Malcolm Gladwell once described the 10,000 hour rule: that to be accomplished in a certain field, one needs thousands of hours practicing. A question plagued me throughout my reading of Avant Garde, Jimmy Jatt’s autobiography: how many hours could be accrued to the entire span of an active twenty five year career?
Jimmy Jatt’s story is a mesh of intersections. The delightful story of Africa’s most successful disc-jockey criss-crosses easily with the biography of contemporary Nigerian music. It is also a story of humble beginnings and lofty endings. A screed on how doggedness foreshadows excellence. It is all this and much more.
An appraisal may begin from the delightful psychedelic theme cover page which has Jimmy Jatt’s portrait rendered in a burst of colours. It is almost reminiscent of the New Yorker’s accompanying illustration to the review of William Onyeabor’s compilation, Who is William Onyeabor? I am curious to ask what Jimmy Jatt shares with the 70s beyond, perhaps, his birth date.
Written by Peju Akande and Toni Kan, Jatt’s authorized biography reads like Carlos Moore’s book on Fela, This Bitch of a Life. Fluid, impersonal, almost colloquial, assuming a conversational tone as if you were listening in on Jatt’s ramblings about his life. This technique might seem easy for reading but it is deceptively so. The cadence of voice and the consistency of that tone send many prose writers to hell before their time. Easily this is the best way to tell Jimmy Jatt’s story and to ensure that it is read.
Jimmy Jatt ,born in Obalende, was named after an incident in his grandfather’s life. His growing years were not untowardly eventful, almost typical of children born after the civil war. Little is said about the circumstances concerning his birth: he was one of five children of his mother and his father was a polygamist. What was important was that his father, a successful sound equipment dealer, had set up a music studio which would become a watering hole for his sons, Jimmy Jatt and his older siblings.
He was a sickly child with food fads. Quiet, reserved and conservative–personality traits he would exhibit in adulthood. The role of his elder siblings in inculcating the love of music and the Hip-Hop culture is of importance. Jatt grew up in the 80s when the Hip-Hop movement had begun to spread like wild fire, little wonder his first moniker was Cool Master J. Cool was the prefix that everyone coveted and duplicated back then. And breakdancing was his first love. Even before he was old enough to go to clubs, he played the role of entertainer accompanying his brothers to gigs to dance. He also had a brief stint with rap and was adjudged competent by his contemporaries, but his forte would be the wheels of steel.
Through the span of the book, Jimmy Jatt volunteers information that he is neither the first nor the best of his contemporaries but he was able to focus on professionalism and elevate the act of spinning records to an art that people would pay premium for.
Like most innovators, he started early, humbly. It was not uhuru straight away for young Cool Master Jatt who grew up in Maroko (christened Las Gidi by his friend in the 80s), a slum that has been demolished in the Lagos of today. He had to go through his own share of hardships: hanging like a prehensile monkey to Molues to get tracks for mixtapes on the mainland; eating his staple of bread and coke to save for state of art deejay equipment, sometimes impersonating an officer to boycott transport fares and, all the while, living in a one-bedroom apartment.
Jatt probably had a soft landing for he believed in what he was doing. He had also picked a career that he loved.
Reading Jatt’s story one comes away with the lesson to persist at doing what one loves. Even when passion will suffice, one could benefit from the blessings of siblings and mentors. His siblings who had formed the JATT studio (an acronym of their names including Jimmy’s) were responsible for his growing interest in Hip Hop—they took him break dancing, taught him to mix tapes and put him under the tutelage of DJ Kachi who gave him his first lesson in the act of disc-jockeying.
Jimmy Jatt stayed relevant by being up to date in terms of technology and being as professional as possible. There is no gainsaying that this was how he embraced the corporate world. He also stayed relevant to the homegrown Hip-Hop culture by championing Road Block, a Hip-Hop benefit, even while Hip Hop in Nigeria was still fledgling. In spite of sponsorship difficulties and other hardships, Jimmy Jatt embraced a cause that perpetuated a cultural awareness and enlisted people to a movement that has escalated into what Nigerian Showbiz industry has become today.
By paying his dues, Jimmy Jatt would inadvertently situate himself in the middle of the renaissance that Nigerian music now enjoys. From Junior and Pretty’s Monica to Davido’s Aye is a trajectory that might deserve an entire volume but Jatt’s story is what we have now. Road Block morphed into what became Jimmy Jatt’s Jump Off and there is no gainsaying that he deserves a place in the Hall of Fame of Nigerian music for that alone.
Interestingly, even though the unseen forces that led to the explosion of Nigerian Pop music is hardly dwelt upon, one can feel the undercurrent of insight in Jimmy Jatt’s posturing as a deejay; he surrounded himself with would-be stars (notably Sound Sultan, 2face, Daddy Showkey) and he played a pivotal role in the worldwide acceptance of our tunes.
Add to this, his sui generis collaboration album called Definition, which featured prominent artists in the excess of fifty. Perhaps when the time comes for serious Nigerian music scholarship, Definition will be recognized for what it truly was: a worthy tract validating Nigerian Hip-Hop and prescribing a place for it in the world class echelon.
Need I add that DJ Jimmy Jatt is a delight to watch? I happened to watch him play about six years ago as an undergraduate in one of those campus storms and I was fascinated at the poise and deftness with which he went about his business. He clearly had that uncanny understanding of how to make people move in a party and this is a powerful gourd in any D.J’s goatskin bag.
Like in Fela’s biography, Jatt’s story is also told through the eyes of bystanders, interviews of his wife, daughters, siblings, friends, accomplices and acquaintances. A summative description of Jimmy Jatt is that of good-heartedness, professionalism and being a conservative man who values family and friendship. I daresay these are the ultimate virtues that all men must possess.
Avant-Garde also enjoyed a sheaf of pictures chronicling his lives and the illustrious career. I suppose that the need to write his biography stemmed from the celebration of twenty-five years of doing what he does and knows how to do best and this is no lean feat.
This is no lean feat at all.