In any industry, you need skill, hardwork and most of all patience. All this obviously comes in knowing what your passion is and what makes your heart sing; this is what set DJ Swaj on his journey as a DJ in a highly competitive music market in Kenya.
He was initially set to be in I.T but his soul was always on the decks. So what is James Gakuo’s aka DJ Swaj’s story?
- What drove you to the decision to become a DJ? When did that passion start?
I’ve always loved music, since I was a kid till now, I just grow deeper in love. As luck would have it; in high school, I was the entertainment captain so I was always growing closer to my cherished aspirations. When I joined campus, I learnt how to use the virtual DJ software and guess what; during the weekends my hostel room turned out to be the real deal.
My friends used to come through to chill and listen to my mixes and that really made me come to a realization that this could actually be it.
- Did you have any formal/official training on being a DJ?
After completing campus, I was lucky to get a job as an I.T assistant for a couple of years and that was my viaduct to deejaying. I saved some cash and when I felt it was enough, I wrote a text to a few big deejays asking for guidance and luckily DJ Krowbar gave me the contacts to SPIN TRADE ACADEMY where I trained for a month.
- You’ve been a dancer, you’re a club/corporate DJ who does shows, you’re invited to clubs & you work at One FM. How do you balance all these while still making sure you keep your audience always coming back for more?
All this is made possible by my team. I have a team that is like my family. We have grown together since day one and they actually advise me accordingly. Also, by learning from other DJ experiences; watching and listening to their techniques, skills and journey so that I can improve on my weak areas and perfect on what I know I am good at so as not to loose track.
I can also say if you love and enjoy what you do there is a way you convey the vibe to your crowd. You will always see me using some of my dancing skills when mixing and the crowd just reciprocates the love and fun.
- Speaking of balance, you’re also an ambassador for CoolBlack. How did that come about, why did you decide to enter this partnership & how is it working out so far (especially with your brand)
I have always wanted to stand out in terms of how I dress so in campus I always had my clothes branded at CoolBlack (it was then a small shop btw) and always worked on maintaining that image at all cost.
In short, CoolBlack has seen me growing and vice versa and when the time was right and the opportunity came by, I was so excited to partner with them. Right now CoolBlack is one of largest brands in the country.
Being a brand ambassador of CoolBlack has given meaning to my life considering the major role that should be played as a brand ambassador i.e. setting the trend and pace of the brand as it sells.
The external factors also give me a definite strength that keeps me pushing on when you know guys out there are looking up to you in what you wear in various events.
- For how long do you practice and come up with your playlists? And how do you decide which songs to include in your set?
When alone, I take at least two hours or less at least 3 times a week. When I am practicing together with my DJ pals, it takes more time and it also becomes interesting since we exchange ideas and get schooled at the same time. I thrive better in a team as opposed to doing solo. We also share new music and when alone you get the opportunity to update your playlist depending on the gig ahead.
As a Deejay, you create a vibe and that makes it easier for you to pick the right song that will make your crowd feel like you are taking them through a journey or a story.
- What are some of your most memorable moments?
My most memorable moments: I have shared the stage with some of the best creatives such as Eric Omondi, Jalango, Kaytrix, Crème Dela Crème, Lexx Montana, Fally Ipupa, Roberto, Gilad, Kenny Lattimore among others. I have also worked with big corporates such as Safaricom Ltd, Villa Rosa Keminski, Bylac Ltd, GAP Marketing, South African Tourism among others.
I don’t love mentioning these low moments but it is when I have done my job then the promoter or event organizer decides not to pay.
- How many hours do you spend in the studio? What’s the best part of your job?
I have two shows in a week. The weekday show is on Friday that welcomes you to the weekend and mostly it leads you to my Friday night gig. The other show is on Saturday morning and I love it since its very unique because I play strictly African house music. Before a show starts you have to be there like two or three hours prior to prepare.
The best part is that it’s very freestyle and we totally say what we feel and dance in studio like crazy. Sometimes, you don’t have to dress up to work, just easy vibe.
- What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt in being your own boss and having a team around you that believes in you?
Discipline. Be true to yourself. Have accountability partners.
Having a team that believes in you and your vision gives you motivation to strive better. Also, do not forget to treat them well and appreciate them oftenly.