Many people know right off the bat what they want to do with their lives, and others are well, late bloomers. However, Joseph Mwenda, aka DJ Joe Mfalme, wasn’t one of the stragglers.
He knew the exact place he needed to be for the rest of his life; on an elevated floor aligning the beats of some great music to the delight of those whose hearts, just like his, fed and thrived on sounds and melodies. But while he knew it, back then many considered his passion a frivolous pursuit.
And like many of his peers, he was compelled to choose something different in college, years that he now terms a waste of his time. Eventually, he found his way back to music, and today, has built up an impressive career making him one of Kenya’s most respected disk jockeys. He shares his business journey and his determination to build a legacy.
There are hundreds of DJs being spit out of schools every day. Why do you think you stand out from the masses?
I would say it is because I made a resolve to manage myself like a business. I come complete with a manager an accountant, a photographer, a driver, a social media manager, and a content creator. That said, I built up on the staff progressively. It was important for me to look at my craft as a business. It is how you earn what you are worth, something that is very hard to do in the industry. Oh, and my stage name DJ Joe Mfalme is registered and patented. That is how seriously I take this. I think it is very important to package yourself as a business, especially if your business is based on your talent. You are providing a service that cannot be replaced with a machine. This means you will be relevant for as long as you want and for as long as you can work. Begin right away to run yourself like a business. I have also learnt that in this business, lack of discipline and focus will take you down fast.
They say that an entrepreneur should manage business finances. Does your accountant exclusively handle the money?
Actually, the accountant’s services come in when need arises. Mostly, I use the accountant for tax-related work. I am the one who handles the actual cash. As for my manager, her role is to engage and negotiate with new clients on my behalf.
How did you start out?
I would say my journey began at Club Dimples in Meru. I would sit behind the booth and observe what the DJs were doing. That is how I got the skills. Then when I came to Nairobi, I started hanging out with DJ Krowbar who later introduced me to Kevin Mulei. That was way back before Mo Sound even existed. That was all the start I needed. The rest is a journey of seeking opportunities and working very hard.
How did you turn yourself into a brand name?
It has been a long journey. It cannot happen overnight. I will admit that the status I enjoy in the entertainment industry was boosted by working with big corporates like Safaricom and EABL. I appeared everywhere that I needed to be. I tell people that they should be on people’s faces all the time. Like for me, I have three TV shows and four radio shows. I do gigs, I do mixes online and for matatus. Being everywhere really pays off. All this effort translates to good returns on investments.
If you are a business, what is your business model?
I market my business online fully. I also distribute my mixes and advertise my gigs via artworks, videos and creating content around what I do. Everything including our merchandise is marketed online. I also have received business via referrals from previous clients who liked my work. So, when I’m at a gig I always have my business cards because you never know who will ask for your contacts.
How do you describe yourself to people unfamiliar with your craft?
I quite simply say that I am a DJ; a full-time DJ who plays on Radio, TV and at my own events. I work at three different stations and I organise my own gigs. Besides deejaying, I also do online marketing gigs by creating digital content.
Do you remember your first paid gig?
How could I forget? It wasn’t really paid for, but it was my first professional gig. It was at a college in Gigiri. My payment was in the applause from the revellers. We did not even have the money conversation. See why I needed a manager?
When did you realise that deejaying could become something you could make a great living from?
First when I joined Capital FM and then again when I did my first gig in America. I realised that I could make up to six figures in one event. When I came back to Kenya, I had to adjust my rates and slowly clients started appreciating that as well.
Your work life is very public. How do you separate business from pleasure?
I am very deliberate about that. I have converted all my social media pages to work-related ones. That means that when I am taking time off, I will be off all social networks. You will never see my private life online. And that demarcation helps my brain to switch between work mode and private mode. In the latter, I am not reaching for my phone to record the goings-on.
Some people keep to-do lists, what do you do to maintain your focus?
I have a vision board that I constantly refer to. It has my priorities. Also having a small but effective team helps a lot. I have realised that I would rather have a small and effective team than an army of people around me who do not deliver.
What is your advice to the thousands of graduates wallowing in joblessness?
Look at other options. What are you gifted in? You do not have to be employed to be able to have a source of income. Convert your passion to your paycheque. It might just work. And what do you have to lose from trying anyway?
Looking back, any regrets?
Yes, I regret I did not start deejaying immediately after high school. The two years in college spent studying animation were a waste.