How much does a phone matter? Well, mine saved me when I needed it the most. Wrapping up a video call with my mother one evening, I couldn’t help but think of how I almost missed a video call weeks ago, a call that allowed me to smile as I ended the call with her.
Let me take you back to March, 2020, when Mutahi Kagwe in a blue shirt sent everyone scrambling for toilet paper in the supermarkets, when he announced the first case of Covid-19 in Kenya.
A global pandemic. Directives were issued. Among them? Closure of bars and nightclubs. I remember the moment I received a text message on my 2G phone from my boss, Bazu, days after the directive was announced.
Bazu was the manager at Roria Lounge where I had been the resident DJ for the past three years.Inside a restaurant and bar in Nairobi before Covid-19 broke out in March 2020File
It didn’t pay much, but it paid enough to keep a roof over my head, buy food and send money for my mother’s Arthritis meds.
“Morning bro, we have decided to let go 7 staff to stay afloat during these unprecedented times. I sent the statements on WhatsApp but I was told you don’t have WhatsApp,” the text read.
After 3 years, I got 2 lines in a text and ‘goodbye’. I wasn’t worried about losing the job as much as how I would afford my mother’s meds.
Later that day, after receiving the texts, I visited one of my DJ friends, Cindy, looking to find out if she knew of any opportunities, given my reputation as a master on the decks. She didn’t.
As we sat in her house, however, Cindy suddenly got excited as she realized it was 2 p.m. Not understanding what was going on, I asked her why she was smiling as she pulled out her phone.
As it turned out, one of the city’s biggest reggae and dancehall DJs was doing a highly-anticipated live-stream from his living room.
I was fascinated even as we enjoyed the smooth tunes of Popcaan, Chronixx and Vybz Kartel. On the matatu ride back home, I was still thinking about the mix when an ad on the radio piqued my attention.
Apparently, I could get a 4G Smartphone with a 5MP front and 5MP rear camera, 16 GB ROM and 1 GB RAM in the deal of my life, Ksh20 bob a day for nine months.
The offer from Safaricom, dubbed Lipa Mdogo Mdogo required me to pay only a deposit of Ksh1,000 to get the phone. Luckily, I wasn’t listed on the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB), which was one of the conditions to be eligible for the program.
Having owned my Safaricom line for more than six months, I met the final requirement. I dialled *544# and selected option 5 for ‘Lipa Mdogo Mdogo’. By the time the matatu stopped in my neighborhood, I had my voucher number.
I presented myself at a nearby Safaricom Shop first thing in the morning the following day, with my national ID and Ksh1,000 deposit in hand as well as the voucher number. Soon enough, I had the Neon Ray Pro in my hands, a 4G enabled device, and was off to record my first shows for a new online audience.
In the weeks that followed, I recorded tens of mix sessions, taking on various genres and themes. I aggressively marketed my work on platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram thanks to my Neon Ray Pro.
One day, after sharing a video of myself mixing in my tiny kitchen, I saw my phone vibrating. It was a video call on one of the messaging platforms, from a number I didn’t recognise.
I picked up, unsure of who it was. A middle-aged man with an expensive-looking suit was the answer.
“Hi, DJ Bigman, I’m John Casick from International Music Group (IMG). I’ve heard your dancehall mashup mix, it’s being shared a lot. I’ve also seen your work on the club circuit. Would you be interested in joining our virtual show to air on Kenyan TV next week?” he asked.
I quickly accepted after hearing the amount on offer. In addition, I got to perform a set as a DJ in a show that had some of the continent’s best artists, from my living room.
My mother had just called me to thank me for sending money for her meds that month. Smiling as I hung up, I knew that if it wasn’t for Njeri and Safaricom’s Lipa Mdogo Mdogo, things could have been different.A Safaricom Lipa Mdogo Mdogo posterFile