Kenyan DJ banks on online fans to create paying

Identifying and realising one’s talent can be quite a journey, therefore, doing this and being able to transform talent and passion into a successful enterprise is quite a joy. This is the exact account of a self-taught 30-year-old disc jockey from Dagoretti South, Nairobi County.

We meet Dennis Situma, known to most by his stage name, Selector Denoh, on a breezy afternoon. He welcomes us into his studio warmly. It is a small and unassuming rented space in a residential area in Mutuini, Dagoretti, its true nature only revealed once inside.

Born and raised in Eldoret during his younger years, Dennis and his family relocated to Nairobi when he was in Grade Four

“My mother works with Posta, and she had gotten a transfer to Nairobi,” he begins. “We moved to Kibera, where I grew up for the rest of my childhood and where my long jig with music began.”

Right from an early age, Dennis notes that he had a love for computers, and it so happened that his mother bought one for them when they relocated to Nairobi. Apart from his interest in computers, he notes he also had a deep passion for music, and a few weeks into their new home, he quickly befriended a trader who used to sell music compact disks.

“Owning a computer in the early 2000’s was no small feat, and I therefore used to feel very tech savvy, which only fuelled my curiosity more,” he notes with a hearty laugh. “I was in class five when I had my first go at deejaying. I bought the Tractor DJ software from the music shop, as well as the Virtual DJ software. I liked the latter more as it was more advanced and offered more functionalities.”

Dennis notes that at this point he was just mixing music for fun as he lacked any experience, and he took it as his time to learn and start developing his skills. Apart from music, he also engaged in other activities such as dance and football, as he was yet to zero in on any key interest that he wanted to persuade. He adds that these activities kept him occupied and helped him deviate from delinquent behaviour usually associated with areas such as the one he grew up in.

“Fast forward to 2010, after I finished my high school studies. That is when my identity as Selector Denoh was born.”

Together with a friend, Simon Kimari, they started a movies selling business, as well as a cyber and PlayStation centre. However, fate dealt them an unlucky hand and their enterprise failed after a few years.

“I still had some money, however, and I used it to buy a camera. I had once again decided to try my luck in a different direction. While selling movies I had gotten interested in video editing and I had gotten the Adobe software and started practicing.”

Dennis had an idea to shoot street videos and showcase how life was in informal settlements. To make the videos more appealing, he would identify young people within the society who had talent in various fields and showcase them on YouTube. One such video was a street cypher rap video featuring the Kenyan musical artist Zzero Sufuri.

“I had relocated from Kibera to Dagoretti in 2015, and I was looking to find my bearings again after our business misfortunes. Later in 2016, Facebook introduced the live feature on their platform, and as is the case with new things, I was very intrigued. There was a group called Kilimani Mums on the social network, and I started posting videos I recorded there, as well as doing live ones while out in the streets.”

Circling back to deejaying

 Despite his other engagements, Dennis notes that his interest in music and in being a DJ had not died. With even more advanced technology now, he was still practicing using his laptop, and he had picked quite a number of useful skills over the years. He had also decided to rent a small space which he turned into his studio, and where he would broadcast live shows on the Facebook page mixing music, together with a few friends with similar interests he had picked along the way.

“We used to play reggae music, and the reception was quite good, much better than we had expected. We were just doing it for fun, however, and we did not know how to monetise our show until one day when one of our fans contacted us and gave us an idea.”

He says as they were still struggling, they would sometimes be cut off mid-show when they ran out of data, and they would therefore request their fans to buy them airtime. The fan, a woman, gave them the idea to produce merchandise and sell to their fans rather than ask them to fund their airtime, that way, they would earn some income.

“When we started, we would sell about three or four t-shirts per show, each at Sh1, 000. This was a significant achievement for us given our previous situation. I also think this did not go well with the group administrators and we were blocked from the page.”

In 2017, they decided to start a page of their own, Jamdown Shafflas TV, on Facebook. Dennis notes that this was quite the backslide, as they were used to playing for more people on the previous page, yet now they were starting afresh. However, with time, they slowly began amassing a following.

“Amongst our regular followers was a DJ from the US who gave us tips on how to improve on our sound. This was a year later in 2018. We bought an iRig, which is a small voice converter, which he helped us import. Instantly, the quality of our music shows improved, it sounded like radio. By then, we had also bought a mixer for Sh120, 000.”

Their efforts paid off the same year, as they were contacted by their first a client from Dubai who wanted to advertise with them during their live shows.

“Covid-19 was my biggest blessing in disguise. By the time the country was going into a lockdown, I was the only DJ in Kenya doing live shows on the internet. This really gave me an edge even against big names in the DJ world. For instance, I was the go-to person for iRig, which other DJs wanted to be able to broadcast on the internet.”

Dennis and his team were also approached by DJs in the US who had created a forum, 254 Diaspora DJs, which helped them engage with a wider audience even in the United States. Dennis notes their followers were almost equally divided between locals and those living abroad.

“We used to play every day, and sometimes it would carry on the whole night due to time difference. I remember a time we collected Sh90, 000 in tips, within two hours.”

With more money coming in and following exploding, Dennis bought more and better equipment, and relocated his studio to a bigger more appealing space where he is currently located. The latest mixer cost him Sh720, 000, and the overall cost of setting up the studio was Sh2 million.

Currently, he has 20 DJs who perform in the studio, playing from Tuesday to Saturday between 10pm to midnight, and all day on Sunday. Mostly, they play reggae music, but happily play other genres as well, as may be requested by their followers.

Besides advertising gigs, the group also sells branded merchandise through their social media platforms, with a hoodie going for Sh3, 000, Sh1, 500 for a t-shirt, Sh600-800 for caps and Sh500 for a water bottle. They also perform at events and entertainment joints, besides offering streaming service assistance to institutions such as churches. On the side, Dennis also runs a beauty shop.

He concludes by noting that his drive in life is to always be better, to improve on himself and learn something new every day.

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