NATIVE Exclusive: In conversation with DJ Switch

Tuesday 20th October 2020 is a date that will never be forgotten in Nigeria. 20.10.2020 will always be remembered as the day the Nigerian military opened fire against peaceful protesters, in a calculated attack against the Nigerian youth fighting for their right to life, peacefully exercising their right to demonstrate. Initially denied by the Nigerian Armed Forces (who took nearly one week to accept responsibility), we are experiencing in real time, the efforts of an authoritarian government to rewrite history, omitting the devastating state-sanctioned killings that occurred at the Lekki Toll Gate Plaza, as well as other areas in Lagos State.

When Governor Sanwo-Olu announced, with finality, that no fatalities had been recorded after the ‘incident’; when Major General John Eneche capitalised off the few fake images being circulated to unequivocally state that his analysts have deemed the videos of the massacre photoshopped; when President Buhari failed to commiserate the lives lost that Tuesday, in his delayed Presidential address on Thursday, our leadership was making a violent, obvious play at gaslighting the nation. But the world was watching. With over 150,000 viewers tuned into DJ Switch’s Instagram Live Feed that night, the room for doubt is slim; the #LekkiMassacre happened, it cannot be denied and will not be erased.

After a few days of rest, letting the people know that she is safe, DJ Switch took to Instagram once again, to clear up several of the rumours that had been spread in the aftermath of the traumatising military shootings.  DJ Switch has become a beacon of truth in this period that has been deliberately shrouded in confusion and uncertainty. She has used her platform to share the reality of those protesters who were victim to the military’s attack and will forever be remembered as one of the key figures in Nigeria’s 60th anniversary revolution.

 

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Just months earlier, DJ Switch was making headlines for completely opposing reason, gaining attention her unforgettable set at the Big Brother House Party. Still fresh off the “humongous” platform that helped multiply opportunities for the DJ cum musical artist, DJ Switch was excitedly “waiting for a plan, because a plan needs to be put in place,” she told me back then, explaining that the next stages in her career are to be carefully structured by her new, more professional management, before “we’ll kick start all over again.” Suffice it to say, this was not part of the plan. At such a crucial turn in her career, DJ Switch set aside professional ambitions in order to fight for justice; fight for a better country for her fellow Nigerians and our generations to come. Literally putting her body on the line, DJ Switch, like all the other protestors across the country, risked her life to fight for a better Nigeria and has rightfully become one of the most highly respected public figures of our time – a rare feat given how quickly celebrities are proving their false alliances (cough cough, Desmond Elliot).

Praising DJ Switch for her bravery and courage, young Nigerians throughout the internet have promised to stan forever – to unequivocally support all the work that she puts out in the future. A soldier that put her life on the line for us, we owe Switch that much, and the first step in becoming a stan is cluing yourself in to everything there is to possibly know about the artist – which is where we come in. In the wake of her Big Brother set, NATIVE caught up with DJ Switch, to hear all about the woman behind one of the most talked about performances in Nigeria this year. Spanning over a decade, DJ Switch’s career is full of ups and downs, has been entrusted to local and foreign labels, and a true testament to her resolute character.

Obianuju Catherine Udeh was “born with it” – as cliché as that might sound. After graduating from the University of Port Harcourt with a Geology degree, Udeh found herself working in the lucrative oil and gas industry, but with music flowing through her veins, DJ Switch was always destined to hang up her corporate pumps in pursuit of her passion. Her first taste of success followed soon after. In 2009, along with the five other member of the sextet Da Pulse, DJ Switch bagged her first of two talent competition wins – Da Pulse emerged victors at the 2009 Star Quest competition. A year later, the group was touring the country as international superstars, boasting a Busta Rhymes remix to their hit single, “Sote”. But considering the financial burden of having to feed six mouths with offers that could hardly even take care of one solo act, Da Pulse disbanded after an unfortunately fleeting success. For most of her band mates, that was the end of the road, but for Switch, that was the beginning of her most lucrative chapter yet, she tells me, “I started really focusing on the DJ part of my talent.”

Still, her chops as a performing artist weren’t forgotten. In 2013, DJ Switch scored her second talent competition win, this time on Glo X-Factor. Following this win, and the promise of a Sony Music deal, DJ Switch entered into her most active year as a recording artist, releasing quintessential afro-pop dance tracks that are definitive of the time in which she was working. A 2014 record such as “Baby O”, played into the wedding music aesthetic that was beginning to rise – at a time where Don Jazzy’s Mavin were at their peak, mixing in traditional praise music with contemporary love songs – whilst the more dance-inclined number “Koma”, produced by E Kelly, encourages listeners to let loose, and women to tap into their sexiness. Similarly carnal, came “My Body” – still in 2014 – where DJ Switch narrated the pleasures of being wanted, and wanting something in return. However, with Sony or X-Factor (or whoever is to blame for her X-Factor prize not being delivered in full) her 2014 reign was contrasted with infrequent (yet consistent) releases, as Switch juggled a very active DJ career alongside her role as a recording artist.

Her 2016 appearance alongside Patoranking on “Bad Man” was accompanied by a Best Female DJ win at the City People Awards that same year. Her role as a DJ on ‘Dance with Peter’ – a dancing competition pioneered by P-Square’s Peter Okoye – culminated in a recording contract to Okoye’s P-Classic Records in 2017. Releasing a couple of singles last year, DJ Switch’s 2020 record, “Oluwa” perfectly illustrates where her career went to in the aftermath her memorable Big Brother DJ set: despite people taking advantage of her and thinking they can control her, DJ Switch’s hustle is paying off. Currently working through the pain and trauma of the Lagos Massacre, which she experienced first-hand, if there is one thing our conversation, two months ago, made clear, it is that DJ Switch is never backing down, not in her career and certainly not in the fight for what is right.

Read a summary of our chat below:

On her childhood music inspirations

I listened to music at a very early age. Y’know Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Brenda Fassie, Fela, Bob Marley, Lucky Dube and the rest, Michael Jackson. These were guys that I watched a lot, and I fell in love with. 

On choosing to focus on DJing

Deciding to make DJing like a primary thing was not intentional – It’s just a natural thing that happened. I love music so much and I’ve been working my hardest to get my content out there; so, whatever I can get my hands on that will produce music, I’m usually very excited about it. I wouldn’t say I intentionally chose DJing but it’s just like the natural thing that happened along the way. 

On her approach to music

The way I like to think about music, I like to think about music like I’m having a conversation with someone. I don’t just play music. I like to listen to it and find elements of the music that would really heighten your feelings, and you know, have a conversation with you. Even when I have conversations, the most irrelevant conversation, I’m turning it into some sort of sound.

On the growth of Nigerian music

I feel very proud to still be alive [within the Nigerian music scene] at this point, you know. Looking at the music space in Nigeria or in Africa, music has definitely improved. The quality of the music, the production quality, as well, has improved. Our music has already gone global, so it’s not like we’re trying to go global – the spotlight is on Africa right now – on afrobeats, and our style, our slangs and all that stuff. So, I’m very very proud to still be able to say “hey, I exist in a time frame where our music has exploded this much.” 

And it has impacted me; it’s made me more expressive, it’s made me free… The music has really improved and I can find different things in our songs to work with. Back then, our songs used to be really like mumbo jumbo of various stuff and sounds, just packed with a lot going on. [There were] very few songs you could find that you could really tear down.

On gender relations within the music industry

It was the way of the world unfortunately, that women were not allowed to do a lot of things. But just as everything is changing, you know, women are CEOs now, women can vote, in certain countries, women can drive, just as things are changing it’s also changed in the music industry as well. So, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly where it should be, which it like on an equal stance, but, there’s progress, and who doesn’t like progress? As long as women continue to be at the top of their game, they continue to put out great content, not mediocre content, there is no excuse, you know what I mean?

Of course, I believe – not speaking for all women – but I believe most women have experienced some sort of treatment or some sort of disregard or lack of support, but it’s not the same today – [the dynamics are] really improving – we’ve got a lot of men that are more aware and exposed. You know, we also have a cultural issue here, in this part of the world, where some people still don’t understand why women are out ‘til 5,6,7 in the morning and they say they’re at some club DJing. There’s still some sort of cultural block that people have, there’s [still] this perception that some people, in this part of the world, have that women shouldn’t be out that late, women shouldn’t be in that field. So hopefully, time will change things and Africa will be more exposed. Time will tell. 

On this tweet

Yeah, you know, sometimes I work with people who just appreciate who I am and then sometimes I meet people who don’t get it. But um, I don’t blame anyone. Everyone speaks from a place of experience, and so I don’t judge anyone based off of what they said.

So I had met a promoter who was very interested in my work and said ‘you know if you do this then I would do that for you’. I didn’t turn him down immediately because [he didn’t] understand it, I wanted to get his perspective and where he was coming from. I also wanted to ask my fans and then show it to him, [so we can] all come to a middle ground and see how to make this work. Because at the end of the day, everybody really just wants to grow. 

If someone is an expert in their field, he’s a promoter, I should listen to what he’s saying and what he’s driving at, ok? And at the same time, because I am a creative, I also need to be comfortable enough to be able to create. So how do we find a middle ground, where I’m still comfortable and you can still do your job. So I always try to find a middle ground because people have different expertise.

On Da Pulse break-up

Let’s say you want to charge a fee for performance and you’re a band, you need to consider how many people are in that band, you need consider everything you need to do, you also need to consider your standing or your appeasement to be able to have that negotiating power. And, even though we had a hit song, and we had featured Busta Rhymes on it, we were still a new group. So, all of the offers we got were really poor and it couldn’t have taken care of any of us, even if we were [solo acts], like separated, talk less of being together. So, the break up was as a result of finances. We did not have money, we were broke, ok? Everyone had to go home and look for something to do. I didn’t leave, I stayed here in Lagos, I kept on pushing. Of course, being a solo act, has to be definitely more money than being in a group. So, money usually is the motive for most groups breaking up. Or love, usually one of the two. 

On her 2014 run, post X-Factor

In this business, the more you churn out stuff the more people get engaged. If people forget about you for a moment, they jump onto the next person, that’s just how it is. I put out the best content that I could put out at the time, did the type of promotion that I could do. [But] I didn’t quite get to where I wanted to be at, because then again, there’s also the bias, there’s also the ‘who did you come with?’ Certain people can speak for you and then automatically things will start working out, but if you don’t have certain people speaking for you, either because you don’t have a relationship with them or maybe they just don’t know you or they don’t… I don’t know, but basically that can affect your growth. But the thing with me is, I’ve never given up. I just come out, I pop out and I do what I can do at the time. 

On the Sony disappointment

It broke my heart, by I don’t really want to go into what happened. I would say it was a case of two elephants fighting and the grass suffered. That’s the best I can do on the subject.I don’t want to go into it, I don’t wanna talk about it. It’s in the past and that’s that. 

On her personality

I’ve always been comfortable in my skin, I’ve been comfortable with the way I am. If I do something else that I’m not comfortable with I will not be productive. I know that about myself.

[Also] I’m actually very shy. I think people don’t know that. I’m a very shy person, I’m a loner, I don’t have many friends; more than half the time when I’m hanging out with them, I’m barely talking, I’m just watching people. If left alone, I’d be in my studio and just playing music, you know? I’m always avoiding confrontation as much as possible. But the thing is, once I get into a creative space, I think I try to put out everything that’s in my mind. I guess that’s probably where the name Switch came from.

 

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On her legacy

Greatness. That’s just it.

I want to be able to put something together where I can impact people’s lives, in similar fields as mine, and really teach them how to be the best versions of themselves, how not to be regular, how not to be mediocre, how not to follow the trends. You may have a bunch of people do something the same way and it works, but how about you just do what you want to do? But make sure that you’re the best at what you want to do. People may not understand it, because it’s what you want to do, but you might be pleasantly surprised. I was pleasantly surprised. I will tell you something real quick, when I was playing the [Big Brother Naija] show, twice I wanted to do some funky stuff. In my mind I was like “I dunno, are they gonna get it?” Cos I don’t want to lose the attention of people, my job is to make sure I keep you engaged and I keep you happy, right? And I said to myself, “you know what, you do you.” And the one thing – and I only did one thing, really – I did was the thing that was talked about the most. I think people talked about it so much that they missed some other cool stuff in there but when people started getting the mix that I put out online, people saw other stuff in there. So, I did me and it made me different.

I want to leave that level of greatness, I really wanna achieve the height of my abilities and then take it a notch up. And then when I do die I want people to say that was one of a kind. 

Featured Image Credits: Everyevery


ICYMI: DJ SWITCH SHARES HER ACCOUNT OF THE LEKKI TOLLGATE MASSACRE

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