DJ Lyta does not understand why he needs to pay to play music he helps promote whenever he hits ‘play’. Lyta, who has made a name for himself in the Kenyan matatu sector says he’s just getting started
His rough looks are at complete odds with his soft-spoken nature. However, DJ Lyta (pronounced lighter) talks passionately about what he believes in, and he knows that his stand on the row in the music industry between the Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) and the deejaying fraternity over the newly introduced Sh15,000 annual fee requirement for deejays is not popular, so he was very wary when I contacted him to set up this interview.
The second-born of five siblings, DJ Lyta (real name Samuel Mwangi) in fact acknowledges that he was apprehensive about my request for a one-on-one interview, thinking it might have been a set-up by either the Performance Rights Society of Kenya (Prisk) or the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) officials, whose recent pay-to-play policy requiring all deejays to pay for playing Kenyan music in public he has strongly opposed in different fora.
The two camps took their acrimonious exchange to social media, with the sharply divided opinions among industry stakeholders and fans of local music threatening to divide the music industry right down the middle.
“I don’t think deejays should pay to play Kenyan songs; if they must, then the artistes should also pay the deejays for playing their songs. Mchezo wa pesa weka kando...[let them put money issues aside]” he had posted on his official Facebook page: Lyta Grabba.
“Mbona hao CMOs wanataka ni-support Kenyan Artistes na hiyo 15k yet hakuna Kenyan artiste ashawai kuni-support?” he asks with a hint of aggression.
“CMOs claim that their pay-to-play policy will help support Kenyan artistes; they should know that when I go to perform at a club, I go to entertain, not to support anyone,” he asserts. “For heaven’s sake, I am a deejay, not a philanthropist!”
DJ Lyta further says that CMOs should not act as if they represent all Kenyan artistes, adding that many local artistes personally give him copies of their new singles so that he can include them in his music mixes.
Indeed, he says that popular gospel group Kelele Takatifu (Silvanus Otieno and James Muhi) had, a few days before the interview, personally delivered a copy of their latest single, Ngori, to him for promotion in his mixes and live shows.
Even rapper Kenrazzy personally sends me his new releases,” he adds.
Interestingly, DJ Lyta never dreamt of becoming a DJ when he was young. After completing primary school at Bishop Mahianini Academy in Murang’a and his secondary education at Gituru Secondary School in Nyahururu, he proceeded to Zetech College for a diploma in information technology.
However, he loved to listen to hip-hop music and would even smuggle his discman to school so that he could listen to urban FM radio stations during night preps.
Although he initially favoured his dad’s idea of pursuing a career in information technology, his life took an unexpected turn when he started experimenting with Virtual Deejay, an open-source music mixing software he had discovered from a vendor from whom he used to buy music CDs during his high school days.
WASTING HIS LIFE
As it turned out, the self-made turntablist, who now doesn’t take “anything less than Sh40,000” per show, quickly learnt the ropes and used Virtual Deejay to record his early mixes and distribute them to friends, most of whom encouraged him. That’s when he made up his mind to become a deejay – a decision which incensed his father, who even summoned his uncles to “talk some sense into him” and save him from “wasting” his life.
“My dad just couldn’t believe I had lost interest in information technology after easily getting a diploma within a year,” he explains. “Fortunately, I had made up my mind and wouldn’t flinch, despite pressure from my family.”
During the interview, he keeps ignoring calls from a number of artistes.
“Why should I pay to play Kenyan Music when the musicians themselves are rushing to supply me with their music for promotion at no cost?” he asks, then switches off his phone to enable him to concentrate on the interview.
Accompanying him to the interview is his friend, Timothy Mwalimu, better known as DJ Tryce, who concurs with his views on the industry’s current hot topic.
“Most Kenyan artistes, including big guns like Nameless and Jua Cali, are cool with us; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t even agree to record voice-overs for our mixes,” argues Tryce, who incidentally, accompanied Lyta on his first live gig at the Secrets Lounge in Nairobi’s CBD in November 2013.
The long-time buddies made a cool Sh17,000 at Lyta’s debut gig, which they split in half, a far cry from the days when he would struggle to raise Sh40 for a matatu ride to town.
And after a six-month audio production course at Eagles Production Studio in the Nairobi CBD, Lyta immersed himself in his new-found passion. He started creating head-banging, half-hour music mixes and distributing them in well-labelled compact discs to matatus plying the Kayole route, where he lived with his dad. Streetblast Volume 1, which featured top reggae hits of the day, was the first music mix he created and was first played in a matatu in mid-2012.
“I didn’t even mind when the drivers and conductors started making their own copies and re-distributing them to their colleagues without informing me,” he says.
“I was just glad to see my mixes spreading to other transport routes as well.”
DJ Lyta’s mixes soon spread all over the Nairobi’s transport circuit, and soon found their way to neighbouring counties like Thika and Kajiado – effectively introducing the passionate, young entertainer to the world.
And because he always signed off his mixes with voice-overs of his stage name and mobile phone numbers, he started getting calls from passengers who had heard his music, with some even offering him opportunities to perform live at their private events.
By the end of 2013, DJ Lyta, an enthusiastic swimmer, had become the undisputed king of street music mixes. Notices of his upcoming live gigs soon started appearing on glossy posters at popular nightclubs.
UNDISPUTED KING OF MIXES
The man who idolises American deejays David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Khaled, and who was briefly mentored by Conrad Sydney, a Kenyan Deejay better known as DJ Syd, has since been on a roll. His trending music mixes triumphantly made foray into the transport circuit in Voi and Mombasa, and other far-flung places like Isiolo – a town from which he has been getting numerous invitations to perform.
But despite his rise to fame, he speaks with cautious optimism and still seems grounded in simple ways.
The youthful street deejay likes his ugali and fried fish, and goes out every now and then when he’s not working. He talks calmly even when mentioning lofty plans to set up his own recording label that will sign “uniquely-talented” artistes and produce mega hits “shortly”.
The mixmaster also has a thought-provoking question for upcoming Kenyan artistes keen to make a breakthrough: “If you sing about Kudandia Mathree yet such things don’t happen in places like Uganda, where there’s so much order in the transport sector, how do you expect your music to cross borders?”
His word of advice to upcoming artistes? Invest in high-quality music videos as most entertainment night clubs now exclusively play video mixes, unlike a decade ago when audio music releases would suffice.