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The going gets tough for Kenyan deejays in wake of the Covid-19 crisis

By Adalla Allan
Thursday, September 17th, 2020
DJ Lyta.
In summary

Kenyan deejays are among the most hit by the Covid-19 crisis, and their only hope is for the entertainment sector to reopen sooner than later to bring to an end their untold suffering. Adalla Allan takes a look at how they’ve been fairing since the economic lockdown. 

Just like other sectors of the economy, the Kenyan entertainment industry has this year suffered greatly under the Covid-19 pandemic, especially after the government put in place strict measures aimed at curbing the novel coronavirus.

Since March 26 when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the dusk-to-dawn nationwide curfew, it hasn’t been an easy moment for the disc jockeys and other industry players that almost fully depended on clubs and concerts to put bread on the table.

Most of the DJs employed by clubs were rendered jobless or sent on unpaid leave untill further notice, while the freelance DJs were left with no events to perform at.

Having so much hope about the lifting of the restrictive measures in the near future, most entertainers have become a disappointed lot, especially with last month’s extension by the president of closure of bars, clubs and the curfew, which expires in a week’s time.

A majority DJs came out to sympathise with the president to give them a solution in order to find a way for them to continue surviving the hard times.

One of such disc jockeys is George Waweru aka DJ Kalonje, who took to his social media to urge the president to give the entertainers a remedy on how they are going to make ends meet without events on the extended 30 days.

“Dear President, we are not against the extended 30 days… But give us a solution as entertainers.

As much as this thing is not your fault neither is it ours, you told us to stay home we obliged, it’s been four months, what’s next?

Give us a solution (sic),” wrote the CHAT Awards Best DJ 2010 and 2011. 

DJ Lisney.

The post has since stimulated a debate as fans wants to know how their favourite spindoctors —who’ve worked so hard to keep them entertained over the years— have been managing to stay afloat through the pandemic period.

No walk in park

For entertainers such as DJ Lisney, she intimates to Spice that it has not been a walk in the park for her for the last five months, having to do without a single event.

Lisney, who mostly relied on performing at concerts and clubs mostly on weekends, says she was fully booked from the month of March to May.

She adds that some of the gigs were international in places that includes Dubai, Qatar, Tanzania and Rwanda, but were all cancelled due to the pandemic.

“The last five months have been so tough on me. Personally, I was not prepared in any way since I had it in mind that the pandemic would not take so long to end.

My side hustles, which includes a sound hire that fully depends on events, and my make-up line business, Lisney Beauty, which were also greatly affected by the pandemic. I had to shut one outlet.

It’s not been an easy moment,” says Lisney, who holds a bachelors degree in Commerce from the University of Nairobi.

To keep herself busy while staying at home, she says she has been spending most of her time sharpening her skills on the decks.

She adds that the current situation has taught her to always diversify, save and invest more since her business has played a big part in sustaining her during the tough times.

She says: “I have been working on my dream to become one of the most iconic deejays in Africa; I don’t intend to be your ordinary DJ.

I am also taking advantage of my following on social media; it is what has been feeding me over the pandemic period.

But I miss moving the crowd! I miss the party mood that I used to create. I also miss travelling to different places.”

Unfamiliar territories 

Things have not been different for Samuel Mwangi popularly known as DJ Lyta either.

Just like Lisney, he says that it has been tough to handle the current situation, but it has enlightened him that when one door closes, there is another one that definitely opens.

He says he had some savings for his upkeep, but it could not sustain him for the five months without concerts.

This has since led him to look for other greener pastures, taking advantage of the brand that he had built for himself before the pandemic.

“The strenuous situation that the pandemic has brought to the entertainers has made me venture into another endeavour that is music production.

Through my deejaying, I appreciate that I have built a name in the game, so in the recent times, some artistes have found it easy approaching me to produce their music,” he tells Spice.

Lyta, who became popular through his ‘Hot Grabba’ dancehall mix series, says at the beginning of the ‘quarantine’ period, he used to do live shows on social media, but with time, the platform became saturated making him quit.

“I did online live shows for a while on my social media platforms and it was great at first because I used to make some decent amount of money through music requests and big ups until it became so overcrowded.

It reached a point when the audience would send tips for big-ups, which we couldn’t resist.

You could end up giving so many big-ups, which would make most fans leave your platform,” he intimates.

For Jones Achido aka VDJ Jones, the hit by the pandemic had him sent on a compulsory unpaid leave as soon as hotels were ordered for closure. He was a resident DJ at Ibis Styles Hotel in Westlands, Nairobi.

He had to open up his own hospitality line business Super Fryz Restaurant in Umoja estate, Nairobi, and has since realised that self-employment is the best investment.

He has also ventured in music production and featured on several gengetone video hits during the pandemic period.

“Almost 70 per cent of my life revolves around the entertainment industry, but during these pandemic times, it has become apparent that there is life beyond clubbing and entertainment.

Most DJs never really invested because they were sure about earning cash from concerts and parties every weekend, so they would spend more expecting to earn as usual. So, the crisis caught them unawares,” he says.

Adds Jones, “I have already accepted and adapted to the current situation and most of us are already used to live with the pandemic, but it will be better if the entertainment joints could be reopened soon.”

The new normal has made him become more passionate in business as he desires to still continue growing his business even if things will go back to the initial normal.

Pushed to the wall

Kelvin Kinyele, who is known by his stage moniker DJ Leskie, says what has been keeping him afloat during the tough times are the TV shows he has been hosting.

Leskie—who used to frequently mix at Zinc Lounge in Nairobi before Covid-19—says the five months have not been easy at all for him.

“For the past five months of the pandemic, after losing my main source of income, I have been depending on playing livestreams, making new mixtapes and sometimes holding online mixing sessions on my Instagram and Facebook pages.

I have also been trying to push my DJ academy; I offer online and on-location mixing classes.

I think social media platforms are the way forward as far the entertainment industry is concerned,” he says.

All these spinners wish that the government should consider reopening of the entertainment joints as well as having a proper system for entertainers and support them as most DJs have turned into beggars.

“Our humble request to the Kenyan government is that it provides at least some basic needs to the most vulnerable amongst us.

If possible, they should allow the entertainment industry to reopen gradually, with all Covid-19 measures taken into consideration,” says Leskie.

Lyta, however, has a piece of advice to his fellow DJs any other player in the entertainment industry: “As DJs, we have learnt it the tough way that we need to invest in other ventures as well, so that we don’t only depend on one craft.

Some of the DJs are undergoing depression now as we speak, since we still don’t know when this pandemic will end or when the government will reopen the entertainment sector.

But we are optimistic for the best to happen,” he says in conclusion. 

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