DJ Pinye: Music, family discord, being single at 51 and life as DJ

DJ Pinye. [David Gichuru,Standard]

Growing up, DJ Pinye was a naughty boy, at one point he even set the family hoMe ablaze.   

“I burned our home, my childhood home. I was a crazy kid. I (finally) told my mum when she was in her hospital bed (that I was the one who burned it). We used to live in Kibra,” he says.

Now turning 51, Pinye - real name Peter Chuani, looks back at events that have shaped his life. From getting accused for his hard stance against playing what he called mediocre Kenyan music to pioneering the first TV music show.

Ironically, he does not like the deejaying environment or the party scene. And marriage isn’t in his plans.

“I am an introvert. If I had a choice, you would never see me,” he says.

It is the first major interview he is doing in years. As is his trademark, he has a simple look; a blue T-shirt, black jeans and white sneakers. He is spontaneous in thought and a perfectionist who doesn’t mince his word or care what others make of his opinions. 

It all started in 1988 when Pinye turned 18. He was now an adult in the eyes of the law. Exuberant about his newfound freedom, he stepped out to explore the nightlife with the first venture landing him at Carnivore Simba Salon, Nairobi.

His attention was gripped by the deejay, the veteran DJ Bubs, who happens to be part of the lineup of deejays performing at the much-hyped Payback 50+1 DJ Pinye birthday concert, slated for the same venue, where it all started, next Saturday.

“Deejaying has changed. Deejays have increased. Technology has improved to a point where my sister can mix without doing anything. All she has to do is choose the songs and place them (depending on) how she wants them to follow and then the machine mixes. We learned the analogue way where you had to cue the song, needle and side.

“There are so many software and because of that you find someone going to church for a wedding, charging (as low as) Sh5,000. We used to buy records,” DJ Pinye softly grumbles.

“You can now create your own fan-base via social media,” he says.

Back in the day, the few deejays who had the deejaying know-how and equipment used to call the shots. Only through them would one get exposure through airplay.

For an artiste to get exposure, again, they had to be signed with the few existing record labels that used to work with club, radio and TV deejays. The stables would record the musicians and avail the same to the deejays directly.  

Among the recording stables that existed back then includes Ogopa Deejays, Calif Records, Sync Sound, Johari Clef and Homeboyz Records. From their productions, the deejays would sample the music and play. It was near impossible for deejays to work with a musician directly.  

DJ Pinye’s troubles with Kenyan musicians started when independent artistes started pushing him to play their videos when he started The Beat TV music show. He would turn them away.

Most of this music, he says, was void of lyrical depth and TV play mastering quality. DJ Pinye quickly made many enemies in the industry.

“Let me focus, say currently like let’s say Nikita. This young girl comes and does this beautiful song and the song blows up. What is supposed to happen is that other people get inspired by her because she has done this song very well. The problem is that there is another 17-year-old, or even younger, who wants to do what Nikita is doing. Why I got into trouble is because when everyone is independent, they are doing their own music and there needs to be direction. You still need to go back and think on how to work hard towards 40 million streams if you have to make money through streaming platforms,”  Pinye says, adding young artistes must work with mentors.

He says his only failure in life is in the marriage institution. He doubts he will ever get married. Jokingly, he says his father has given up on the thought that either DJ Pinye and his brother will ever give him grandchildren.

“It is by choice that I am not married. It is the only department where I failed. You will never hear me use the term, but this is the only department where I failed. I made a mistake. In this office (club), the only one who remains and grows older is the deejay. Everyone remains the same age. Generations keep on leaving as others come. Because I was very passionate about deejaying and loved it so much, across the years, I felt like I was dating people of the same age. See, the ones who wanted to settle down have come and left me with the new younger ones. I’m the busy-body turning tables,” he says. He says he tried dating but failed.

Troubled family life

After turning 45, DJ Pinye announced he had retired. For five years, he disappeared from the public scene until his 50th birthday when friends threw him a party. After that, he started making club appearances.  

“When I got to 45, I retired, but when Covid came, there was a gap. Everybody was at home. I came back and the Sunday Cruise Online show became so huge,” speaking on his comeback.

Family life has not been all rosy for the successful deejay. For the best part of his life, he was not in good books with his mother, neither did he show attention to his physically disabled younger brother till his mother – who was his sole caregiver – passed on. His mother’s passing on signaled his turning point.

“I wasn’t close to her. I never used to talk to her. I hated her from when I was a teenager. I was mean and rude. Fortunately, before she died we made up and became close. I started focusing on her, not my brother. I was like that is her work, work she has been doing all her life. I didn’t think it was a big deal. Then she passed on.”

It was a season of painful family tribulations. After his mother died, his brother who had cerebral palsy also died. And then recently, his older brother died. It was sudden death.

Now DJ Pinye is left behind with a younger brother and a younger sister, aside from their father.

“See, my mum used to take care of this boy. I was never interested in what she was doing. He had cerebral palsy. Then, my mum passes on and I come here and start asking what mummy was doing. We could not take care of him. It was next to impossible. We had to hire nurses. The wake-up call was thinking that mum used to take care of him for 30 years without a scratch, and now we are here messing him up. I came to realise that my mum never had any life. She spend all her time taking care of (him). No friends, no nothing. When you think of such things, they make you feel so sad. If I knew, I would have done more to help. This was a wake up call and after that, I decided never to take anything for granted, especially with people who are disabled,” he says with a sense of deep loss.