Winning on the mic and decks unapologetically

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 00:00 |
ZJ Heno (right) with his brother, Peter Odindo and mother, Grace Odindo during Peter’s graduation ceremony. MAIN: ZJ Heno, a leading reggae deejay. Photo/PD/Jasmine Atieno

The belief that being a first-born puts one in the most natural and automatic leadership position rings true for Kenya’s top reggae deejay, producer and radio presenter, Henry Odindo, popularly known as ZJ Heno.

Aside from the fact that he has worked hard to put Kenyan reggae music out to the world, he has worked with some of the biggest reggae artists in the world, including Tarrus Riley, Chronixx, Etana, Jah Cure, Duane Stephenson, Cecil, D major, Lavosti and helped put more homegrown talents on global map.

As the first born of his family, he has been a role model and greatest support to his younger brother Peter Odindo.

Heno and Peter grew up in Jericho, Eastlands, Nairobi. They were raised by their mother, Grace Odindo, a nurse after their father, Daniel Odindo passed on in 1995 when Heno was five years old and Peter, barely a year.

He attended Bluebells Primary School in Nairobi before joining Agoro Sare High School in Homa Bay county, and later  the University of Nairobi where he graduated with a degree in journalism in 2012. 

Having lost their father at such a young age made Heno both the big brother and pace setter for his little brother, also in the creative industry and production management.

Peter shares his pride in his older brother’s growth game and how he has positively influenced his journey in the industry.

The journey

An ear for good music is something that Heno had at a young age. Despite the fact that both their parents were music enthusiasts, he was the first in the family to get in touch with his creative side. 

“As a child, he always loved listening to music at the time played on old cassettes, recording over radio shows, among others, and then in 2002 and 2003, he discovered dancehall and reggae music, and that was the beginning of present day ZJ Heno.

His hobbies were mostly just geared around music, and discovering the latest from Sean Paul, Red Rat, TOK, I-Wayne, among other big dancehall and reggae artistes back in the day,” shares Peter. 

Even as a child, it was already evident just how passionate he was about music and that it would be his dream career.

Their mother though, like many parents was hesitant about letting him pursue this as a career.

It was her dream that her son would have a white-collar job. But today, she is his biggest fan!

Heno, a reggae show host at Vybez Radio is also the founder of his label, Empire Sounds, which he started when he was still in secondary school.

His career, though, officially picked pace in 2014 while working at Uptown Radio and later, when he moved to Homeboyz Radio in 2015, where he started getting a lot gigs and recognition.

A few years later, he did his first tour with Jamaican reggae lord, Chronixx, which greatly influenced his growth in the industry.

“When he was starting, entertainment was not largely recognised as a career one would pursue, so it was just a hobby for him. But I am glad he stuck with his passion and even made our mum his number one fan,” Peter says.

As a younger sibling, Peter has always closely supported his big brother’s career.

This is mainly because it opened the door for him to equally pursue his creative side as a career, and with less backlash from their mother. 

His success in his passion made things lighter for him and the two have even worked together on various occasions, and in different capacities, which Peter shares, have been fulfilling. 

Setting the bar

“My favourite is probably my biggest campus event when I was starting Freshaz Bash at Multimedia University in 2014. I brought him in as the DJ for the show.

I still have that poster at the back of my bedroom door,” he shares fondly. 

Heno’s strongest traits as his brother shares, is his commitment to his work. His work ethic is top notch and this has always seen him win.

As a younger brother, Peter tries as much as possible to emulate that, and apply it himself as well. 

The celebrated DJ has made many memorable moments in life and achieved so much in his career, from the moment he joined Uptown Radio, to when he got to deejay for 10,000 people in Alexander Palace in London, a show in which Jamaica’s Chronixx also performed.

Doing his first United States of America and Jamaica tours in July 2019 with a lot of other big reggae names, including Buju Banton, Chris Martin, Jesse royal, Protégé, among other tours, was an amazing experience. 

However, the greatest moment of all these though remains to be the birth of his daughter, Kelissa in 2013. He is a proud dad who has strived to be the best father to his daughter.  

 Heno was also the first DJ to release hip-hop collaborations, reggae and riddims in the country.

In future, Peter sees his brother getting to the ranks of some of the greatest Kenyan creatives who ever lived.

“I feel so proud to see him thrive in something he is so passionate about. He truly is a trend setter for generations to come,” says Peter.

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