In May this year, Jimmy Gait launched an anti-cyberbullying campaign dubbed Hisiah. He started the campaign after being bullied on social media. The bullying had a negative impact on his life and also his music. I caught up with him to find out the story behind the campaign, and how it all began.
“In 2017 I was a victim of cyberbullying after I did a cover of the song Hello by Adelle. I did the song from a very positive place in my heart, and I then released the song on YouTube. Early the next morning, I received a call from Larry Madowo, the then host of the Trend, from NTV asking me to give him an exclusive interview since I was trending at number one on Twitter because of the song! To my surprise, I was receiving insults and so much hate. I felt shattered and wondered why people were being so unfair to me. I had done so many hit songs before, yet because they didn’t agree with this one, they forgot all the great music I had previously produced.
When did the bullying start?
It started in 2016 when I did the song Hello. Before that, I had not encountered any bullying that had an impact on me.
What form did cyberbullying take for you?
For the ‘Hello’ cover, it was more of insults because people felt that I should not do a cover for a secular song.
What happened during the time you got depressed and how was that first experience?
The first time was very difficult because it had never happened to me before. People who used to love started to attack me. The fact that I was not ready for that really shook me. The impact was crazy. It was something I had never seen before. It affected me emotionally and psychologically. I could not get out of the house for two weeks. I did not want to see anyone. Everyone was against me. You see what cyberbullying does is that it makes you feel like everyone is against you. That is the catch of cyberbullying. It makes you feel like you are alone. Yet that is not true.
So how did you get out of that?
Through a lot of support from family friends and talking to my pastor also helped. I lost a lot of money even in those two weeks. I was trending at number 1. I remember clearly I saw 60,000 clicks on my video. That was the craziest thing I had ever seen. Human beings like being associated with positive people. Nobody wants to bet on you when everyone is against you. I see a lot of people in Kenya who are very popular but you wonder why they lack brands that endorse them. It is because of the controversy around them. Brands do not like to invest in someone who is surrounded by a lot of controversies.
What happened after the two weeks?
I felt like I was done. But I knew that if I stayed like this, my life would stall. So I decided to put myself together and in one month or two, I released ‘Yesu ni Sponsor’. This time it was even worse.
What happened after? Was it an attack on you or on your family as well?
It was an attack on me and my music. I am a very private person. I do not expose my private life. People do not even know my family. Thus they did not have anything to throw at my family. They were attacking my music. Saying that it was crap. Very harsh words. It was too much for me so I decided to let go of my career for a while.
Was it that bad that you could not do the shows you had committed to?
It was so bad it affected me emotionally for months. I lost business and confidence in myself. That is why I did not want to do music again. Even now, it is a journey. I am always afraid to release new music.
What did it do for you as a person and as a musician?
You see you cannot really separate the two. It is a very thin line. The same person who is inside is the same person who goes out there and sings his music. So when people attack my music, I carry that home. Why are people so evil? What have I done to deserve this kind of treatment? It is a very terrible place to be when you feel like people are not supporting you.
Based on what happened, at what point did you decide it is time to come back? How long did that take you?
It took me a while. I also did not have money. By the time I was deciding that I did not want to do music, I was kicked out of my residence. I was just in place of struggle yet the music is a passion I have. For 3 months I did not have a place to sleep. There are times I would sleep in my car. Sometimes I would go to Ngara and get a lodging for Kshs 300. I would be hustling through the day without knowing where I would sleep at night.
I decided that even though I had lost everything, I would not lose my hope and that really kept me going. I decided to venture into business so that I would not build my life around music. I decided never to build my life around music. And that is the biggest problem that celebrities have. They build their lives around music, fame, celebrity status. The moment it comes down, they come down. This situation helped me reorganize my life. I started a business, I went into serious entrepreneurship. I put up ideas, packaged them and started marketing those ideas. Eventually, I was able to get an investor who was willing to put up money for my business. That is how I got back.
You still get bullied even now. How do you cope with it?
I ignore them and I do not let it get to me. The moment I see it, I get done with it. Because I do not want to process it. The moment you start processing it becomes part of you and starts affecting you. Even now that we launched this campaign, I know I will get bullied. People will say it is because I have seen the bill that has been signed and I am trying to take advantage. And they do not understand that I have been working on this campaign or almost a year. I have recorded a lot of celebrities. We have a lot of content that we are starting to release. Celebrities like Size 8, Dj Crème de la Crème and Kalekye Mumo. We recorded these things months ago.
When we wanted to do our press conference a couple of months ago, our main supporter Safaricom told us to wait a little bit for some things to fall into place. People will always talk without knowing what is happening in the background. They talk like they know. They talk about your life like they know you. This is what cyberbullying has taught me. Never allow people to tell your story. Tel I yourself. I will never allow other people to tell my narrative. Because people always misrepresent you. They do not know who you are or what you stand for. They do not know why you do what you do. You are the only person who can clearly state what you are doing, where it is going and how much you want to do it. You are the only one who can answer those questions. Irrespective of what people say.
What advice would you give to musicians who are going through the same thing and those whose lives are not in the spotlight?
First of all, as a celebrity, you do not show the exact picture of your life. This is the same for social media. What people say is not what is. It is two way. You cannot let what they say affect you too much. I would also endorse the tag,’ Kabla Ulick, Fikiria’. Before you share something, ask yourself if it will build someone or break someone. I think those are the messages we want to share. Do not process the information you see online. The most important thing is to be true to yourself. Know that when you share things in public, you are open to receiving criticism. However, you need to be positive. Do not respond to people who spew hate. The moment you respond with insults, you fuel the fire. For me, silence is the best way of dealing with cyberbullying.
For people who are not in the limelight, have a good support system, be positive. What people say in social media they cannot to your face. So do not believe them. Believe in yourself. Seek counselling if it affects you too much.
What steps have you put in place so that people can have a place to reach out to when they are cyberbullied?
Of course, we do not have the capacity to set up this thing by ourselves. But we have acquired partnerships for things such as the helpline 116. That is one of the platforms we will be using. If you have an issue call 116 especially if you are a child or an adolescent. Also, we have a website. www.hisia.com where you can reach us and we will connect you with a counsellor. We have a lot of counsellors who have volunteered to help out. We have social media platforms and we will be able to connect you to the right people.
What is your aim with this campaign?
The main aim is to change behaviour. We want people to interact positively and to think before they share things on social media. We want a safer online world for our future and our children. That is the main objective. So that are the conversations we will be driving forward.
How to handle cyber bullying