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I used to play records just to gain free entry, says Otis Fraser

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ZIMBABWE’S veteran turntablist Otis Fraser, who is back at Botswana’s top radio station Gabz FM, reflects on his formative years in Bulawayo where he not only rocked clubs and pubs but also made a name on the airwaves at the then Radio 3 at Monrose Studios.

Affectionately known on the decks as “The Flow”, during his era he effortlessly delivered the best in music coupled by his seamless mixes on the turntables that delighted the crowds. The Flow (TF), now in his 40s, talks to The NewsHawks’ Jonathan Mbiriyamveka (JM) on how the music scene has changed and he hints at the future of his career. Read the excerpts:

JM: Where are you based now and what are you up?

TF: I am based in Botswana and I have a soft spot for this place. I am still in the fibres of the music tree, so getting in where I fit in radio! The station is Gabz Fm. And I present Saturdays and Sundays from 3pm to 6pm both days. The reception is great simply because it’s from my friends! They just say things to make me smile . . . hahahaha.

JM: You are touted as one of the pioneering DJs from Zimbabwe. Tell us your journey to becoming a DJ.

TF: I believe music is timeless regardless of genre, so I am attracted to whatever grabs my attention both old and new. I am humbled and honoured that I am one of the foundation pillars of Zimbabwean DJs. 

It was a challenging experience and journey as DJs expressed their strengths through the latest music. Basically, if you didn’t have a contact abroad, deejaying for you was tough!

Also, being from Bulawayo and the youngest presenter on air at that time, had its own fair share of hurdles to overcome. I mean, Harare was like the city to get recognition from ultimately, for the country to give you your well-earned stripes.

But, I loved it, ooking up to my radio idols, the likes of Tsitsi Jindu (RIP), Peter Johns (RIP), Kelvin The Soul Supreme, George Munetsi, Joseph Hussein and the man who taught me how to mix, Kimble Rogers, just to mention a few. Club DJs also influenced me, too many to mention right now.

JM: Do you remember how you performed at your first gig and what happened?

TF: First gig was me performing as a rapper at a club in Bulawayo called Talk Of The Town. I rocked the house. The owner then invited me whenever I could make it. My pay was free entrance . . .wow! And of course a drink! I then asked if I could learn the club DJ thing. He liked me, and said ‘why not?’ It all began there.

JM: Which year was it when your joined the then Radio 3 and why?

TF: I joined Radio 3 in 1995, inspired by the radio presenters mentioned above. I just felt that was where heaven is. Tsitsi Jindu gave my first-ever break on radio by inviting me to the Montrose Studios through a request I made. She taught me from day one. I treasure that experience.

JM: Deejaying has evolved over the years with the advent of digital media. Do you have your own channel where fans can listen to your playlists?

TF: I do have a web page I have put together: www.flowtymeinc.com mixes, remixes and audio/ visual imaging. Soon to come, too, are some podcasts in the pipeline. The website is looking forward to online tutorials, one of them being the fundamentals of deejaying.

JM: How did you learn deejaying skills?

TF: I was taught by the man Kimble Rodgers. He’s the ultimate for me, you know, teaching me all the fundamentals, the basics. Back then it was just strictly turntables and there was no pitch control that you get now.

On turntable back then, we had vinyls and records and now you know with software everything is basically done for you.

There is a sync button which just matches beats for you and everything, so learning back then was much more difficult, but it kind of streamlined us to concentrate more because everything was manual; how to hold the record on the side of your finger so you get the speed correct with the other one so, yes, it was quite a mission but the man who knew it all was Kimble Rogers, he’s just great.

JM: How did Covid-19 affect your line of business?

TF: Covid-19 has affected not only me but I think almost every DJ because we obviously base our income from the revellers, if I can put it that way. You can think of a better term but you know our clients are the crowd.

So no crowd, no money, and you know we tried the online thing but I think it was okay in the beginning, people were thinking, yes this could be the alternative but it also just loses that fire along the way.

You know there nothing like being amongst people in the physical sense, you know that live energy, there is something about it. Having an online gig, yes 1, 2, 3 gigs but thereafter (it feels) there is just something missing. So Covid-19 has really impacted us DJs in a huge way.

We have had to try and figure out other ways to try and survive and, still, as you know, there are no gigs and we’ll probably be the very last to open because that’s where you get close contact and that’s totally opposite to the rules and regulations of Covid-19.

JM: Tell us about your family.

TF: Beautiful family, we won’t talk much about that, I think that one we leave it for another day, it needs a lot of detail but it’s all good, we are smiling, we are happy to be here today.

JM: How easy was it to make a breakthrough as a DJ back then compared to now?

TF: I think it works both ways. It is easy and difficult just like back in the day. Back then it was difficult in the sense that it was not easy to get brand new material, it was not accessible in the country so you had to have your contacts — air hostesses, pilots, stewards or whatever the case may be or just relatives overseas who woukd send stuff to you.

But most DJs had contacts on the airline because your stuff would be coming within a couple of days, two, three days you got brand new stuff. So that’s where the thing was so back in the day it was about breaking the latest tunes, that is what really made a DJ.

Radio presentation in terms of voice and everything, yes it followed. But I think the main thing was songs, nowadays it is easy in the sense that you can get everything it’s just a matter of getting the name of the song, and getting the artiste.

If you don’t have the version, you just look it up, you can get 20 versions other DJs don’t have, but they will also have it when they hear it, they will just go to Shazam.

Shazam will look up the version, so it’s easy in that sense but it is also now difficult because everybody has access to the music so what makes you different, what makes you stand out?

It’s like going to a flea market and everybody is selling red T-shirts, you know we all have access to red T-shirts, so why should I miss the first store right at the entrance and walk down to the last door which is gonna take me five minutes to get there when I can buy the very same T-shirt at the entrance?
So now it’s a matter of being different.

So, yes, we have access to everything, which is easy, but now it’s a case of being different. 

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