Two Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) graduates sat for a chat at Class Suites in Opebi, on one of those traffic-free mainland afternoons. The World Cup tournament was going on and the screen facing the conversing LAUTECH alumnae was showing one of the matches of the French national team; but the conversation between the two wasn’t about the match and it wasn’t about LAUTECH either. Rather, the chat was about talent management in the Nigerian Entertainment sphere. I was one of the two conversing persons, the other person was Obasijuade Adedokun aka Oba. He is the President of Music Artiste Managers of Nigeria and frontman of CREAM Entertainment Talent Management Company, under which he manages actor, Samuel Ajibola aka Spiff of popular TV comedy series, ‘The Johnsons’. I came with a box of questions, he came with a bag of answers.
One of the first set of questions I asked Oba was, “why did you choose talent management as your career line?” In response, Oba revealed how his early interests in traveling, entertainment and socialising led him to leave the corporate world, where he had juicy jobs at Guinness and Nike, for talent management. He said, “I am not your regular 9 – 5 guy. I am restless. I like to travel and I have flair for entertainment. I grew up wanting to be an entertainer but realised that I am better fit for other roles. I came in as a model but delved into talent management when the opportunity came.”
Oba had more to say about the experiences that led him to talent management but the one that stood out was his friendship with Djinee and how it turned out to become his first artist management job. Their friendship started from LAUTECH but Djinee left after the success of his song, Ego , and their path crossed later; when Djinee pulled up at Oba’s Guinness office place for a commercial. The two reignited their friendship and nurtured it for years until Djinee called Oba and said, “would you work for me?” Oba recalled that the call came sometime around 2008 and 2009, at a time when he just resigned from his routine job. His response to Djinee’s call had a purposeful tone. He said, “I can’t work for you. I can only work with you.” He explained that he didn’t want to continue under another employer. He was tired of working for people, he felt it was time to do something for himself.
The call ended in the agreement that Djinee is the artiste, Obasijuade becomes the manager and the two became one brand. I was shocked to hear that there was no documentation, no paper signing, just a verbal agreement and undiluted loyalty between both parties was enough to work with. It was with the same principle he operated with Terry G. About the working structure with Djinee he said, “since it was my very first artiste management experience, I told him to give me whatever percentage he was going to give me and he was very fair.” One of their earliest big score was a deal to host the “One Million Dollar Game Show” sponsored by Etisalat.
Obasijuade wore a smile of beautiful remembrance as he shared these stories from the threshold of his talent management career and how he met with the Choc Boiz – M.I Abaga, Jesse Jaggz and Ice Prince – who lived with Djinee then. He spoke particularly about Ice Prince. He recounted the day Ice Prince came to Lagos and how he introduced himself saying, “Yo my name is Panshak”, with the same tone of a cool college kid that he is known with today. His interest in Ice was also due to their facial similarity. He shared the story of how officials at a South African airport told him to “show them love”, thinking it was Ice Prince. I looked at him with a little more interest in his looks and I thought, “I don’t blame those guys, this guy really looks like Ice.” (no rhyme intended.)
“Artist managers are having it good now, in those days it wasn’t like this”, he said, as he compared being an effective artiste manager a decade ago to now. He buttressed his point using a narrative of how Djinee was to release an album and the vehicle conveying them to venue of the album launch developed a fault. He said he had to push the vehicle in a heavy rain; because he had to do whatever it took to make sure Djinee appeared at the event unruffled and star at the event. “It is showbiz we call it. Artistes are the show, we are the business”, he said to justify his action.
He left the rest of the story for me to imagine – “Would Wizkid’s manager really push a car in Lagos traffic?” I doubt that. The times have really changed – more money and more exposure. Obasijuade explained that “the difference between artiste management then and now is the fact that you (as the manager) were doing it not for the money but for love. Money used to be secondary.” It used to be more about getting the job done and less about devising ways to share in the fame that comes with it.
In the threshold of his career, artist managers used to work in unity. He talked about a clique he belonged to that had Osagie Osarenkhoe who was managing Banky W at the time, Obinna Agwu aka Angry Mob who was in charge of M.I Abaga’s affairs, Timi Dakolo’s manager at that time, as members. He talked about the healthy relationship they shared, citing an instance where Banky W was engaged at an event and Osagie called him to make Djinee available to replace Banky for another event. He also mentioned a time when Osagie was busy with another project and a client of hers, Wizkid, needed her presence at a location and Osagie beckoned on him to stand in for her. From the way he described it, it was the good old days.
Oba said because he had such network of friends, he never really needed an International influence on his career as a talent manager. He has good memory of how he could reach out to Osagie or Godwin Tom for advice and vice-versa. Oba, however, lamented that artist management today is a different business where the support system is no longer there and the integrity of the business is waning. As the President of the Nigerian Association of Talent Managers, he would know. He deals with a mass of artiste managers and knows about their operations. He said he gets calls from aggrieved clients who report the unprofessional acts of some artist managers.
One of the causes of the rot that he mentioned was the lack of understanding of some of the new professionals. He said that a lot of them forget that “we are the business and they are the show. They forget that ‘artist’ being placed before ‘Manager’ in the title of the profession is for a reason – the artiste comes first. If there is no artiste, there is nothing to manage.” Oba said some artiste managers compare themselves to the artiste but it is wrong. He added that the percentage of these managers does not afford them the spending power of the artiste and suggested that they should cut their coat according to their cloth. He said, “as your artist is growing you have to grow but you should define your growth.” He shared a prediction from a conference he attended in France where it was said that at this rate the Nigerian music industry, by 2025, would be so big that it would be considered a major market. Oba said these are the targets artist managers and artistes would eventually benefit from if the modus operandi is right.
Like Osagie said during my chat with her, Obasijuade said building trust and having a functional relationship with the artist are two of the essentials of the profession. Oba explained that these two reasons are behind his successful experience with Djinee. He stressed on the importance of maintaining a working relationship and said, “talent management is like marriage, you’re not allowed to fight you’re only allowed to disagree to agree.” This understanding is what differentiates a talent manager from a talent damager.
Oba played it safe when I asked him about the most exciting talent he has managed so far. He has a fine portfolio that involves managing talents like TerryG, Kween, Tee-Blaq, Papa Dennis of Kenya, Samuel Ajibola, and at some point, he was the talent manager for All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA); but he didn’t pick any one as the most exciting talent of all. Rather he said each talent is unique in their own way.
He explained to me the contrast between Terry G and Gabriel Amanyi. Terry G is the wild, noise making singer on the screen but off the screen, he is the brilliant and calculative Gabriel Amanyi. He also spoke about Spiff as only one shade of Samuel Ajibola the actor. I suspected it but Oba confirmed to me that there’s a conscious idea behind the public image of these stars and the goal is to appeal to their respective audiences. Oba said confidently that, “I can sell anything.”
After over 10 years of selling every talent whose career was trusted with him, the talent scout was not eager to talk about a retirement plan. Like I found him to be, he remained coy about his plans but he stated that “I have a plan which centres around my first degree.” Interestingly, Oba is a man with a wealth of educational qualifications, three degrees precisely – Transport management, Business Management and Human Resources – all from the same institution. He doesn’t come off as a man who likes surprises. He appears to be super calculative and highly futuristic. He made it clear that he would not play himself to think that he would be in the business of talent management forever, as he concluded the interview by saying, “if you don’t leave this business it would leave you.”
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets