Makeda Mahadeo, also known as DJ Makeda, is a CNBC Africa anchor, deejay, events host and also the kind-hearted judge in East Africa’s Got Talent television show. She talks to THOMAS RAJULA about her incredible journey
What’s your backstory?
I was raised in Jamaica by my mum. My dad is Rwandese but I didn’t grow up around him, so I didn’t know much about that side. I was raised as a Jamaican by mum’s family. It was only when I went to university that I started to become more curious about my African heritage and I decided to seek out a relationship with my father. That was also the first time that I ever thought about coming to Africa; I didn’t even know any Rwandans until I was in my 20s. That’s when I decided to come and
discover this side of my heritage.
Explain to us your thought process as an African in the diaspora and wanting to be in touch with this side of you.
I think everyone, maybe not everyone, thinks about their identity; who they are and where they come from. My entire life I always knew who my father was and where he came from but I didn’t grow up with that heritage or education. So it was easy for me to live a Jamaican life. It’s when I went to university, where I started to read a lot of African literature, that I became more curious about the continent as a whole. That’s when I also started reading about Rwanda, East Africa and the history around it.
When did you decide to settle in Rwanda then?
I first visited Rwanda in 2010 after having been to Ethiopia the previous year, where I had a great time. By then I had started reaching out to my dad more and we would talk on the phone a lot; we had a relationship. I felt at home instantly when I got to Kigali. I'd say that that’s when I came to settle but I’ve been back and forth in the years since.
You also met your husband in Rwanda …
I’d say we met shortly after I arrived in Rwanda, through a mutual acquaintance but it was just in passing. We really became friends in 2012, I think. We dated for some time before tying the knot in 2017. Now it all feels like I found a missing piece of my life.
Your résumé reads quite full. How did you end up a Jill of all trades?
There was always something with media in me. I hosted my first television show while still in university, it was called "The High School Tour". It involved a bunch of artistes who were raising awareness about HIV/Aids in high schools. Also did a bunch of things in production. My brother in-law at the time was a producer so I got to hang around a lot of sets and I became a production assistant.
When did you get into deejaying?
When I went to Rwanda, I was partying a lot and I found that the music felt a little repetitive. I just wanted to share with my new friends what we listened to back in Jamaica. I threw a few parties where I played music that I enjoyed and people
were having a good time. I started getting request to play at other people’s parties even though I was just putting playlists on iTunes and Virtual DJ. I asked some friends to teach me the basics of deejaying and it took off from there.
How did you end up as a judge on EAGT?
I got a call from the executive producer, Lee Ndayisaba, and he told me that they were thinking of me as one of the judges; the one representing Rwanda. I thought it would be a very cool thing to do it. They said that I’d have to go through some vetting if I
accepted, and I said ‘yes’.
How did the vetting go?
(Laughs). You’d have to ask them how I did, I didn’t vet myself.
What kind of judge would you describe yourself as?
I’ve read the feedback from fans and some say I’m too nice to contestants, that I say ‘yes’ too much. I think that’s the kind of energy I bring, to encourage and see the potential talent underneath the mistakes and missteps in performances. But I feel as judges we’re like a family and bring a very balanced level energy to the show.
How has the experience been, as judge?
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, I’m so happy they reached out to me. It’s something I would have wanted to see — people from East Africa (I call them my cousins) coming out to show what they are passionate about — if I wasn’t a part of it already. I’m inspired by their courage to do that in front of people.
How do you feel about the other judges?
They say surround yourself with people you want to be like. I admire each of their work ethic that’s got them to the levels they are in their respective careers. Also our chemistry is very organic.
How do you feel about Kenya?
Ever since I first came to Kenya in 2011, I’ve always really liked it here; the energy, vibe, and just that Kenyans are really cool.
Something people don’t know about you?
I wanted to be an actress but production became my passion.
What’s your mantra as a judge?
Encouragement and empathy do wonders.
Your memorable deejay event?
Parties I threw with K (Kigali) Team as I started as resident deejay at The Lounge. Turnout was huge even though we didn’t take requests.
What gives you joy as a deejay?
Deejaying at the club scene, playing a song and people look back at you like “Eyyy!” because they’re having a good time.