspired you growing up?

I’ll be honest with you, I started DJing as a teenager and I didn’t really get to know the big DJ’s till later. So I can’t really say I was inspired by anyone earlier on. Maybe just my brothers but they were not professional, they were just people who loved to listen to and play music. Everyone in my neighborhood knew that once you got those guys to a party, you will get all the songs. You know at that time, only records were being sold so you had to buy every single song. It’s not like now where everyone has access to songs and can just download them whenever they like. So my brothers were considered the music guys and I guess you could say that I was influenced by them taking me to all the parties at the time. Later on though, when I started DJing, I began digging around to find out who the big local DJ’s were, as well as who the DJ’s across the world were and I tapped a little bit from everyone. Besides, I always joke that I’m a tall guy – I’m about 6ft 2inches  – so I don’t really look up to anyone  but rather at or down at them (laughs). Seeing as most DJ’s are quite short.

How have you survived and stood the test of time over the years?

I am one person that likes to respect what is new and happening at every point. I have respect for every generation and era. I don’t judge music. So to put it simply, I tap from every generation and era and I move with the times. If something is new, I listen to it, try and understand it and work with it. Some people say they are old school, and some people call themselves new school but I am really no school. I’m like the bridge between the schools. The schools have to connect and you will always need the bridge. So I’m that bridge between what was, and what is right now. I’m in tune with everything.

As an award winning DJ, what would you say your secret to success is?

If it is a secret, then I’m not supposed to say it but I will tell you. I think my secret has been the fact that, as much as people say I’m great and on top, I don’t let it get to my head. I see myself as a rookie. I see myself as an upcoming DJ. I see myself as someone that can still grow. I see myself as a person who grabs opportunities to climb up because there is always space to move. Technology is there to present new challenges and opportunities for growth. So, I’m always looking for what’s new and as long as you do that, there is room for growth.

On the other hand, once you see yourself as being on top of everything, the only way is down. If you are already on top, you can’t move further. Your idea of the “top” may just be the fifth level of the ladder whereas someone else has created a ladder with 15 levels. That means that you will stay on your five step ladder and image that you are on top, while people go beyond you. When you limit yourself, you won’t grow.

How do you balance between family life and your career?

Luckily for me, I have a very loving and understanding family. First of all, I must really commend my wife because this job takes you away a lot but she understands. We are best of friends and she understands me. When we first met, I was already a DJ and my kids were born into this life so they got used to it. I think the problem would have been if my life wasn’t like this and all of a sudden there was a change. So we are happy and try to make up for things by spending quality time together. When it’s time to go to work, you go, but you also never forget the important people you have left. It’s been ok so far, I just really wish I could spend a vacation with my family. I’ve never been on vacation with them because those are usually the times when I have to work. You know, vacation periods are also party times so while they are away, I’m usually touring and performing.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?

I feel like I am yet to get to that point…maybe when I buy my private jet (Laughs). I mean, I’m blessed and grateful to God for what I have but like I said, if you think that this is it, it means you are not expecting anything bigger to come. There are always bigger things to come.

Which are some of the big artists you’ve worked with both locally and internationally?

Wow. I’ve worked with a lot of people. I’m not good at dropping names and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. But, in terms of the entertainment industry in Nigeria, I’ve pretty much worked with anyone that matters. Anyone that I haven’t worked with needs to, like I always say, look at themselves and figure out what’s wrong (Laughs). Sometimes I might sound offensive but truly, I’ve worked with virtually everybody. I might have worked with you on stage, in studio or in some other capacity. Across the world, I’ve also worked with a whole lot of people. I feel blessed to be in the entertainment industry.

You worked with Harry Kimani on Coke Studio. Had you heard of or met him before?

To be honest, I hadn’t heard of him before. I just started checking him out when I got into Coke Studio. I think that is actually one of the great things about this project. When I got onto the project, I decided to start familiarizing myself with some of the people I was going to meet and work with and I’m just amazed with the great stuff people are doing. I mean, Harry has five albums, not too many artists survive that. He’s been making music since 1999! A lot of people don’t last that long in music these day so for you to be there and still be relevant is amazing. I think he is just someone that was born to do music. I’m excited to be working with him and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to discover him in a sense. I think that is one of the key things coming out of Coke Studio as a project. We worked on a track called Malaika together. 

Which other songs did you work on for Coke Studio?

We worked on a song called Eniyan Bi Aparo by Tunji Oyelana. The song was done back in 1976 which was before my time. Right now, I’m just really grateful to my parents for introducing me to songs like that. Unfortunately because of the language barrier, not everyone will be able to understand the song and get what the story is about. I grew up listening to this song and it’s been my lifetime dream to rework it. So it was definitely the first song I chose when this project came up. I want to take this song that was released in the 70’s and freshen it up so that people can continue to listen to and appreciate it for another 20 to 30 years. This song really means a lot to me and I can’t wait to hear the final product. I hope that we have done it in a way that the original musician Tunji Oyelana, whom I respect so much, will hear it and appreciate it. The song is done in Yoruba which is my language, so I understand the story very well. I think it’s a great song.

What is the song about?

It’s generally a story about how you can never please everyone in life. When you are good, some people want to bring you down and when you are bad, others avoid you. When you are rich, people come around you and when you are poor, no one wants to see you. When you have a beautiful wife, people want to snatch her away and when you have an ugly wife, they laugh at you. That’s pretty much the kind of messages that are in the song. Because of the language barrier, I will be doing the song on my own but with a completely fresh outlook.

What did you think of music director Franck Biyong and the house band?

That has been the best part of this project. I don’t know how they came together but they are a really well selected band. They can go wherever and do whatever and be whatever. They are such a great band and I felt blessed to work with them.

Did you enjoy your experience on Coke Studio?

I don’t think that enjoy is the right word. That would be an understatement. I had a great time! The people that I got to interact with were just amazing. You know, sometimes you try to do something and it feels too much like work but being on Coke Studio felt like I was surrounded by family and friends. They were just a bunch of really awesome and friendly people. The energy, dedication and zeal that everyone put in made me want to do more than I could even imagine I could. Everyone definitely wanted to be their best and do their best on this project.

What advice do you have for aspiring DJ’s?

I always tell people that if you want to come into the entertainment industry, especially DJing, you have to understand that it is entirely passion driven. I’ve been on stage a couple of times doing 11 or 12 hour shows so if you don’t truly love music and have passion for it, then you can’t do that. I mean, I’m always asking myself what makes one DJ better than another. We all have access to the same music and equipment. It must be the passion that drives you and makes you better than the next person. So, if you really have a passion for it, then get into it. If you think it’s just another business that will make you money to buy private jets and all that stuff, then you will find yourself out faster than you got in.

Is this your first time in Kenya?

Sadly, yes. I love the place and I’ve always wanted to come. I’ve made arrangements with promoters and event people to come and perform in the past but unfortunately it’s never really worked out. I’m glad I’m finally here though and I’m enjoying the city. The people are very warm and very receptive compared to some of the other countries I’ve been to. They make you feel welcome and JIMMY-3loved. Plus the weather is just amazing considering where I come from. So, I feel like I’m on a working vacation right now. I mean, look at the scenery. It beautiful!

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Coke Studio,  airs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania & Nigeria and includes eight 45min shows plus a planned 2 hour New Year’s Eve special. Each episode will showcases an unexpected fusion by various groups of artists to create a unique sound. The show also provides viewers with a behind the scenes look into the artist’s interactions and experiences on set.

In addition to the TV show, fans will be able to watch and download various content such as video, MP3 and wallpapers on the new Coke Studio Africa website. Entire episodes of the show will also be available on the official YouTube channel. Viewers across the continent have the opportunity to win various prizes including autographed posters, Coke Studio kits and branded merchandise through the show.

Written by Muwado

Muwado is an arts, lifestyle, entertainment, humour and entrepreneurship and social networking website tailored for Africa.

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