How roles of DJs are evolving in Rwanda

DJ Ira is one of the most popular  DJs in the country
DJ Ira is one of the most popular female DJs in Rwanda
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It’s no doubt that disc jockeys (DJs) are among the top proponents of promoting Rwandan music and are very essential for any night club that wants to make it in the entertainment industry.

In an exponentially evolving industry, music enthusiasts now value the role of modern DJs in entertaining crowds at different gatherings, which wasn’t the case in the past.

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More so, different business entities like clubs, bars, broadcast media and event organisers also recognise and hire DJs as a catalyst in attracting a big number of clients.

Hassan Sakubu, aka DJ Bissoso, is one of the most popular and longest-serving DJs in Rwanda. He has been in the industry since 2008, spinning discs at some of the biggest clubs, like People Club, Dance Venue, Planet Club, and KBC, among others.

Now a VJ with Rwanda Television’s ‘The Jam’ show, Bissoso has also been behind the decks at some of the biggest concerts in Rwanda, including the inauguration of President Paul Kagame in 2007.

DJ Bissosso is one of the veteran DJs in the country with a career spanning over 14 years.

He is also an exclusive DJ at each of the road shows of the annual Bralirwa-sponsored Primus Guma Guma Superstar, alongside his niece DJ Ira, since its inception in 2011.

He says modern DJs are quite different from the DJs of 6 years ago where many viewed them as people who just played music for fun.

“Rwanda’s DJs have potential. It is rare to see a DJ mixing three genres in a club alone but Rwandan DJs are doing it, and very well.

However, even when some may be getting good pay, their career can be derailed if the bar or club loses clients or is closed.

“In good moments, deejaying can make you a top earner if done well, but there are some DJs who come in the industry without purpose, just thinking it is enough to be popular.

"That is not how a professional DJ works. DJs like those never last long in the game and I am pretty sure their careers stand on one shaking leg with no chance,” he says.

The industry has been a revelation for a number of young DJs in the past six years after it emerged that people are getting to understand the value of a DJ.

DJ Toxxyk is one of the fastest rising and shining DJs in Rwanda and a member of Dream Team DJs. He currently plies his trade at Cocobean Club in Kacyiru.

With support from his mother, coupled with passion, he says is getting motivated with the value DJs are having in Rwanda.

DJ Toxxyk, one of the emerging DJs in Rwanda, says the profession is now being taken seriously by public.

“People and club bosses are increasingly understanding the value and role of a DJ in a club or a bar, which was not the case in the past. There was rare credit given to our jobs some years ago because people thought deejaying was very easy.

"It is now pretty good to see how people’s mindsets have changed and improved and that motivates us and makes our job easy,” he said.

Although Rwandan DJs still have a long way to go, when compared to other DJs in East Africa, Kelvin Arinaitwe, also known as DJ Kelvin, is glad that his career has a promising future and is getting more value on the market like other jobs.

“People are giving value to DJs. Things have now changed because people like to go to clubs and bars hosted by their favourite DJ. If he/she quits the place they follow them.

"The market for DJs is wide. The number of bars and clubs is growing just like radios and TV stations, while event organisers are also putting DJ’s role into consideration, especially in helping the crowds get entertained,” he said.

The evolution also goes hand in hand with the professional equipment, which includes quality CD players, headphones, power extension, microphones, mixers, hard disks, turn-tables and laptops.

Currently, majority of DJs prefer to use the Apple MacBooks over Windows because their files are more protected.

Females, too, are beginning to realise that deejaying is not a career meant only for men. In Rwanda, three female DJs, namely Anita Pendo, Makeda Mahadeo, and Grace Divine Iradukunda (DJ Ira), have defied odds and made it behind the decks.

DJ Ira, who works at Rosty Club in Remera, says her career opened doors to a number of opportunities despite facing a number of gender-related challenges.

She considers herself a ‘risk taker’ who is always motivated to represent females and out to prove their capacity in the profession.

“I love being a DJ and I am proud to hear that people support what I do as a female DJ, although I sometimes have to deal with people who want to take advantage of me while on duty, simply because I am a woman” she says.

Despite all that, she encourages women who are passionate about the profession to join the industry.

“Young women should quit thinking that deejaying is a job only done by men. I think women can do it even better as long as they are doing it with a serious purpose.

"For me, this is the only job that I have and I am satisfied with the revenues that it generates for me,” she said.

DJs’ role in promoting music

On the artistes’ part, the most important service that they expect from a DJ is promoting their music.

All the DJs that Sunday Times managed to talk to admit that the contribution they made in promoting local music is not enough, with the majority pointing out that working hand-in-hand with local artistes would make it easy to push Rwanda’s music beyond borders.

“We need to be humble. If an artiste comes to the club, passes me by and sits without greeting me, and after some minutes he sends his friend to ask me to play his song instead of coming to request it himself, how can you play a song for an artiste who behaves like that?

"We know our job as DJs is to play their songs as a contribution to promoting Rwandan music in general and it is a service I can never reject when an artiste politely requests me to, because we need one another,” says DJ Ira.

DJ Toxxyk believes each of the artists would be better off having their own DJ wherever they are going to perform because it makes their jobs easy as long as they rehearse together.

“This should be the time for each artist to think about having their own DJ because it helps them have a successful performance.

"Sometimes an artiste may feel frustrated with the way a DJ is playing his songs while he’s on stage or during a performance because they never rehearsal with DJs”.

Training aspiring DJs

DJ Miller, real name Virgil Karuranga, is excited about the industry’s evolution, given how fast the industry is growing, with rising DJs desperate and thirsty to join the profession and pursue it professionally.

He is hopeful that in the next few years, Rwanda will be having the finest DJs in the region, especially after the establishment of Scratch Music Academy, a new school grooming aspiring DJs.

Located downtown, the school delivers three-month professional trainings in theory, practice as well as discipline.

Since its inception in 2013, the school has graduated over 50 DJs, including the likes of DJ Kelvin, now a teacher at the school, DJ Diallo, DJ Selector Copain, DJ Kerb, DJ Smith, DJ Lenzo and DJ Clean, among many other big names in the industry. Recently, it also began enrolling some students from Burundi and DR Congo.

DJ Sharif, real name Amin Sharif Kalisa, the school founder and director, says the idea of establishing the school came three years after he realised that people were struggling to find a school that teaches disc jockeying. 

He insists that the school has so far played a big role in the development of DJs who are currently spinning the discs in different clubs and bars while he is looking to expand the school’s activities as long as he gets more resources, having realised how the career is positively changing the life DJs.

“I am planning to expand the school in terms of materials and staff, since foreign students are now interested in enrolling in our school. With limited resources, the school has been instrumental for young DJs to create jobs for themselves.”

Peter Uriho, one of the students at Scratch Music Academy, says he is looking to be a professional DJ and believes it can be a source of income in future.

“I am enjoying the studies and I am so desperate to enjoy the career, too, as a passion and a business. This is a good challenge for me and I don’t want to lose my focus to become a top professional DJ in the country,” he said.

Sharif believes that if the government supports the school, more jobs will be created which would in turn generate taxes.