One of the most prolific deejay the Kenyan entertainment industry has ever experienced, Paco Perez is back to the country for one more major throwback. This is the Twende Watamu Concert taking place at the Sun Palm Resort, this Easter weekend.
He is delighted to be back and going by the fact that the two-day gig is already sold out, the Madrid, Spain-based old timer has everything to smile about returning to Kenya where he honed is deejaying career.
He has been a busy man since he landed in the country a week ago and when I finally meet him for the long-awaited interview, he has been waiting for me at the restaurant for a few minutes.
“Would you like to have something?” he says, smiling, ignoring my profuse apologies for keeping him waiting.
He is a huge, polite, grey-haired man. Now in his 70s, he walks with a slight slouch, which has probably come with old age, and someone can tell that he had been a little taller in his early years. He speaks and laughs softly, and once in a while, I strain to hear him. When he smiles, his eyes brighten with a deep joy, as if he knows something nobody else in the world can figure out.
“Bring her mango juice,” he tells the waitress in his soft manner, “na mimi uniletee Tusker juice baridi (and bring me a cold Tusker juice).”
The waitress, having completely missed the joke, attempts to explain to him that Tusker and juice are different, and he listens patiently without interrupting and when she finishes, he asks for a Tusker.
“I didn’t know you speak Swahili.”
“Aha. I lived in Kenya for about 20 years.”
Many years ago, when Paco Perez first came to Kenya as a young man, he was part of a Spanish Band that had been invited to play at La Chateau Restaurant in Hotel Continental. While in the country, he toured around and played in other hotels both in Nairobi and Mombasa like The Stanley, Mombasa Beach Hotel and Hilton, among others - most of which he can no longer remember.
He would travel globally to Egypt, Hong Kong, Tanzania, United States and UK for the same purpose- music.
“Most of my career in music has been in Kenya. Even when I went abroad, I was working for Kenyans. I played for Kenyans in Dallas and Washington and London. There are many Kenyans in London.”
“Why?” I ask.
“I am known better by Kenyans. They understand me, I understand them. I am nothing without Kenyans.”
The legendary deejay started his music career at the age of 14, having been inspired by listening to records from Ottis Redding and Aretha Franklin. At 15, he made his first, small guitar, an instrument he loved and played until much later when he returned to settle in Kenya and decided to shift from being a musician to become a DJ.
“I never really went to a deejaying school. I taught myself how to deejay. God gave me a gift. Even as a musician, I could listen to a song once and be able to play it.”
He became popular in the 80’s and 90’s and he is considered one of the most legendary deejays to date.
As a deejay, he first played in Tamango Club, then, on Kimathi Street, Nairobi, which is now a bank. He later moved to Hollywood Club. At the Boomerang Club where he would later end up playing for years before he retired, he attracted huge crowds on the nights he was on deck, and the dance floor was always overwhelmed.
“Boomerang was real funky. We tried to do something…something unusual. I started playing there in 1982 and I was there for around 10 years. Before then, I was a musician but soon, I started discovering that clubs were preferring deejays over musicians so I turned to deejaying.
“Then, the clubs were going through a generational transition. Once I became a deejay, I started getting vinyl records (also referred to as long-paying records), from a friend in America. I then started traveling to London every two months to buy records. When I stopped deejaying at Boomerangs, I gave all the records to the club owner,” he says.
Mostly known for his love for Soul music, he revolutionised the deejaying industry in Kenya in the 80’s by introducing new styles such as incorporating live drums to his performances.
“Do you still play drums?”
“No, no. I can’t play now. I’m getting old,” he says, showing me his trembling right hand. “I can’t play anymore. Now it’s just deejaying.”
From Kenya, Paco moved to Dusseldorf in Germany for three years before he moved back home to Madrid with his Kenyan wife to whom he has been married for 30 years. Since moving to Madrid, he has slowed down and has not played or deejayed in a while.
“I don’t play anymore. Spain is different. The music is different. They don’t have so many clubs, not like here. They have small bars, which don’t exactly play my kind of music.”
“How was it like partying in the 80’s at Boomerang?”
He is silent for a few seconds, during which, he closes his eyes and smiles dreamily.
“It was magical,” he says, his eyes a little misty. “People danced and danced till morning. I connected with them. They enjoyed. We were there with DJ Dave, DJ Tubbs and DJ Adams. DJ Dave and DJ Tubbs are dead, it’s only me, and Adams. As a deejay you need to connect with people. You study them and understand what they like. You just can’t play what you like because you’ll be playing for yourself and that’s not right.”
Last Friday, a day after he had just landed in the country, he accompanied DJ Adams for the Soul Train evening at Ngong Hills where he (Adams), plays every Friday, and he was shocked and perhaps a little angered by what he saw.
“People don’t want to dance anymore. They just sit and use their phones. Others are only interested in watching TV. Nobody was dancing. During our time, there was no TV. Only music and ladies.”
Then laughing cheekily, he adds, “But I’m not interested in the ladies. I am a believer now, me and my wife, we are devoted Christians.”
But Paco is not just shocked by people sitting down and using their phones in clubs, he is also worried about the contemporary music and how technology has changed a lot of things.
“Back then, we had no machines. We played on vinyl, but we did all the work. Nowadays, there are all these computers and cell phones. Making music today is like a computer game, it’s like mathematics on a computer. You just arrange things and you have a beat. Such music have no emotions because they are from the computer. Good music must have emotions. Music must have musicians. Musicians give music feelings. Even for myself, whenever I want to play anything, I first have to feel it. To play disco, you have to get in the mood.”
Since around 2011, he comes to the country almost twice every year, around Easter and in December. This year for instance, he is here to perform at a gig dubbed ‘Return of the Boomerang’, which consists of two events, one which was at the Carnivore on Thursday and another down at the Coast in Watamu this weekend.
“Deejaying has changed quite a lot. I don’t like the way deejays scratch nowadays. Music is meant to be enjoyed. It is something you feel inside. Scratching spoils the music. What is the point of the noise,” he laments.
The event at Sun Palm Resort in Watamu, is a nostalgic journey back into the 80’s and the 90’s, one Paco describes as the “Return of the Boomerang,” when music was music and club and discotheques were all about the dance.