DJ POISON IVYWhere were you born?

I was born and raised in Kenya and I moved to the US at the age of nine. But this is still pretty much home.

When did you become a deejay?

When I started university in 2008; I was 19. A couple of my close friends were deejays, including DJ Adam Austin, who’s my mentor and fraternity brother. At the time he was the ‘it’ deejay in campus. One time he stored his turn tables in my house and asked me if I wanted to learn, so I did, and that’s how the story began.

What were you pursuing in college?

I majored in corporate communications with a minor in advertising at Marquette University.

And ended up as a DJ?

Yes. It’s communication though, sort of, isn’t it?

Did your parents support that choice?

My mom is the coolest in the world — she has never questioned my drive or choices. All she’s ever done is offer me support and give me the guidance that I need. It’s always interesting when her friends ask what her child does, of course she tells them I’m a DJ with a disclaimer that I didn’t go to Deejay School. I feel blessed that I have a supportive parental base.

Did you ever question your own decision?

No, because I’ve always been this way. I’m into so many different things. College was something that I knew I had to do, I knew I had to complete my formal education. I use my degree but it’s just being applied in a different form. I really didn’t see this coming, otherwise I would have gone to music school. Its fate, its serendipity.

Was Kenyan music what you started off with?

Honestly, I started with hip hop and R&B. But I grew up idolising the Ogopa DJs, and the likes of E-sir, Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Nameless, and Mr Lenny. I’ve always been in tune with what’s happening here, but it wasn’t what I started spinning initially. However, as time went by and I learnt how to deejay I realised it was just a matter of opening my mind up.

When did you seriously start keeping up with Kenyan music?

I’d been away since 1999 and I came back in 2011, it was so dope to come back and see everything. There were deejays abroad like XP and Pinye and they would put their mixes out there. So when I came back and saw the scene I thought it was really cool.  Last year when I was here I visited Homeboyz, and now I spin there as well. I started building relationships with Kenyan deejays, artistes and other personalities and it opened a door for me.

Being at Homeboyz, does that mean you’ve moved back?

No, I’m still living overseas bit I submit mixes to them via email. They are pre-corded, I’m a late night deejay.

So you’re having your cake and eating it

Oh yeah, certainly. Look at the world and look at where we are going. You don’t have to necessarily be in a place to do something. I’m very grateful to producers over there like Max, DJ Andie and Talia for all the support. I’ve been infiltrating the Diaspora market in the US; it’s a huge market and there’s been a fleet of (Kenyan) artistes coming over. We just had Sauti Sol come up for the Memorial Day weekend, and others like Eddy Kenzo and Willy Paul. I call it mini-Kenya.

How receptive are non-Kenyans to Kenyan music?

I’m actually challenging myself to integrate Kenyan music into my mainstream set. I feel it’s only until you introduce something to somebody that they know it exists and if they like it or not. They are intrigued that it sounds just like regular hip hop — I hate saying it like that, but they like the fact that we are able to use Swahili and sheng. They dance to it even though they don’t understand it. Music is a universal language, now it’s just a matter of not being scared and force-feeding it more.

So that means you play a lot of mainstream music as opposed to Kenyan music?

Yes, only because I’m in radio out there, I work for iHeartMedia.

That’s a big deal over there —

yes, I’m climbing up the ranks. I joined WKKV-V100.7 FM in Milwaukee as their first ever female DJ, so by virtue of being on air I play Top 40 a lot. I’m trying to learn to slide in some Kenyan music; that’s my goal. I see the success that other African countries are achieving and I think it’s very much possible for us to do the same. I want to put Kenyan music in the world map. There are so many artistes here who create that calibre of music like The Kansoul, Khaligraph… I want to be a part of that push.

On a scale of one to ten, how familiar are you with Kenyan DJs and artistes?

I will say a nine only because I don’t know everybody; you really can’t know everybody. But if I don’t know you, I know of you. I’m going to visit Pacho studios and hang out with the guys, I was also in Machakos and hang out with P-Unit, and everybody has been really receptive. I make it a point to meet people personally, I think that makes business relationships better.

Have you met any other female deejays in Kenya that you think could give you a run for your money?

(Laughs) You know, there is room for everybody — I don’t look at it like that. Nobody can do what I do and I might not be able to do what somebody else can. It’s about knowing your strengths and weaknesses and I appreciate everybody’s skill levels and styles. It’s all love. I’ve met a few of the lady DJs and they’ve invited me to go out and spin with them. There’s too few of us to start beefing.

How often do you come to Kenya?

I plan on being here once every quarter, I miss my family so much so it helps. The internet is great but in order to be effective with the scene and grow with it, I have to be in the streets and clubs and I can only do that when I’m on the ground.

What is the least amount you were ever paid to deejay?

Free. I’m not even going to lie. You have to start somewhere, some things you can’t equate to the cost of money. But I don’t want to encourage that.



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