I once hawked rice and beans to earn a living —China-based Nigerian DJ, Ice Cream
DJ Ice Cream is a Nigerian-born China-based DJ and a graduate in International Trade and Economics from Bohai University, Jinzhou, China. With the release of his eponymous first track, DJ Ice Cream has joined the trend of other top DJs coming out with their own songs. He talks about his journey to stardom, in this interview with ROTIMI IGE.
I come from a polygamous family where my mothers was my father’s second wife. She gave birth to nine children and I am the seventh. My growing up was like hell. I lost my mother when I was 10 years old.
How was life after the loss of your mother?
When my mother died, her younger sister promised to take care of me and be like a mother to me. I moved to her house. She ran a restaurant where she sold different kinds of food. After coming back from school, I hawked rice and beans. I also hawked pounded yam regularly. There was an uncle of mine who worked at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He usually came home and gave my aunt money on monthly basis to cater for me but she never gave me a kobo of it. Later, my dad got to know and decided to come and pick me. I went on to live with the husband of our first born who was already married.
When and how was your career launched?
During my stay with my father, I had free time to attend a church. There, I was a young chorister and I played drums and sang. I moved to Lagos in 2000. I had a friend like a brother. He did DJ at events like birthday parties. When going out to drink or eat, he would tell me to stay, watch his equipment for him and not to touch anything. At a time, I told him I was interested in learning the craft and he said that firstly, I had to start with beats. So, I started to learn from him. With time, I was getting better bit by bit.
What further developments boosted your career?
I move to Abuja in 2005 to live with a brother. On getting there, I began fully. This brother once asked what I could do to make money and I replied that I could DJ. There was a club at Wuse Zone 4 where I used to go with some friends. On a particular day, I asked the DJ there to give me a chance to play. Fortunately, he allowed me to play for about 20-30 minutes. All eyes were on me and I was shy to face too many people. At another time, I went to a play as a DJ in a wedding at Jos. I didn’t even have equipment. I had to rent everything I used.
I lived and worked in Nassarawa, Jos and Abuja till I got an offer from Sweden in 2008 but I was denied visa. A brother in China sent me student invitation letter five or six times before my visa was finally granted in 2010. I travelled to China in 2011.
What has it been like, studying and doing music together?
It is really difficult combining study and my DJ work because in China students are not work. It is against their law but due to the fact that I understand their language very well and I have a lot of Chinese friends they make it much easier for me.
How did you come up with your stage name?
Initially, my moniker was DJ Nicholas but it was difficult for the Chinese folks to pronounce. So, I had to choose something unique and special yet simple. Because I took ice cream a lot, my house mate back then (a Nigerian from Kaduna) suggested that I adopted DJ Ice Cream. It was like an epiphany for me. Subsequently, I used it as my stage name. People found it funny, but I stuck to it. Every show I went, I became known as DJ Ice Cream.
Back then, what was it like being a DJ and what has changed?
A lot of has changed. The craft is much easier to learn and less cost-intensive. A few years back, you had to save money to buy two decks, an amp, speakers, a mixer and so on. This alone could cost you maybe $1800 or so, often more. You had to have these things at home or have access to them, at least, because you had to practice your mixing so you wouldn’t be laughed at in club and that is if you ever get the chance. You also had to invest time and money into traveling to wherever your local record shop was located.
It was like $7-8 per record. There were no free downloads in the pre-internet age so that could be a huge expense, you know. You also had to invest time into learning how to mix two records together – no sync, no laptop, just endless trial and error and eventually? After a lot of practice, hopefully you should get the hang of it.
Any advice for upcoming DJs?
Use what you will, create with what you want and you are an artiste. The moment you worry about others, you are a shadow, an empty vessel. Some DJs copy the exact setup of others when not using decks and create a pastiche, a weak version of a photocopy so to say. Good DJs are very principled and they are the ones I respect, whether I like their music or not doesn’t matter in this regard.
Great technique means nothing if your selection is not on point. Personalize it. For me it is best when the DJ plays personal. Only play what you love or feel or it will be a tough and short journey. If you love it the audience will feel that love in the mix. You should be booked on what you play not on what the crowd wants to hear. It is like being given chicken because you love it but never tasting lobster to compare.
Who are your favourite DJs?
DJ Jimmy Jatt, DJ Xclusive , DJ Spinall, DJ Cuppy, DJ Neptune, DJ Caise, DJ Larry, DJ Khalid, DJ Drama and DJ Asto.
At the moment, are you working on any project underground?
Yes. I am working on something big with a big artist in Nigeria.