DJ Fully Focus – The Rise of African Music and My three Ps to Success.

African music is on the rise.

According to the Washington Post, 2016 was the year of African music. This year, Afrobeats will reach new heights. As someone who has been in the music industry for the last 15 years and who has always repped Africa throughout—whether as an International DJ or event planner—everywhere I go, people want to know how they can tap into this movement.

During my recent tour in East Africa, I met so many young folks interested in pursuing careers in the music industry. Either as DJs, artists, event planners, artist managers or producers.

Each year, 10 to 12 million young people enter the job market in Africa. Knowing the power of music, entertainment and the creative sectors, I believe millions of these young people can find careers and make a living in these sectors. I want to share the principles that helped me get to where I am today.

The three Ps to success in the creative sector: Passion, Persistence and People.

DJ Fully Focus

Passion

I never knew my father; my parents divorced when I was a baby. My mum told me he loved to throw parties. I must have inherited my passion for music from him. From as early as I can remember, I was always curious about music. So much so that in Kenya, I used to skip school just to go listen to music in ‘Matatus,’’ Nairobi’s main mode of public transport (laughs).

By that time, my mum had gone to America and my siblings and I were living with our aunt. My aunt thought I was either possessed or on drugs because I was hanging out so much with the Makangas (Matatu fair collectors). It got to a point that I started becoming one as well. My family thought I was gone. My aunt thought, God, this is my sister’s son becoming a Makanga!

But it was all for the love of music and mixes because all they played was the latest music and mixes which I was obsessed about. It’s this passion that would help me learn how to DJ. Nobody ever taught me. I learned by listening.

Later on, it was my passion for music that helped me master the guts to tell my African mother—who was a school teacher—that I was leaving college to become a DJ

Because I was so passionate about music, I spent so much time listening to other DJs’ mixes. The more I listened, the more I learned. That goes for other creative skills that am good at, whether graphic design or production. I’m deeply passionate about each one of them and all self-taught.

Later on, it was my passion for music that helped me master the guts to tell my African mother—who was a school teacher—that I was leaving college to become a DJ. It was passion that kept me going when shows stopped coming, when I got fired by the radio station and couldn’t pay my bills and when I got evicted from my apartment. Sleeping on my friend’s floor, both hands in my face and with nothing but a big black paper bag full of all my belongings, in this moments, it is my passion for my dream that kept me afloat when I felt like throwing in the towel.

The Entertainment industry is a tough space to breakthrough. You have to be consistent in your  passion. Steve Jobs once said, “If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” Most people chase the money, and when it gets hard they give up.

DJ Fully Focus

Persistence

I remember like it was yesterday. The day my brother and I arrived in America. All we had was a backpack with two jeans and a few t-shirts. We left everything back in Kenya because we assumed we were going to America where money falls from trees. What a big mistake that was! We had a big culture shock. Things were very difficult in the beginning. My mother was still studying, and we had barely any money. We lived on food stamps and could only afford to shop at Salvation Army, where we found secondhand clothes.  But we had to make it by any means necessary. That rough beginning instilled persistence in me when I decided to follow my passion.

When I first started, I couldn’t afford Deejaying equipment and got lucky when one of my family friends bought them. At the time, I was working as a security guard (watchman). Every day, regardless of how tired I was, I went to my friend’s house and practiced after I got home from work. I practiced until late at night, sleep, then practice again before going to work. I was obsessed with getting the mix right.

By the end of the week, I had a CD mixtape. And during lunch break at work, I ran to the area gas station, grocery store and restaurant to sell my mixes to anyone I came in contact with. I was hustling my entire lunch break, knocking on car windows, selling my CDs for $5. Sometimes, I made $25 and when I was lucky, $100. I didn’t care about the money though, I just wanted to be out there. I was hungry to be known, to make a mix that was better than the last.

At the gas station, someone would pull up. I’d walk up to them and say, “Hi, my name is Fully Focus. I’m a DJ” I would have with me three mixtapes: Hip Hop, Reggae and R&B, each CD with a track list. I would then ask them what kind of music they like to listen too and whichever genre they liked, I’d sell them that mix.

I’ve came to realize that the people who inspire me such as my mother and those that I look up to such as TD Jakes and Jay Z all share in this mantra: Passion, Persistence and good with People.

That’s the key to sales. Know what the customer wants before trying to sell. A lot of people bought it, but some told me to get lost (laughs). That experience helped me with dealing with people, with rejection and with persistence.

Persistence was also key when I was looking to get into radio to pivot my career.  There was a college radio station I wanted to be on, but all the slots were taken for the next two years. Instead of giving up, I asked one of the faculty members to train me so when a slot eventually opened, I’d be ready. He agreed. On the last day of my training, I saw a tiny piece of paper on the wall that said one of the show hosts needed help with his show. I called the number that same day and sure enough, I ended up filling in for him for a few weeks. Eventually, I took over his time slot.

Later when I wanted to get on a bigger mainstream station, I would try for nine months to get a meeting with no luck. I’d call the program director every week and set up appointments. Every week, I showed up 15 minutes ahead of schedule to meet him. I would have recordings of my college radio show, I would stay for hours and he would never show up. I did this every week for 9 months until I got a slot. I didn’t care how long it was going to take; I just wanted it that bad.

With this gig, I was only making $21 a week for the two/three hours I was on air. But I was actually in the studio for over 60hrs a week; practicing, learning, practicing. I didn’t care how much money I made. I guess this is why they say to be good at something, you have to be willing to do it for free. It would be through radio that I’d interview an unknown new artist over a decade ago from Africa called Akon. Not long after, he dropped “Locked-Up” and took over the world.

You can’t have any major accomplishment without persistence. Be prepared to knock on doors. Be prepared to get turned down, to get knocked down. Be ready to keep knocking, and to get back up every time you get knocked down. If America has taught me anything, it’s that nothing comes easy. And those who reach the mountain top have to be tenacious. They are defined by their persistence and drive to succeed. Be prepared. Be stubborn. Be persistent.

DJ Fully Focus

People

There’s a reason why they say, “your network is your net worth”. People are everything. In the entertainment business, this is even more real. You must be able to connect and build relationships with all sorts of people from all walks of life.

When I was let go by the radio and struggling, it was my sister who introduced me to this Kenyan DJ who was really good. We formed a group that kick started everything for me again. Don’t get it wrong, it was because of my relationship with her that my sister made the introductions—she doesn’t just recommend anybody!

It was also the relationships I built with my fans and followers that made it possible to see there were gaps in the events and music scene in Atlanta. I was able to capture the opportunity and bring a new product on the market. It’s relationships built decades ago that allow me to go on tours in every continent and play in almost any country in the world today.

I’ve came to realize that the people who inspire me such as my mother and those that I look up to such as TD Jakes and Jay Z all share in this mantra: Passion, Persistence and good with People.

Remember that Akon interview over a decade ago? It’s the relationship we developed since then that makes it easy for us to be business partners today. Be kind, be open minded, deliver on what you promise, respect everyone and their time and money. Build many and diverse relationships. Build a strong network—after all, it is your net worth.

In 2018, I look forward to bringing Passport Experience to the continent. I look forward to working and collaborating with you. I look forward to taking African music to new heights.

 

Viva Team Africa.

Fully Focus

 

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