It’s a sold-out crowd in Tyler Hall’s brand new Waterman Theatre; the stage is bathed in purple light. Hundreds of SUNY Oswego students file into their seats for one of the hottest campus events: the African, Latino, Asian and Native American Student Leadership Conference Fashion Show. As the show begins, the music kicks up a notch, and the fashion models and dancers take the stage.
At stage right, there’s a sound system manned by a DJ who is no stranger to being the sound master for any number of SUNY Oswego events. He is Rufaro Matombo ’12, better known as “DJ Tumbo.” In addition to his mixing expertise, he represents HOT 97, 107.5FM WBLS and 1190AM WLIB in the greater New York City region for Emmis Communications.
Oswego is a five-hour drive from his home in the city, but Tumbo returns to campus a few times a year to mix his love of music with words of encouragement for current students. And it’s not just the young people of SUNY Oswego that Tumbo mentors; he’s also served as a Project Manager for the Boys and Girls Club of New Rochelle.
You encourage SUNY Oswego students to follow their dreams when pursuing a career. How has your love of music defined your career?
My love and knowledge of music has significantly impacted where I am professionally. I specifically want my career to involve music and media. Media and music are the things we use and need throughout the most simple and complex things we do professionally and personally. Whether it is DJing an event to excite people to forget about life’s pressures, to selecting the perfect song to play in the background for a promotional video for the Boys and Girls Club, it is equally vital.
Tell me about the radio stations you represent, and what your job is like.
It was a dream to land the position of being a brand ambassador for HOT 97, WBLS and WLIB. HOT 97 is the world’s biggest and most well known Hip Hop radio station. WBLS has a large amount of history attached to it. Dating from Frankie Crocker to current radio personalities like Jeff Fox, Gary Byrd, Ann Tripp and Bob Lee (to name a few), my job as a brand ambassador is to increase brand awareness. This includes upholding the station’s image, generating and executing sales opportunities and building customer preference. I use my skills as a professional DJ, sense of humor and media versatility to be as effective as possible. I just recently got hired to become a board operator/producer so I am very excited to be involved on the programming side of things, too.
What was the role of music in your life, growing up? What did you listen to when you were a kid?
Music has played a huge role in my life. As Zimbabweans in New York City in the 90s and 2000s, my mother and father celebrated life to the fullest extent. Especially my mother. She is truly the “life of the party.” I always knew, once it was Friday, I would see my aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends at the house to party. At that time, I was getting exposed to artists like Donna Summers, Oliver Mtukudzi (afro-jazz), Brenda Nokuzola Fassie (Afro-pop), Earth Wind and Fire, Cher, Michael Bolton and Michael Jackson. When I heard Bob Marley come on I always knew that the party was soon to be over. At 10 years old I was listening to all the artists I just mentioned. Since my parents did not grow up listening to Hip Hop, it was always deemed secular. I did not get exposed to Rap and Hip Hop until I was about 13 years old. During my time SUNY Oswego, I was heavily listening to Hip Hop, Dancehall and Afrobeats. By this time my ears got accustomed to the music that my peers were all listening to.
How did you start being a DJ? What’s the coolest part of your job?
I became a DJ because my mother organized an event for Zimbabweans in the diaspora at the Harlem YMCA. I had no clue what I was doing. At that time my parents gave me their 100-CD disc changer, the home entertainment system and told me “play the music for the kids while the elders had fun.” I must have been 12 or 13 years old. I didn’t have a microphone to control the crowd so I would play the whole song and when the song was fading out, I would yell to people “Are you ready for the next song?” and then hit play on the CD player. And guess what would sometimes happen? The CD would ‘error’ because of being scratched. I miss those days though. The coolest part of working at Emmis is working with and around people who have been a part of Hip Hop history. As far as being a project manager for the Boys and Girls Club, the coolest part is being able to directly impact kids from the things that I do that come easy to me. But to them it is amazing (i.e. DJing, video editing and program facilitation).
Tell me about Lyricism 101 and how you’ve helped young people involved in Boys and Girls Club activities. Why/how did you get involved?
Lyricism 101 provides an opportunity for teenagers to explore Hip Hop as an art form, as well as engage critical literacy and creative writing, and celebrating the diverse identities and communities of our members. I got involved in Lyricism 101 while I was in New Orleans for the Boys and Girls Club of America National Conference in 2016. The national committee was looking for national ambassadors of this program. I applied for it and we were the last one out of 22 clubhouses to get admitted. Since I have a love and curiosity of music, I knew it was my responsibility to facilitate and execute this program to the best of my ability to the teens of New Rochelle.
In your opinion, what is the future of radio? Where do you hope to be in the future/will you continue to pursue a career in the media?
That is a tough one. In America we will always have the need for terrestrial radio. But we cannot go against how fast technology is moving and how it is redefining how people listen to the radio. I think the future of radio will be divided to the digital space being the primary location of how people listen and engage while terrestrial radio will be the secondary. The radio company that understands and builds to meet the pace of technology will be the first to conquer radio’s future. I am confident that I will still pursue a career in media because I am well versed in the skills of traditional radio and the skills needed to digitally produce and market.
You’ve returned to campus to be the DJ for events from the ALANA Fashion Show to OzFest, and you’ve served on alumni panels. What draws you back to campus?
I think it is important for current students who are interested in the future to have a reminder or open conversations with people who can help guide them during their time in college and/or help achieve dreams. My grandfather was a teacher and my father always told me what his father told him: “If you hold information that can potentially help someone, share it to the world.” I always go back to Oswego to offer advice, internships and jobs to help our students achieve their goals to the best of my ability.
What’s one song/mix you associate with SUNY Oswego and always play when you are here?
It has to be “F.L.Y. – Swag Surfin.” It’s not a current popular radio song, but when the song is played, it literally commands unity. People rest their arms around the person(s) to the left and right and just sway left to right during the chorus of the song. It is literally an experience to watch and be a part of with a crowd of 400 people in Tyler Hall, or 3000+ in the campus arena.