The idea of a career as a DJ and playing music in nightclubs didn’t sit well with Alex Morena’s parents. In fact, they preferred that she took on a course in education after high school. But that was not her dream. In 2018, Morena, who is of Indonesian descent, moved to Rwanda with her husband who had landed a job here, unaware that she too was on her way to her dream career. “Being passionate about music, I was certain that I could best fit in as a disc jockey. The few times I discussed it with friends and required their support, I was, however, disheartened since the profession is undervalued in Indonesia,” 30-year-old Morena says. According to Morena, since roughly 88 per cent of the population in Indonesia is Muslim, yet deejays dress as they please, sometimes inappropriately, disc jockeying for females is “perceived as a job for prostitutes.” The start of a dream When they got here, Morena’s priority was to give her then new-born proper care and time until she was old enough to stay with a nanny. “When my child was old enough, two-years-old to be specific, I thought it was high time I awakened my deejay enthusiasm. I searched online for Rwandan schools that offered deejay training and luckily stumbled on Innovation DJ Academy, I reached out to the administration via phone and was rendered the details at the beginning of 2022,” she says. She was informed that she needed just three months to complete a DJ course which cost Rwf 350,000, with internship inclusive. In November last year, she enrolled for the course where she was eager to learn. She acquired skills such as back spinning (which requires playing the same part of the song over and over again using two copies of the same song), and beat-juggling (generating a new beat from an old record using a turntable, and so forth. The academy, she says, helps students get gigs at events, which makes it easy for them to get their name out there and gain an audience and more connections. Her skills were recently unleashed when she played at RTV, the positive feedback from some of the people who watched the show indicated that she was going in the right direction. A few weeks to her course completion, she got more gigs for events at BK Arena, KBC, and Kigali Serena Hotel, among others, and now currently plays at Molato Restaurant and Bar every Thursday evening. “I am optimistic that nothing is going to stand in my way,” she says. Morena says the first time she stepped on stage, she was buried in fear and anxiety as she didn’t know how the audience would react to her presentation. She reached the venue a bit early and set up, at 6pm she started with R&B music, then reggae and blended afro-beat, and by midnight, the chairs had been pushed aside by the thrilled audience. She adds that was one of her best performances and was pleased by how the audience grooved to the mix of songs of all genres. Morena highlights that some people requested the popular ‘amapiano’, a type of house music that emerged in South Africa in the mid-2010s, and when she played, everyone was thrilled. She remembers the kindness of some of the guests that saw her for the first time and walked up to her to ask for her name and where she comes from. “I recall calling my parents and breaking the news of my new job, a bit timid about their feedback, but auspiciously, they were very supportive,” she notes. Pushing forward Morena recalls wanting to throw in the towel when she had just joined the course as it was mostly pursued by teenagers, but quickly remembered why she was there in the first place. The DJ says some of the challenges she encounters are lack of equipment as she borrows from the academy. She adds that the language barrier is another obstacle; not being fluent in Kinyarwanda hinders her from communicating with some of her audience, as some would like to request songs but don’t even know their titles. Also, Morena notes, since they are few female local deejays, she doesn’t have many seniors to emulate in the field. For her, being an entertaining DJ entails a lot, melding genres of songs, and counting beats to know when to drop in the next kick, having the expertise to learn the audience and the music that resonates with them. She also elucidates that being a good deejay requires updating the playlist daily and keeping an ear on what is trending, and distinguishing seasons suitable for specific melodies. Morena looks forward to pursuing more deejay courses that would boost her profession. She anticipates building her brand that will stretch beyond Rwanda. She believes that if she hadn’t joined the course with much swiftness, she wouldn’t be this far in just less than three months. For her, everyone can be what they wish to be, considering they push beyond their limitations, and have the right support. When asked if she would let her daughter follow in her footsteps, she responds with a smile and says, “Absolutely. And I will give her all the support she will ever need.” When it comes to parenting, considering she spends some nights at work, Morena highlights that she compensates for the lost time with her daughter during the day, and perhaps has nothing to worry about while away as her child connects with the nanny pretty well.