Everyone outside the upper echelon of hardworking artists and producers in the industry are always in awe of the work they churn out, and to a popular extent, in admiration of their personality. It explains the obsession fans have about their artists or why artists just happen to possess gargantuan fanbases.
But we miss out on a few things. The creatives that work behind the scenes to ensure your adorable artist is perfect or their work gets its due. Most times the distinction between a creative that succeeds and one that’s being slept on is down to the angle of publicity and its companion, strategy. That’s where the duo of Nnenna Anyaugo and Bre Kelly come into the scene. Vibrant, intelligent individuals who’ve beamed the floodlights on select creatives and the projects they’ve put out in recent years, through their agency, West of Ivy.
Nnenna and Bre had met in 2011 through a mutual friend whilst been in college. Bre was very opinionated on music, Nnenna been good with fashion. They frequently had friends who sought their advice about these two worlds. “We were living in New York at the time, so we had friends around us who were creators and then they would ask us for our advice and it kind of just happened repeatedly,” Bre tells me.
It’s on a rainy Thursday when we decide to hold our conversation over Google Meet. Nnenna is in Lagos, but Bre is miles away in New York, still I’m enveloped in the air of togetherness when they speak. The stories rarely differ, the aims of their agency, West of Ivy are similar, and at some point, their accent intertwine. In the last one year, their brand, West of Ivy worked with talents like producer Kel P, the music group, NSG, Ice Prince, Nonso Amadi and several others.
Prior to that timeframe, they had been working with directors and photographers since 2013 but it wasn’t until 2019 when they had the chance of working with a music artist. Their first client was love story merchant, Nonso Amadi. His EP, titled “Free” filled with earwormy tracks was released in the summer of 2019, but Nnenna and Bre’s West Of Ivy played a part in the release of the project. “Nonso Amadi’s manager has reached out then, she knew we had a lot of media contacts in Lagos and on ground. When she reached out, we were super excited because I was such a big fan of his,” Nnenna recollects excitingly. “So, taking that project on, we helped with elevating his story, assisting in the rollout and visibility of the EP, that included getting him press placements in platforms like Culture Custodian, Native, Guardian Life and MTV Base.”
One major highlight of their year in 2020 was facilitating Grammys’ Behind The Board interview with Kel P. Both Bre and Nnenna had been working with a retinue of artists under Aristokraft at the time. Within that period, officials at the recording academy were trying to get across to Kel P via an Instagram direct message until an insider contact got across to them. “They were relieved we were the link between Kel P because they were trying to get through to him through social media,” Bre explains. “So once again, that made us realize we should be serving as the bridge because sometimes it’s difficult for American entities to reach out to artists on the continents. They were also happy we could handle the production for that interview because they didn’t have to fly out a team to Lagos to get it done, they definitely wanted to shoot him in Lagos, so they wanted to shoot him in his element, in his environment.”
From our conversation, it’s clear Nnenna and Bre understand the value of letting African creatives be the ones to tell the stories of artists. In recent years, there have been erroneous stereotypes by some foreign media outlets. Tiwa Savage branded as a rapper, Wavy The Creator falsely crowned as the brain behind Shaku Shaku and a couple of other false appropriations. Nnenna says “Most times, editors will take the story that they think makes sense and write it instead of actually truly getting accounts, personal accurate perspective of the artists.” Last year, they handled the rollout and strategic branding for NSG’s debut album, “Roots” in Lagos and Ghana where the group aren’t widely known. “They wanted us to make sure we were able to tell their story authentically from their perspective because they were coming into a new market,” Bre expatiates. “So it was easy, we leveraged our relationship with editors, a lot of them naturally fans. What we made sure was the editors and the people we worked with had enough time to digest the music, understand them before they just go ahead and write about them. It really paid off as they won a MOBO award last year.”
Being creatives themselves, sometimes it could be hard taking on these projects and coming up with counter-intuitive ideas. A creative block could suffice or not just knowing the direction to go about for a project. They both agree this happens occasionally but they have a fix. Nnenna says she goes on a break, the same solution also taken by Bre. But they also admit to “pacing themselves so they’re never stressed.”
Last year, Tiwa Savage had discussed in a Bounce Radio Live conversation about women being undervalued in the music industry. We barely have up to ten female music producers in the industry, most brands consider male artists for endorsement deals and you only have one prominent female artists—Tiwa Savage—to four, five other prominent male artists. When I ask both Nnenna and Bre about what they think, they mince no words.
“I think there has been a heavy patriarchal system in the industry where it has become in uninviting for women to feel like they can be themselves authentically without having to be overly specialized or discredited or even looked down upon,” Nnenna says. But we are very professional, we understand the artists and most importantly our feminine energy. Our approach comes from a nurturing perspective, we get the job done. We work across multiple teams on multiple timezones but we have a feminine energy while we work and go about we’re doing. So I think a lot of people like working with that type of energy because it’s nurturing, it’s understanding, it’s sensitive.”
Bre also agrees, informing me about more female participation these days in the industry. “You’d be surprised at the type of project that are rolled out and it’s a woman behind it. Or even behind these big artists, there is a woman behind them. Women are on their team, their manager or creative director. I agree with Nnenna and even with West of Ivy, we’ve had to work twice as hard, especially when it comes to proving ourselves. Working with men in these spaces, you know, they’ll try to low ball you and for us it’s working twice as hard and proving like ‘this is what we deserve as far as negotiating rates and things like that.’”
In an industry where the motive for working with an artist firstly is the profit that will be accrued at the end, both Bre and Nnenna share the same sentiment before they take on a project. “We always want to work with integrity and we don’t want to do it for the money,” Nnenna tells me. “It sucks but our brand is about taking projects we’re truly passionate about.” This is further restated by Bre as our conversation draws to a close. “We’re very big on integrity. We don’t just take any project because of the money, because we’re not in the business of selling dreams. That’s not what we do.”
Been a new year where we are two months in already, organizations, agencies and individuals are bent on accomplishing goals set from the first day of the year. They both reveal they’re getting into artist management and they have a new artist called Bryan in their roster. There’s enthusiasm about this new aspect and they joyously disclose they got a deal for him already in the US and the UK. Nnenna reveals they met a lot of management teams in December and also sat in a few studio sessions.
Before they run off to another meeting, I ask them if they’ve ever had a client who wasn’t happy with the job their agency did. Bre says “no,” linking it to one of their core values—integrity. “I don’t think so. I think what we’re really good about is managing expectations which goes back to integrity. We don’t sell dreams, we can’t.”
This article was written by Olabode Otolorin; connect on Instagram with him here