Once living quietly as a budding singer in DR Congo, political clashes separated Smart Djaba from half of his family 13 years ago. Now, the 'She Want' singer opens up about moving to Kenya where he is pursuing his music and film.
He fled to Kakuma refugee camp where he won music competitions, studied Film and TV production, opened a production company and restarted his music career.
His latest hit, She Want, is a slow dancehall track. Although he describes himself as a versatile artiste, Smart Djaba is directing his energy towards Afro dancehall more than any other genre.
“I have always wanted to try out fusing dancehall and afro vibe in one beat. I can also sing RnB, Bongo, afro pop and I am a dropping a Zouk song soon. My management told me to focus on one genre so that I do not confuse my fans. I can explore all the other genres once I have become more recognisable,” says the soft-spoken artiste.
The independent artiste is hands-on in all creative aspects of music video production. He encountered several challenges when other people his shot music videos.
“They would stay with the video for long. Others were displeased whenever I gave another concept contrary to what they had in mind of how the video should look like. I like to control the ideas in my videos. I decided to shoot my own music videos with the little that I have,” he says.Through his company, Born Town Creations, Smart Djaba splits his time between producing, directing and editing documentaries, short films and music videos.
“I find Kenya to be more advanced in the use of technology. Musicians here can get paid through digital platforms but we have to sell compact discs in Congo to get the music to the people. We have big artistes who have few YouTube views. It is only now that people are getting to know about YouTube,” he says.
The events of the political clash is etched in his mind. He was 11 years old when he watched his father shot dead, his sister raped unconscious, and himself beaten unconscious by six gunmen.
Smart Djaba woke up in a hospital to reports from neighbours of what transpired after he lost conscious. He found out that his mother and two brothers tricked the attackers and escaped. He has never seen them since that fateful day.
“My sister was forced into prostitution. She then met a man who loved her and took us to live with him for about five years. We were attacked again in that house after what I suspect to be a tip off from my father’s business partner. We escaped from the window and vowed that we would stay alive,” he recalls.
They walked for four days to the border of Congo and Rwanda, hoping to track their maternal aunt. They met with a group of Kenyans in a truck who drove them to Kakuma refugee camp after hearing their story.
“While at the camp, I did not know what was happening in Congo. That stressed me. I was idle. I decided to find my power in music. When I am seen on TV, I hope the other half of my family will know where I am if they are still alive,” he says.
He is working on a music application which will stream music of refugees from all over the world, support music groups at the camp and release more music.
“I want to spread the message of peace in my music. We look at material things as source of happiness. I came to realize that the simple things we neglect, such as peace of mind, are precious,” he says.