July 04, (THEWILL) – Spinning discs on turntables is what DJ Jimmy Jatt is best known for by all who have had cause to deal or relate with him. Younger and upcoming DJs look up to him for inspiration and guidance. He is almost always on call in the grandest parties in Lagos. He has a permanent corner in some of the swankiest clubs in town. As far as disc jockeying in Nigeria is concerned, the brand Jimmy Jatt has become such an enormous success that you easily forget people like Stagger Lee ever existed. What is the secret of his success?
As he tells it in this charming book, hard work, consistency, focus and, above all, passion have driven Jimmy Jatt as a DJ. Indeed, this publication is meant to celebrate his quarter of a century as a spin master from a poky room in Obalende to a world stage he now dominates. And his reputation is still growing.
From the fluffing disc jockey in a village hall to the savvy spin master in a city club, getting people to the dance floor through his inimitable and heady mixes is what Jimmy Jatt is known for. Now, he has proved he is equally adept at spinning his own story. And he spins it well to the pair of Peju Akande and Toni Kan in a new book, Avant-Garde: The Cool Jimmy Jatt Story.
It is a new kind of biography Peju and Toni have resurrected in these shores. Instead of the conventional bio where the author(s) intelligently interpret the subject’s life and times, they let him speak direct to the reader. It is as though you are in a room where Jimmy Jatt is doing a solo retelling of his odyssey as a disc jockey, with timely interventions by the authors leading him from one aspect of his life to another.
It is a success for both the story teller and his listeners because they cover much ground. Nothing is skipped over. The significant and the banal are given equal space, Jimmy Jatt as a tagalong to parties his senior siblings, Tunde and Tayo, staged where he rapped and did some bit of break-dancing; his infatuation with music and deejaying once he got his first headphones on; his addiction to coke and bread; his pranks with other struggling artistes by dodging bus fares in Molues on Lagos routes. There is something to delight the reader or get him turning the pages.
The Jimmy Jatt story is not about him alone. His father, Adedoyin Amu, gets his due. Though his third son became a DJ by accident, it was Adedoyin who started off all of them by retailing and selling records and Sanyo products at No 17, Odo Street in Obalende. He had an eclectic taste in music for he was at home with juju and jazz, apala and fuji, rhythm and blues, disco, highlife and rock. Whichever record reigned at the time, you might just find it in Mr. Amu’s collection.
Fresh from London in 1986, Obi Asika recalls visiting Jatt Studio in Obalende. A reigning DJ at the time, Asika had a backpack loaded with 400 records to show off, presumably, to another DJ somebody described as “the best in Nigeria.” The newly arrived from London also came with an attitude. He considered himself a metropolitan sophisticate to a homeboy who probably couldn’t tell a swing from a rumba.
But after getting to know Jimmy Jatt, Asika himself is now more than convinced Jimmy’s swag is different. “Jimmy can deejay to a stadium of a hundred thousand people and keep ‘em motivated and he can deejay to a party of a hundred people.”
Jimmy Jatt’s road to Disc Jockeying and, ultimately, stardom started as a joke. But today, as Asika maintains, “if you talk about the entertainment industry in Nigeria and you don’t talk about Jimmy Jatt you’re not being real.”
Other renowned artistes have commendable words to say about Jimmy Jatt, some of whom he nurtured like DJ Mixmaster Tee, some of whom he gave their first big show like 2face Idibia. Olarewanju Fasasi aka Sound Sultan calls Jimmy Jatt “a man of great value…helpful yet humble, very influential, relevant and still grounded.”
Grounded is Jimmy Jatt in other aspects of life no doubt but disc jockeying takes first place after browsing Avant-Garde. He had the luck to begin his career when there was great music to jolt Nigerian youths from a lethargic highlife genre their parents loved but had no appeal for them, music by immortal bands like The Commodores, Teddy Pendergrass, Dynasty, Lakeside, Whispers, The Jacksons, Prince, Blackbyrds, Millie Jackson, Steve Wonder, the list is endless.
And then, when the likes of Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, L.L Cool Jay appeared on the rap scene, Jimmy Jatt knew his moment had come as a rapper, too. Millions of youngsters loved the fast-talking, slow-thumping beat mostly done outdoors. Alone, he started the Road Block Jams that many corporate bodies quickly latched on to for self-promotion and a way to encourage emerging talents in music.
More than a third of younger Nigerian artistes went on tour with Jimmy Jatt at one time or the other for a Road Block show. There was Daddy Showkey and Daddy Fresh, Sound Sultan and 2Baba, Eedris and Eddy Remedy. Dozens of DJs followed the Road Block as well, always piloted by the innovative Jimmy Jatt.
Explaining the concept of the Road Block to the authors, Jimmy Jatt declares thus: “The Road Block was born out of the fact that I came into Deejaying from the position of what you would call, not a frustrated artiste, but an aspiring artiste that could not get the help needed because at that time, people felt that the kind of music we were doing wouldn’t get anywhere. Luckily for me, I had started gaining some fame as a DJ and so I thought of creating a platform for people like me who believed in what we were doing. That was how I started the Road Block.”
A self-confessed street-smart guy, Jimmy Jatt however distinguishes between negative and positive aspects of being street-smart. “I don’t see myself as a street boy but I consider myself street-smart…I know the streets well. I lived in them, I walked in them, I played in them, I learnt from them…The streets are not all about smoking hemp and being an area boy. The streets can be beneficial if all that energy is channeled into something positive.”
It is not on record Jimmy ever did dope or some such chemicals even when it would have been easy to access for a roving DJ like him. Even without such boosters or Dutch courage, Jimmy Jatt knew his surrounding well. “On the streets, if you are not confident, they will push you around…You see this person whom everybody knows to be a tough guy. You, however, know his source, where he comes from and when you know where somebody comes from, you will know the person wasn’t born with iron for bones.”
Giving Disc Jockeying a respectable face
Avant-Garde shows that when the gangly lad from Obalende began his career (he also lived in Maroko where his father built a house, Ikoyi and Lagos Island) the profession was meant for misfits. DJs plied their trade mostly in disco halls, a place where people thought all the bad things happen, “where people used to go and smoke hemp, womanize and do all sorts of bad things.”
A level-headed guy, Jimmy never did any of those things even though there was much peer pressure. Like sportsmen and artistes, DJs attracted a special following from babes. Been a good looking guy, Jimmy must have had a bevy of the most fetching to choose from. They never turned his head for once. Instead, he settled for an Edo girl whom he is married to today, with two grown daughters, Oyindanmola and Oyinlola.
Jimmy Jatt also affected a unique sartorial blend to go with his new-found métier. Transparent designer eye glasses, face cap turned backwards or forwards, a style that some of his colleagues have adopted till this day. As for his look and composure, Olisa Adibua says he is “the first DJ to turn deejaying into a proper professional business; who understood the whole idea of creating the image, and creating the brand.”
As the book shows, there were trying moments, too. Successful brand or not, Jimmy Jatt sometimes had a raw deal with his clients. Doing his kind of business in a country where power supply is erratic, such disappointments are to be expected. In one such show, they collected extra money from Jimmy Jatt for diesel. But late in the night, the light went off and wasn’t restored until much later. But before then, the crowd had lost patience, attacked those at the gate and collected the takings for the night.
More than 37 pages of mostly colour photographs accompany this engaging book about an equally engaging personality. This is where the reader is sure to raise his eyebrows about the publication. The editors should have combed through the captions more than once.
Even so, the pictures not only help carry Jimmy’s story forward but also broaden the entire vista of the man at the centre of it all. There are dozens of entertainment stars posing with the subject, from Gbenga Adeyinka to AY, Ego and Lagbaja, Basket Mouth and Basorge, Julius Agwu and Chidi Mokeme. There is no entertainment personality you don’t find with him in the pages of Avant-Garde.
In most of the shots, they are almost always smiling, the pose to strike in a classical photo-ops as those in the entertainment industry are wont to do. But hear Ikechukwu Godwin Ogwa muse about Jimmy and you know the smiles are not feigned. “The thing I like about Jimmy is his calmness, his understanding; how he quickly knows your feeling and how fast he tries to do something about it. You can always go to Jimmy and tell him something that you feel and he has ears that listen.”
Nearly all the stars in the photographs and his wife and children have said so about the spin master who is still scratching even after a quarter of a century on the job.