Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ROYALE SPECIAL FEATURE: Meet Nigeria’s richest entertainers

(Clockwise from top left) – Psquare, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, 2face Idibia, Genevieve Nnaji, D’banj, Don Jazzy, Wizkid, Funke Akindele, Davido, Ali Baba

Jaw-dropping mansions, limited edition Hummer jeeps, sold-out stadium concerts, billions of Naira in annual income, chartered airplanes, flashy, big-budget videos, bespoke apparels and diamond jewelry. Multi-million dollar endorsement deals, major coverage on MTV base, Channel O, BET, BBC and CNN. Plus best-selling albums and an amazing fan base, Nigerian entertainers are finally getting paid in full, after years of toiling and languishing in poverty; and in spite of thriving piracy and bootlegging.

The new class of entertainers and culture icons are inspiring a generation of troubled Nigerian youths; influencing the way we live, and painting a mural of hope, on an otherwise bleak canvass.
Keke and D-one splash N30M on Hummer jeeps‘ the tabloid headline screamed.
The year was 2004. The music industry’s leading impresarios Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye had just taken delivery of a pair of orange Hummers, and everyone who had eyes; who had ears, could not help but admire, even envy the duo.

Adeneye and Ogungbe, both co-owners of Primetime Entertainment, literally led contemporary Nigerian music business by the hands, to where it is today; starting from the late nineties when they sold Nigerians a new type of pop music coming from a three-man band named Remedies.
As presenters of AIT Jamz, the most popular primetime show of the nineties, Keke and D-One sowed the seeds of celebrity pop culture, indigenous urban music and glam lifestyle that’s today not just germinating, but already bearing fruits and driving an entire industry. Let’s say, at a point when everything was comatose; when no one thought it made sense at all, the pair gave Nigerian pop music culture a ‘mouth-to-mouth’, resuscitating an entire industry and inspiring what has today become the most dominant music scene on the African continent.

If Keke and D-One planted the idea, sowed the seed and used their media power to drive the new sound and style, it was the musicians essentially, who took it up and gave it life. With their first single Shakomo, the Remedies (made up of Eedris Abdulkareem, Tony Tetuila and Eddy Montana) hijacked the whole nation, becoming instant stars and pathfinders for a whole generation of pop stars that were to come.
And, as if they were waiting for someone to push the green button, they quickly showed up in their dozens. No, not new cats or unsure wannabes. But truly gifted talents, many of whom had been stranded underground, almost convinced their talent would never bear dividend in their homeland. So, with oversized baggy jeans, glittering T-Shirts, dark glasses, Timbaland boots, costume jewelry and demo CDs, they hit the streets again; fired up like never before, ready to pitch their works to radio DJs, and the last of the set of surviving labels. From Plantashun Boiz to Def O’Clan, X-Appeal, Black Tribe, Black Reverendz and Maintain. All of a sudden, a fresh set of talents were amassing space on playlists (especially on Nigeria’s first privately-owned radio station Ray Power 100.5) hitherto dominated by foreign music.
It didn’t look like it was going to be a journey, a movement. But, to our pleasant surprise, (and to the chagrin of many who had reservations about pop music and the culture it enthrones), music of Nigerian origin began wearing pop overalls: Fuji and Juju stars soon embarked on a collaboration spree with hip hop stars, while promoters quickly went to bed with the leaders of the new school.
 Today, ‘the Remedies’ are no more. But the pop industry they helped re-define is still very much around. Today, the hits are bigger. The stars are brighter. The scene is crazier, and the pay; unbelievable. Young wanna bes of yesterday are now the ‘king pins’ making hits by the day, rocking stages from Lagos to Talata Mafara, and getting paid in full.

Yes, they’re sagging their pants; they’re piercing weird parts of their bodies; they’re singing about fast life, fast cars, fast money and fab life and posting pictures of all that on Instagram by the second. But they’re also on the best-dressed lists, stunning fashion editors with well-combined Savile Row collections and some of the most expensive accessories money can buy (yes! Talk of Chris Aire diamond rings, Jacobs’ jewelry and the like). They sing about love, life and living; and, like eLDee, Sound Sultan, 2face Idibia, Africa China and Eedris Abdulkareem, many are using their art to remind the government and the people about the (poor) state of the nation, and why solutions must be sought.

But, while still waiting for those solutions, homeboys are raking in the big bucks: sold-out concerts across the continent, major endorsement deals with leading multinationals, performance fees of up to $100,000, and enough annual income to make their bank managers want to rip off their suits and head for the vocal booth.
No one represents this success more than entertainer D’banj. The 30 year-old Pop star confessed in his 2009 single ‘Mogbona feli feli’ that ‘everybody listen when I speak; now I get 10 Million (naira) in a week’. And he wasn’t talking fiction. Only a few years ago, D’banj was a struggling Nigerian living in London; squatting with friends, working hard to pay bills and struggling to find his feet in the city. Today, he’s a multi-millionaire entertainer with an impressive catalogue of hits, a string of endorsement deals down the line of his career (with Nutricima, Globacom, Power Fist, Ndani TV etc), his own TV show (Koko Mansion, which aired only one season on defunct Cable network HiTV), a VIP club of his own (Koko Lounge), and remember the range of mobile phones in his name?

The success of acts like D’banj and Wizkid, and the influence of their lyrics on the lingo of the everyday Nigerian youth, has caused parents, and society to sit up and reconsider their opinion of what the young men and women are doing. In an environment where corruption is systemic, and dealers are masquerading as leaders, most young people have since found out that it pays to look towards music and movie stars for hope and inspiration. It’s interesting how more teenagers and young graduates want to be like D’banj or Genevieve or Wizkid or 2face Idibia. The politicians may be drunk on executive power, but it’s becoming increasingly clear, with each passing day, that the real power; the real influence rests in the voices of today’s entertainers. Nigeria may not admit it; but the American pop culture has since found its way into the country. Thankfully, when it got to the border, they took off its garment, and replaced it with green-white-green apparel.

So, gone are the days when all young people talked about was violence in Brooklyn, riding convertibles around the LBC or trying to act gangsta to fit into the Hip-hop community. Fans still listen to Jay Z and Drake and Lil’ Wayne. Many are still devoted to the art of 2pac and the Notorious B.I.G.; They even adore Beyonce and Nicki Minaj and Rihanna and Lady Gaga. But, what’s mainstream now, what young Nigerians are addicted to, are sights and sounds of their nation; music coming from deep down inside the souls of young, home-made talents; pan-Nigerian stories told over groovy beats and catchy hooks, and the get-rich-or-die-trying lifestyle which is turning most young men and women into driven entrepreneurs as opposed to the blue-collar rat race lifestyle of the generation before this.

But things have not always been so rosy. In 1996, Nigerian DJs were so hooked on foreign music, they couldn’t imagine a day when they’ll pick up their turn-tables and dish out music of Nigerian origin. All through the early nineties, there was no room for the Hip-hop culture in mainstream society. Everything else reigned – Juju, Fuji, Reggae, dancehall, even highlife. But R&B? Rap? No label had room for that; no A&R manager would pitch such to impatient executives. If you can’t sound like Blackky or Daddy Showkey or Dele Taiwo or Daniel Wilson; you might as well forget it.

Many would like to think that rap/hip-hop music and the new wave of pop culture began with the coming of Nigeria’s first privately owned radio station Ray Power in 1994; the establishment of HipHopWorld Magazine in 1995, and the devotion of culture apostles like Solo Dee, Keke and D-One, Dennis Ogi, Grand Master Lee, JAJ, Olisa Adibua, Efe Omorogbe, De Weez, Steve Kadiri and Weird MC. But NET investigations have revealed that the success Hip-hop and its related art forms recorded in the late nineties, and which has remained till date, can be traced to the works of the above-named pros, as well as the seeds sown by early apostles like Sound on Sound, Dj Jimmy JATT, Oxygen, Junior and Pretty, Ronnie, Emphasis, Def O’Clan and many others, who helped birth the culture in Nigeria, nurturing it like a delicate baby, even when everyone felt what they had was nothing but an abiku.

Sacrifices have been made; prices paid. Many of the early disciples have fallen by the road side; unable to find a market for their art, and unable to carve a niche for themselves in a society that, until recently, considered the idea of Nigerians playing ‘western pop music’ a sin punishable by death. Today, that society, under the influence of an ‘Americanised’ mass media is not just embracing pop culture; she’s romancing it and going to bed with it. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is not a fling. It’s a deep affair that’s making heads turn and tongues wag. Whether it’ll lead to the altar or not, is another story.

While we’ll still have to pay homage to some in the Fuji kingdom and other notable Juju performers, the biggest stars today, the occupants of the A-list arena are not highlife kings, Fuji stars or Reggae rebels.
The likes of Juju great, King Sunny Ade and Fuji icon K1 have all the bragging rights when it comes to chasing in – KSA who has been a performing artiste for over four decades still knocks high profile shows every weekend across continents. K1 in October 2012 completed his multi-million naira mansion in Ijebu, Ogun State. The Fuji legend’s schedule covers shows from Lagos to the US and Europe. He’s currently on a three-day performance on a boat cruise in the US.

But The top stars of modern Nigerian music, in terms of album sales, concert revenue, radio and TV airplay, local and international awards received and catalogue of hits, as at January 2013, are Psquare, D’banj, 2face Idibia, Wizkid, Davido, Iyanya, Ice Prince, Darey. What that means, in English, is that the time is ‘Pop-O-clock.

Same goes for Nollywood; the VHS era has finally passed, that along with the low budget, tacky home videos which once flooded the streets of Ebinpejo lane in Lagos and Iweka road, Onitsha. A select number of Nollywood actors and producers have enjoyed the success of the Nollywood boom. And many are now rewriting the scripts, using their influence, exposure and money power to build an industry that will push the envelope of quality.

Unlike the Liz Bensons, Sandra Achums and Regina Askias who had only popularity as the end product of their hardwork, today’s Nollywood stars, led by Funke Akindele, Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Genevieve Nnaji are being pursued with endorsement deals (thanks to telecoms companies like GLOBACOM). With exposure from the international media and the help of Africa Magic, Nollywood actors now have a cult following, wait for it….around the world, closing multi-million Naira deals are the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Funke Akindele, Genevieve Nnaji and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and not forgetting movie producer Kunle Afolayan who’s seen by mane as the face of ‘new Nollywood’.
A prime example is Funke Akindele, who after releasing her ‘The Return of Jenifa’ movie in 2011 grossed over N30m in cinema sales across the world. The actress also inked an endorsement deal with GLOBACOM, the Lagos State Government all before getting married to Lagos millionaire Kenny Almaroof in 2012. In January 2013, she signed a multi-million Naira deal with online job platform Jobberman.

Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde and Genevieve Nnaji are two of the few actresses seated comfortably in the millionaires’ league, with revenues from direct acting engagement, related activities, and other businesses.. Omotola, 35, married to Captain Matthew Ekeinde cashed in on her ‘The Real Me’ reality TV show produced by M-NET. The mother of four, with over 300 movies under her belt, is described in a recent Time Magazine feature as ‘Queen of Nollywood’. Genevieve Nnaji, who’s been in Nollywood for over a decade bagged a Range Rover Evoque endorsement deal worth millions in 2012, she is still the current face of MUD Cosmetics. Omotola and Genny have had other endorsements (worth millions too!) in the past, Hollandia Yogurt and LUX Nigeria respectively.
And Genevieve, according to colleagues who spoke with NET over the weekend, has her hands in real estate.

Even the Stand-up comics aren’t doing badly; A veteran like Ali Baba who earned his strips working under Charly Boy has been raking in the millions for many years. Starting as a stand-up comic, Ali Baba has since transcended into a show host for premium events. Ali Baba’s asking price is in the millions, consulting or compering events for multinationals, government or high net worth individuals. And many of his ‘boys’, including Tee A, Basketmouth, Julius Agwu and Gbenga Adeyinka are building their own empires too, earning the big bucks and investing wisely.

Filmmaker, producer and director Kunle Afolayan is a quiet money-maker, who has transformed in just a few years, from upcomer to major filmmaker and entrepreneur. Afolayan who ended his Globacom endorsement deal in 2012 was contracted by M-NET to produce a documentary on Yoruba kingdom and culture called ‘Isedale’, the deal is said to be in the millions. Also in 2012, his ‘Phone Swap’ movie hit the cinemas, hitting a profitable gross. Afolayan also owns production company Golden Effects which boasts of some of the most sophisticated production equipment in the industry today.

A veteran by all right, Richard Mofe-Damijo has been running the Nollywood game since the nineties and has been smart about it too. The 51-year-old is the current Delta State Commissioner for Commerce and Tourism. Mofe-Damijo in June 2011 joined the cast of tinsel, which attracts a buoyant take home package per appearance. RMD is working his way back to mainstream movie making, and there are speculation he’s warming up to play executive roles.

Since moving back from the UK in 2005, Oladapo Oyebanjo a.k.a. D’Banj, has achieved what most artistes struggle to achieve in their entire career: multiple endorsement deals, back-to-back MTV awards, a major reality show in his name, booking fees up to $30,000, unrestricted access to governors and ministers, and a community of fans that’ll make some of the biggest American stars jealous. D’banj at the start of 2011 signed a series of recording deals with top international labels G.O.O.D Music (US), Mecury Records (UK) and Sony Music (Africa).
And, although it sounded like he was boasting when he told us ‘I get N10M in a week’ on his ‘The Entertainer’ album back in ’08, it is evident that these days, he makes that much on busy weekends. His asking price for a gig, is a standard N5M. Mr Oyebanjo mostly plays more than one gig every weekend. And, just like Psquare and Wizkid, he’s almost always booked till the end of the year.
Remember when D’banj made his debut at London’s O2 arena in August 2010? The number of Nigerian and non-Nigerian fans who stormed the venue to catch a glimpse of the man and his art was not just a testimony to his growing popularity across Africa and Europe, but a clear sign that Nigerian pop music was growing wings and flying across the nooks and crannies of the world? That seems so miniature to the level of exposure D’banj has had in the last three years, performing his monster-crossover single ‘Oliver twist’ at the BBC Hackney weekend and AFCON finals in South Africa. Don’t forget winning a BET Award in 2011 and MOBO in 2012.

2face Idibia has been flying on those wings since 2005 – when he won the first ever Best African act award at the MTV Europe Music awards in Lisbon, Portugal. Idibia, 34, who broke out from pop band Plantashun Boiz in 2004, is the most iconic pop act to emerge from Africa in recent times, and his colleagues D’Banj, Psquare, Wizkid all admit he’s the man that ‘paved the way’. When global music network MTV made its debut in Africa in 2005, 2face Idibia’s video ‘African Queen’ was the first video the station played. Although a few mishaps slowed down his career for years, Idibia continues to trudge on, perhaps aware that the burden of Nigeria’s pop movement lies on his shoulders. Idibia is popular from Lagos to Moscow, Barbados, Paris and Jamaica. There’s almost no continent he has not performed, and after Fela, KSA, Femi Kuti, Majek Fashek and Lagbaja, the father-of-six is about the most remarkable music export from Nigeria. SOLAR records founder Dick Griffey, who was one of the most respected voices in modern American music, told NET ‘I know 2face. His song (African Queen) was a hit in America. If only he had a better video that expanded the theme and got some push’. Idibia has also gotten thumbs up from Bob Marley’s widow Rita, and the song African Queen was the lead soundtrack for Hollywood movie Phat Girlz.

Darey Art-Alade, the seasoned R&B singer has cleverly calculated his target market and has got his segment on lock. Apart from knocking show performances which include many governmental and political functions, the Abuja based label C.E.O also doubles as host for top functions or shows. Darey is also married to a multimillionaire, his wife with whom he runs the very successful Design Studeo.
Two young artistes who have defied the odds and rationale of succeeding in the Nigerian music zone are pop stars Wizkid and Davido. While Wizkid took a few years rambling from studio to studio before he was scooped up by Banky W’s EME, Davido blasted his way with huge financial backing from his billionaire father Deji Adeleke. Wizkid and Davido have however excelled in almost all endeavours – successful debut albums (Superstar and O.B.O), bagging endorsement deals worth millions of Naira (Wizkid’s Pepsi deal is rumoured to be between N10-N20M, Davido’s MTN Pulse deal was worth N30m). Both artists secured houses in the Lekki Phase 1 area of Lagos and talking about cars, they both boast of 3 luxurious ‘whips’ each! (Wizkid has a black 2009 V8 engine mid-size luxury crossover BMW X6, a N6m VW convertible and a 2012 model Hyundai Sonata; Davido has a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro, an Audi Q7 and a 2012 Hyundai Sonata.

Music producer Don Jazzy is also chilling in the millionaires club; after splitting with label partner D’banj, the maverick producer set up his very own music label, signing former acts Wande Coal, Dr SID, younger brother D’Prince and a new face Tiwa Savage. It didn’t take long for the endorsement deals to land on his table. As of now, Don Jazzy has deals with Samsung Africa and Loya Milk. Don’t forget the royalties he’ll be receiving from all his production efforts and yes that also includes work done with D’banj in the past like the smash single ‘Oiver twist‘. In late 2012, he acquired a N160 mansion in Nicon Estate, Lekki.
Few years ago, it didn’t look like these guys were going nowhere. When we started pushing The Remedies and started encouraging Nigerians to patronize urbane Nigerian music, many people thought we were wasting our time. Today, those boys are generating billions of Naira, providing employment for thousands of people, sustaining the economy in their own way, without any form of government support. They’re inspiring the younger ones and giving the world something to talk about Nigeria, apart from drugs and 419’ Keke Ogungbe, who’s regarded as the godfather of modern music business in Nigeria tells Nigerian Entertainment Today.

But Ogungbe, who is the founder of Nigeria’s largest record label Kennis Music, will be the first to tell you that although it looks all fabulous on the surface, if you search deep down, the decay will almost make you vomit. Together with other major stakeholders like Efe Omorogbe, Obi Asika, Solomon Arueya and Tony Okoroji, Ogungbe has been vehement in his war against piracy, while seeking ways to develop an effective distribution network for the thriving music ‘industry’.
The man who said ‘all that glitters is not gold’ might just have been referring to the entertainment scene in Nigeria. Beneath all that opulence, bling and razzmatazz, lies the nagging menace of piracy, bootlegging, rights abuse, organizational chaos and rapid flight of talent. Yes, artistes are getting paid; but they’re not getting paid in full. The only effective means of distribution is controlled by pirate-marketers holed in the notorious Alaba International market in Lagos; with no form of checks and balances, quality control and accountability. A thriving piracy industry has forced CD pricing to an embarrassing all-time low (lower than N30 per unit), and because labels are poorly-funded and dismally run; and artistes ignorant and vulnerable, the marketers have seized the industry by the jugular, buying properties home and abroad and expanding their operations while the industry continues to asphyxiate.

What is known as Alaba International market begins from Olojo drive, around Volkswagen area in Ojo Local government, and runs through the local government secretariat all the way to Sabo Oniba. Vast and highly populated, the market is divided into Electronics and electrical sections; and only a stone throw from the less popular Alaba Rago market. The shops are small or large; but all packed full with mainly goods imported from China, Taiwan, Japan and Italy. Separated by narrow passages and demarcated roofs, the stalls all look the same to a first timer. But those familiar with the market know the difference; they know those who stock original appliances; and those who import counterfeit. They know using the shops as a front; and those legitimately plying their trade. They know those who have abandoned their original business, to focus on pirating local and foreign CDs and DVDs. They know their names and homes and tactics. When they see them crossing the narrow foot bridge that connects Alaba to nearby Okokomaiko, they can point them out and predict exactly where they’re going to have the evening’s drink. But, usually, they’ve kept sealed lips and looked the other way, until recent calls for the market to be shut down if executives cannot purge it of music pirates.

Sadly, the industry is divided on how to handle Alaba. While a group of stakeholders are waging war and calling on government to shut down the market, many independent artistes and producers are still heading that way, ready to exchange their master tapes for peanuts. Majority of them are even paying the pirate-marketers to include their songs on pirated mixtapes which record more sales than original CDS. ‘It costs between N5,000 to N15,000 to put your song on a mixtape’, a top act told this newspaper. ‘Everyone is doing it. Even the labels. We have no choice, If you want your song to be big, that’s the way to go’. Modenine, arguably Nigeria’s most gifted rapper, has a song where he gives a start-up emcee a lesson on how to get his work into Alaba; while rappers 2Shotz and Terry Tha Rapman have shot videos in the market, portraying Alaba as the alpha and omega of music distribution in Nigeria. As sad as it sounds, it’s true. Veteran Weird MC even screams on her hit single Riran Wo ‘We gonna go to Alaba, and grab some money!

Tired of living in bondage, many are now seeking alternative means of pushing their works. 9ice’s third album Tradition in December 2009 was marketed and distributed by start-up Soforte Entertainment. The now troubled distribution chain founded by lawyer Gbenga George. And many label owners, movie producers and marketing experts are putting heads together; hoping to make bold moves to take the destiny of their industry in their own hands.

The success of cinemas like Genesis and Silverbird has helped to some extent, same for the activities of the newly-formed Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON. Put experts agree that there’s still plenty to do.
The risk of not overcoming the piracy challenge, or solving the pricing conundrum, experts say, is that the industry will continue to live on life support. In the absence of reasonable revenue from record sales, mechanical rights and other royalties how are today’s big names able to enjoy the lifestyles of the rich and famous? Because there’s endless patronage from Corporate Nigeria – Banks, Telecoms companies, Breweries, and Oil firms. A change in policy by some of the major brands could mean an abrupt end to income for artistes, managers, agents, labels and other stakeholders. MTN for example, dedicated the bulk of its sponsorship funds for 2010 to sports, because of the 2010 world cup tournament in South Africa. Globacom, a major revenue source for its ambassadors has a firm hold on many stars, same for events agencies like Towncriers and EXP. And as the big spenders are sneezing, more than a few beneficiaries (including artistes, TV producers and promoters) are catching a cold.
And only time will tell, whether today’s millionaires will put their monies where there mouths are and move on to join the billionaires’ club, or take a big plunge and lose their access pass into the millionaires club


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