The translating biz: Dreams are good but realities are better; is what drives celebrated video jockey, Mary Smarts Matovu, aka VJ Junior. Starting in 2006, VJ Junior, 31, is now the undisputed king of his craft – translating English movies into Luganda. He told Denis Bbosa his life story, opens the lid on his political ambitions, and his future in the industry.
Who is VJ Junior?
I was born on April 4, 1985, to Francis Matovu Senior and Harriet Nakato Nakimuli of Bwaise, Kawempe Division. I went to Bat Valley Primary School, Highway College and Happy Hours SSS in Bwaise. I did not join university because I started working at my brother’s video library in 2004.
Who inspired you to start video jockeying?
My brother, Ronald Nganda, aka Ron Heavy Q Kabaka, was a master at the game back then. I envied his job and the attention he got from people all over Kampala. I started out slowly and before long, I could translate a full movie. I will never forget the first movie I translated — Air Force One (Harrison Ford).
When did you start earning from this business?
In 2006, I was contacted by the owner of Imax video hall in Nansana and I was to be paid Shs600,000 monthly.
But in 2008, my brother left for Europe and tasked me to keep his Q’s digital company afloat so I had to resign at Imax. I managed to popularise the company across borders. We have since started directing music videos and even employed many people. I was grateful when Bukedde TV employed me six years ago as their resident VJ for telenovelas.
What does it feel like dominating the industry?
I know it is my time to rule; truth be told, I worked tirelessly for it. No one can stifle your talent when you put it to good use. My meticulous work speaks for itself. I guess my competitors know that. I live by the dictum; ever challenged but never equaled. The challenge now is to keep at the top for some more years.
Did you have a strategy to push VJ Jjingo out of business?
We are friends and we have different styles. Then again, he has his audience that can’t cross to my side. It’s like in the car business; one may choose to drive a Benz instead of a Toyota.
How long does it take you to master a movie before translating it?
It depends on the type of movie. An Action movie takes me just days, while Sci-Fi, documentaries, biology and legal-based movies require me to first consult experts such as doctors and lawyers.
Over time, I have learned some of the legal language and I have improved my English vocabulary because I consult the encyclopedia a lot. For movies in other languages, I use the subtitle option.
Did your brother give you any specific training?
Yes. He critiqued and encouraged me to improve. He told me to be myself and create a brand different from his. I also learned a lot from another VJ Mark Mugwanya aka VJ Mark.
What was your dream growing up?
I wanted to be a pilot but I did not study any science subjects at A-Level. I have no regrets though, because my younger brother, Oxtone Lubega, is ‘inches’ away from becoming a pilot and the family dream will be realised. He is in his final year at Soroti Flying School. He is also the guild president at the school.
Do you ever listen to the movies you translate?
I used to in my early years but not any more. When I work on a movie, my gut feeling tells me it is good for the market. It gives me joy when customers call back to say it was a wonderful piece of work.
Where do you record your movies?
At my studio at Majestic Plaza and also Planet Earth Cinema Hall in Bwaise. I work on a movie any time I feel good and free from distraction.
What’s your favourite movie?
Ironically, I prefer watching cartoons such as Transformers, but give me Bruce Wills’ Diehard and I will watch it any day. I also enjoy movies by Demi Moore because she is my best actress.
What makes you different from other video translators?
I know that I am working for an educated generation that is ready to criticise me if I bore them. People don’t watch translated movies because they don’t know English, but because they want to enjoy a simplified version of the movie.
I put this into consideration whenever I sit down to work because my end goal is to make people appreciate my work. I say every word as it is in the movie and I don’t use action time to send greetings to my friends and relatives like some VJs.
If I’m not in a good mood, I don’t work because the stress will spill over to the movie.
You have clearly made a name now. So, do women throw themselves at you for that melodious voice?
It is all about self-control. Ladies flood my cell phone with calls and sexy messages but I ignore them. I am married to a lovely wife, Patience Nakitende and we have two children; Fretchen Gold Love Namatovu (four years) and Quatine Generous Matovu (two).
Is there anything you do to keep that voice in shape?
This is my natural voice. I drink water, I don’t smoke weed, cigarettes or use any other stimulants to maintain my voice. I drink a beer or two with friends on a night out.
What have you achieved from this business?
I have managed to attract several sponsors and adverts, I have worked with NGOs on mobilisation campaigns, and live shows. I have managed to construct a mega residential pad in a city suburb I won’t mention, for ‘security’ reasons and I have a farm in Migadde Village on Bombo Road.
Are you training anyone to succeed you?
I don’t have any trainee at the moment, but I prepared VJ Sun who now works with BBS TV. He was my apprentice for three years. I believe he can achieve much if he stays focused. The response and respect from the audience makes or breaks any aspiring VJ. That is why we have countless VJs who have been in the shadows for more than 20 years.
What is your favourite dish?
I enjoy fish in groundnut sauce, matooke, rice and posho.
What do you do in your free time?
In my free time I swim, read novels such as Harry Potter and play football with my team (Q’s Football Club).
What challenges have you found in your job?
First of all, I have to work day and night to stay on top. We are also faced with a problem of self-seeking individuals that pirate our work. The other issue is that many new movies are being released and my customers demand that I translate them at ago, which is humanly impossible yet I have to keep my clientele happy and expectant.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
By that time I guess I would have retired from movie business. I will be a film consultant. I will also be vying for a seat in parliament and I will have expanded my farm.
What would you say is your most memorable moment?
When we, (as councillors from Kampala) met President Museveni at State House in Entebbe. I had a photo moment with him but I did not get a chance to tell him I have admired him my entire life. Like you see (points to a Museveni poster hanging on his office wall), he is the first person I see when I get in here and when I’m leaving late at night. We shall meet him soon and I hope to talk to him at length about NRM and national matters.
Speaking of NRM, did any officials implore you to join politics?
For long, my friends and many prominent politicians cajoled me to join elective politics but I was hesitant. Many wanted me to go for Lord Councillorship (LC5), while others suggested Kawempe South MP. After some soul searching and talking to my friends Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central MP) and Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi (Youth and Children Affairs Minister), I felt it was time. I stood for the LC3 councillorship seat in Bwaise II East. I was sworn in recently and I haven’t encountered any hindrances in the Kawempe Division Council meetings never mind my mayor (Emmanuel Sserunjogi) being a DP diehard. I don’t regret supporting NRM.