“I Just Want to Communicate Through Music”,  DJ Tarrus Mzangala on Being the E360 ‘Hype Man of the Year’ Twice and His DJ Musical Journey


Article by: Amanda Nechesa

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When people speak of music and how much influence it has had on culture and their personal lives, they often forget to mention a certain group of people who are the trailblazers of the industry. This group of people are the DJs – the individuals responsible for creating a musical journey through which music lovers globally get to discover new sounds and vibe to the beats curated. 

Tarrus Mzangala (provided)

Today, we tell the story of one such person: twenty-five-year-old Brian Munyalo who goes by the stage name Tarrus Mzangala. “Tarrus” is a tribute to his love for Jamaican-American singer Tarrus Riley, while Mzangala originated from the Zangalewa dancers from Cameroon.

An MC and DJ, Tarrus Mzangala has made his name in the industry as a hype man and a curator of musical journeys. He has won the E360 Awards as the “Hype Man of the Year” not only once but twice, in the 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 award ceremonies. In his five-year deejaying career, he has worked with legends in the industry such as DJ Andie and MC Pau. He has also worked with organisations such as Safaricom and County FM. 

Tarrus Mzangala is a man who loves his craft. But even more than that is his love for music. Upon asking what he wants his audience to feel every time he deejays, he says: 

“I want to take the audience through a musical journey. I want them to feel that nostalgia, at least when they are in that crowd. And when they go home later, I want them to feel relief. I just want to communicate through music.” 

Mzangala is especially fond of African music, which he believes is not only the future but also the present. 

“I love African music. Let’s talk about Amapiano; Afrobeats. Let’s talk about the classics in Africa – Kwaito, Genge music, the Kapuka. African music is becoming so powerful right now, that the world is turning to look at the African music scene. So, when I mix, I mix all genres. But in my playlist, if I am deejaying at night, sixty or seventy per cent of that will be African music,” he says. 

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. To tell this story right, we have to go back to the beginning and discover who Brian Munyalo, aka DJ Tarrus Mzangala, is and where his passion originated from. 

Back to the roots

Born and raised in Kitui, DJ Tarrus Mzangala’s passion has always been music. As a kid, he remembers participating in a lot of artistic activities and getting on top of lockers to showcase his dancing. He was also a bit of a hype man from a young age, and so, it came naturally to him that while in secondary school, he was a frequent Master of Ceremony (MC) of the many events that took place in his school. 

At the time, he probably did not know that his little MC gimmicks in high school would be what later defined his career as the award-winning DJ he is currently. He completed his form four in 2016, after which he started hustling, taking small MC gigs here and there. The money was not much, but it was something, and it got him by. That is, until October 2017, when he noticed something that completely changed the trajectory of his career. 

“There was this day around October 2017 when I went to a wedding as an MC. After the event, I was paid a very very little amount but the DJ at the same event was paid a huge amount. So that piqued my curiosity. I wanted to know what was happening in the DJ game. That’s when I decided I wanted to learn how to DJ,” he says. 

Learning, for the most part, is an act of observation, and so Tarrus Mzangala, still just an MC at the time, would go to clubs and every event where DJs were present. Once there, he would silently observe and listen to what the DJs did and how they did it. He would also watch YouTube videos of other DJs and try to understand the craft. 

But this in itself was not enough. To get to the milestones he wanted to achieve, he decided to take a step further. In January 2018, he enrolled into a DJ Academy for a three-month DJ short course that was being offered in his hometown in Kitui. While at the academy, he was taught how to mix and select music, how to control the crowd, how to manage his brand and how to have discipline in the DJ game. 

Getting into the game

It’s been years since then, and Tarrus Mzangala’s skills have immensely improved and so has the demand for him as both an MC and a DJ. At the beginning of 2019, he started working as a hype man for the Safaricom Kochokocho Roadshows that ran from February to May 2019. The gig was a wonderful opportunity and it gave him a foot into the industry, a foot that eventually landed him an internship as a DJ in County FM where he worked for six to seven months. 

But, as Tarrus Mzangala would later learn, working as a DJ in radio is not the same as working as a DJ at a live event. 

“In radio, you are not seeing anyone. It’s just you in the studio. You are seeing comments, and you don’t know if they are positive or negative or if these people are just “chochaing” you. It’s totally different. The crowd that is dancing at live events is very different from a radio crowd because someone may just be listening while in their car or working. But when you are in a club for example, and people want to dance, you have to give them hits back to back. So you get to see the immediate reaction to what you are playing,” he says. 

The seclusion that came with working as a radio DJ might not have been the favourite part of Mzangala’s job, but the money he got from it was a good consolation prize. At this time, he was just twenty years old, but he had garnered quite a fortune for himself both from radio and the Safaricom gig. 

He then thought, why not invest this money into a tangible physical business? He opened up a cyber business and acquired a tender to supply computers. Unfortunately, the business went downhill, and he ended up losing all his fortune. 

“I ended up losing about KSH 420,000 and I was only twenty years old. It was so traumatising,” he says. 

Loss takes us to different places, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. For Mzangala, the loss of his fortune and the fact that at the time he had little to fall back on forced him to move to Tanzania where some of his cousins were living. There, he hoped to recuperate. 

But even recuperation requires a source of livelihood, and so, while in Tanzania, one of his cousins, who was a manager in a club, got him a job as a DJ in some of the clubs around. He was almost relieved until he heard what the clubs were willing to pay him. The amount was very little compared to what he had previously been earning, and as some sort of consolation prize, the club told him that they would give him food. 

Beggars can’t be choosers, so he accepted the job and went on to work for the little amount of money. But it steadily increased over time. This was in November 2019. When 2020 rolled around, he had already started to make a name for himself in Tanzania and was playing gigs around other towns in the country including Mwanza, Bunda, Tarime, Irare Border and Isbania. 

Locking it down 

However, his steady rise as a DJ in Tanzania was cut short when in April of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic became full-blown and a lockdown barring people from travelling to places was being imposed. His mother called him then and told him she needed him back home before the borders were closed. 

At first, he was reluctant. He had only started making a name for himself in Tanzania and was on his way to recover the fortune he had lost. To get out at that moment, just when things were starting to pay off, seemed absurd. But a mother’s love always wins so weeks later, he found himself travelling via bus from Tanzania to Kitui, a journey that took him three days.  

The lockdown period was especially a challenging one for a DJ like Tarrus Mzangala, whose main source of income relied heavily on DJing at public events and functions. To get back into the game, he started playing live shows on Instagram, Facebook and his YouTube channel. 

This continued until 2021 when things started looking up and places started to open up. Still in his hometown, Mzangala began Deejaying in clubs in Kitui and its environs including Makueni, Mwingi and the whole Ukambani region. His career was once again back on track. He became very popular and in turn, on demand, in the Easter region clubs. 

As much as he was successful, this success was only enclosed in one region – the Eastern part of Kenya. He was curious if it would also translate to Nairobi, and so, in the middle of the year 2022, he packed his things and moved into the city to try his luck. His first stop was Thika where he was taught by MC Pau the nitty-gritty that comes with being an MC.

At the time, there was an election period in August, and when it ended and September came, it came with good tidings for DJ Tarrus Mzangala. 

“When September came, I was called by DJ Andie. Yes, the one and only DJ Andie who used to be on Homeboyz Radio. DJ Andie called me and told me he wanted us to work together. I didn’t know I could work with DJ Andie. Andie is so huge. I used to listen to him when I was in high school. All my life I’ve been listening to DJ Andie,” he says. 

“So, DJ Andie told me he had a show, and he wanted me to do it with him. He had been given my number by Hype Don. He used to work with Hype Don, but Hype Don was busy that day, so he gave him my number. Turns out, the show that DJ Andie wanted us to do was at the famous Claret Lounge. I was so nervous but I knew that was my chance. It was either I kill it or kill it. I gave it a good one and then Andie in the morning sent me my payment and told me that from then on, I would be his MC.” 

He went on to work with the legendary DJ Andie for five months from September 2022 until February 2023. During this time, he did many shows alongside his childhood star. They travelled for gigs in Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret, Naivasha, Nanyuki and many other places. But after months with DJ Andie, Mzangala felt it was time for more growth. 

He wanted to experience working with other DJs and so he talked to Andie about it. DJ Andie, who had then become not only his friend but mentor, agreed to let him go and Tarrus Mzangala started working with other DJs in the industry. 

Hypeman of the year 

DJ Tarrus Mzangala knew he was experiencing major growth in his DJ career but he didn’t know that other people in the industry were also noticing his efforts. That was, until December 2022, when he got nominated as the Hypeman of the Year by the E360 Awards. 

The nomination was exciting, but when he looked at the other names that he was competing against, he felt intimidated. Also present on the list were MCs and DJs who had strongly established their careers and were either working in radio or travelling outside the country for gigs. But he told himself that he would try and give it a run, and so he started campaigning for the award. 

The E360 Awards, which are curated by E360 ENTERTAINMENT to recognise, promote, establish, and award Kenyan artists from all fields, works by way of voting. Once you are nominated, it becomes your job to campaign for the votes from your friends, family and social media followers so that they can vote for you. The votes cost a little bit of money, and so anyone who votes for you will have to sacrifice a little bit out of their pocket. 

Nominated as the Hypeman of the Year, DJ Tarrus Mzangala did what he knows how to do best – he started hyping his followers on his social media channels to vote for him. At first, not a lot of people voted for him but all this changed when in March, a week before the close of the voting, numerous people started voting for him. 

He now started feeling confident, but not very much so. He still didn’t trust himself to win but he decided to go to the Awards ceremony to see what would happen.

“I went alone to the Awards Ceremony. I didn’t even call my best friend. I went alone because I didn’t think I could win but I told myself that I should go check out how the events happen so that next time, maybe I would win. 

So I went, and when it got to my category, the MC of the year announced: And the Hype Man of the Year is Tarrus Mzangala. I couldn’t believe it. I just stayed there and listened and tried to listen again. Then the MC repeated: Is Tarrus Mzangala around? At that point, no one knew about me. I was seated at the back, not even in the VIP section. So I stood up and everyone was surprised and I walked to the stage.” 

Tarrus Mzangala winning the Hype Man of the Year award (provided)

Winning the award felt amazing, and when he posted it on his social media, the congratulatory messages started coming in, and they were even more than the votes cast for him. The win also meant that a lot of doors were opening up for him. With the award, it became easier to get corporate gigs and other events at the clubs that he wanted to DJ at. 

When he was nominated again last year, 2023, for the 2023/2024 awards, he was now more confident. He wanted to win it again, and so he pushed for it and people started voting for him as much as 100 to 250 votes a person. Needless to say, he won the Hype Man of the Year again, but this time, unlike the first time, he took his friends with him. 

“I told my friends: you guys, last year I went to these awards alone but this year, let’s go. If we are getting it, we get it,  if we don’t, we lose the same way. So I went with around ten of my friends and this time when they announced I was the Hypeman of the Year, my friends shouted and I went on the stage with them.” 

Let’s talk about the DJ craft 

With the advent of music streaming services such as Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music, it might seem that DJing as a career might be dying out. However, according to an article by Forbes, DJing is vital now more than ever.

Apart from being a way for people to enjoy music, it is also proven that having a live DJ present in a retail store can immensely increase your consumer sales. This would explain why many corporations hire DJs like DJ Tarrus Mzangala in their promotional events. 

For this reason, being a DJ is a craft that should be taken with a lot of seriousness, discipline and above all, passion. But like any other craft, it also requires a lot of patience before you can make it into a lucrative career. Upon asking DJ Tarrus Mzangala what advice he could give someone who is just getting into it, he says: 

“DJ as a craft is something that needs passion. And with passion, you can do crazy stuff. If you just love music, then everything else will thrive. The biggest problem with people who are coming into the craft is they come in for the money. Someone wants to start Deejaying now and get paid like a DJ who has been in the industry for more than ten years. 

They have to trust the process then, most importantly, be disciplined. As a DJ, you need a lot of discipline because there is liquor everywhere you go. There are women, there are men – people are gushing over you every time. Many people just get carried away by the fame.” 

According to DJ Tarrus Mzangala, DJing in Kenya is a huge industry that is growing every day. He has seen DJs get paid and awarded for playing Mugithi, Kamba music, and other local music genres. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also DJs like DJ Tophaz and MC Gogo who have gone international and are now playing in places like Dubai and Australia. 

However, DJ Tarrus Mzangala still thinks that there is a lot of ground that is yet to be explored. One DJ that he looks up to and who he feels is stretching the limits of his career is DJ Fully Focus, who is a music producer, a DJ, an event organiser, an artist manager, an African ambassador and one of the people that contributed to the globally viral hit song Mwaki by Sofiya Nzau. 

“Those are the moves that we need from Kenyan DJs,” he says, “We are still not yet up there. Like, Kenyan DJs can’t hold a concert right now and be assured that they will fill the  venue” 

As for the future he envisions for himself, DJ Tarrus Mzangala says: 

“I am currently doing sound engineering in ADMI. After I am done with sound engineering, then I will start doing producer courses like music production. My biggest dream is always to have my events in which people are not coming to listen to any other person, they are coming to listen to me.” 

And with that, my time with DJ Tarrus Mzangala, a man so full of hype that he was awarded the Hype Man of the Year twice, ended, with a promise of continuing to watch out on his musical journey.