- Martin Owaka, better known as DJ Demakufu, was not always ‘the street king’
- He once worked as a casual labourer, making as little as 400 shillings a day before he got famous
You know the name Demakufu sounds like wild fruit or those herbs that grow in the forest. Any special meaning?
When I was starting out, I called myself DJ Firstborn. I knew there was a DJ Lastborn, so I went for that. I was also the first-born in our family. But when I was recording the drop for my intro, which would be used in my mixes, the guy had these catchphrases he would say before introducing me, and the word ‘Demakufu’ was part of it.
It was catchy. A lot of people remembered it instantly, so I realised it would be perfect for me.
Most parents want their children to be doctors, lawyers or business executives. You know, own a small office with glass windows as they think about their next million deal. Did you suffer from that perception?
Oh yes. I grew up in Kakamega. All through high school, I was passionate about music and I wanted to get into it as soon as I finished school. I told my dad about this, and he was reluctant because as a typical parent, he wanted me to follow a ‘safer’ career path.
I travelled to Nairobi, hoping to get into deejaying school. My dad insisted that I enroll for a computer course instead. He was the one paying the fees, so I had no option. But after the first month, I told him that the fee had been increased.
So, you lied to him?
Oh, yes! I took the extra money and began saving. Eventually, I saved enough to sign up for deejay classes at Black Supremacy Sounds. After the first month, I did not have the fees, and my dad had found out about it, so I dropped out.
It was difficult to even get the training I needed. At the time, there were very many students enrolled, and the academy had a first-come, first-served policy. It was very difficult to get that practical experience while there.
I managed to hustle for some more money and joined another academy called Soul Sounds. At this point, I had given up on my dream of becoming a DJ. But I finished my course, even though I did not feel confident with what I had learned.
So, the cheques were not coming?
It was a long time before I was able to make something out of it. I had no money, and equipment was extremely expensive. Soon after leaving Supremacy, I went back home because I had nothing else to do.
My father would leave me on the couch in the morning and find me there in the evening. After some time, a family friend who knew the manager at Coca Cola suggested I go speak with him about a job opportunity. It turned out the only available jobs were for casual labourer jobs.
Are you kidding me! You worked as a casual labourer?
I worked as a sweeper, or whatever other jobs would be there. It was not always assured that there would be something to do, so some days we would go to work and sit there all day without anything to do. One day, I volunteered to accompany the company driver for a delivery.
I was the one who did the unloading and loading, and when we were done, I took the paperwork back to the company. I was being paid Sh400 every day, which, was hardly enough. Somehow, I was putting aside 100 towards my savings. I worked there for almost a year. All along, I had it in the back of my head that I would one day become a DJ.
What was the hardest thing about starting out?
My father was a typical parent. He never believed music was a paying career. It was a constant battle, having to convince him that it was what I wanted to do. Even with all that, he was still supportive. With the money I saved, I was able to buy a hard disk, and he eventually gave in and bought me a mixer.
It was almost three months before his investment bore any fruit. He had even begun to talk about selling it. But with the help of a fellow graduate of mine who had bought a player, we were able to start an academy and hone our skills.
How did you make your breakthrough?
I began recording my mixes and trying to create an image. I managed to get my mixes in the hands of one of the guys who supplied music to matatus in Kayole.
He agreed to help me. After a few weeks, my mixes were being heard in all the matatus plying that route. I reached out to others, and they helped me get the word out. Soon, everyone knew who Demakufu was.
I was still struggling. I had created the name and the brand, but I was not making any money. I still relied on side hustles like selling flash disks and T-shirts.
My big break came when I got a call from the manager at Ladida in Rongai. He told me he had heard about me and he was giving me a chance. It was my first gig.
Do you consider yourself successful?
Not really. I have definitely made progress, but there are still places I want to get to, dreams I am yet to fulfill. However, all in all, music feeds me and my family. My dad is proud of me and regrets why he didn’t support me back then.
You have an academy of your own. What is the biggest lesson you impart on your students?
I encourage them to see music as a career.