Playing major roles in the successes of the likes of Wizkid, Banky W, Skales and Reekado Banks might seem like the biggest cumulative success story in the Nigerian entertainment industry. However, only a few persons have had such impacts in the music industry; in fact, you can count them with the fingers on your hand.
Osagie Okunpolor belongs in this class of icons – those whose hard work has impacted on the Nigerian music structure from its scattered state to its current state of global interest. In the days before the bridge that connects music to the consumers were built, the likes of Osagie did the manual labour – selling CDs, securing shows and making strategic decisions – to help the right talents get the deserving audience. M.I Abaga referred to her as a “Nigerian hero”.
Osagie was raised in a privileged environment where she was exposed to music from the likes of George Michael, Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. This gave her an understanding of the art of music and helped form her early interest in entertainment. “I grew around a lot of music. The kind of music I grew up around was very intense but I knew I didn’t want to sing, I never tried to record or write a song. You know how everyone grew up wanting to be a medical doctor or lawyer? It was never my thing. Although I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I knew it was going to be entertainment or media”, she said this during our chat in her office in Ikeja.
Her first experience in the entertainment business, as she recalled, was as a youth presenter with Rhythm 93.7 where she had a radio show with Sola Thompson at the age of 17; before moving on to become a personal assistant to popular OAP, Tosyn Bucknor. During this period she was still a student of University of Lagos (UNILAG), studying Mass Communication. One of the memories she shared was her time at the House on the Rock Campus Fellowship of the institution where she was involved in organising concerts and how her team made about N700,000, which was enough to buy a quality car at the time, from a concert they organised.
I wore a look of surprise when I learnt that she juggled her role as a PA with two other jobs – a 9-5 job as a Corporate Communications Executive officer at a company called Super Brand and the role of artiste manager to female rapper, Kel. Her relentlessness and drive has to be the reason she is called “That Metal Chic”. She went on to becoming the associate producer on Mo Abudu’s “Moment With Mo” show for 2 seasons before fledging a career as a full time talent manager.
I watched for minutes as Osagie narrated how the artistry of international music stars like Madonna fascinated her and how the loopholes she observed in the Nigerian music scene at that time formed her interest in talent management. I reached the conclusion that curiosity led her to it. “I was about 8 years old when I started to watch MTV; we had access to Cable TV early so all those interviews and music videos kind of shaped my mind. I was a very inquisitive child and I was more fascinated by ‘how was this created’ or ‘how did this become’,” she said as she spoke on the build up of her interest in music, not just as a consumer but as part of the creative process.
Her interest in talent management was a seed that she nurtured through tireless dedication and commitment; she saw ends that needed to be joined, gaps that needed to be bridged and she brought out her tool box. “I remember having to leave Okota to Dolphin Estate to buy Trybe men’s album and I knew how hard it was. I went long miles to buy Method man and Red man’s albums; that was the first album I ever bought in my life. It was N1000, it was the ‘Black Out’ album. I used to ask questions at the places I buy albums about the nature of selling albums; I knew there needed to be a level of trust for an artiste to hand their project to you to sell. I knew I had to build a reputation to do that; I used to go business centres to browse about music managers, artist managers, and talent management. I used to jot down my findings and brood over them”, she said.
MANAGING MUSIC TALENTS
The saying, “the reward for hard work is more work” played out in the career path of Osagie; from the success of Kel, the careers of Banky, Wizkid and Skales were trusted in the hands of that metal chic, and with each success her career profile soared like a tide. Osagie said a lot about the rigours and demands of having a talent of that size in one’s hand as a manager but her point hit me when she said, “I knew I wasn’t going to manage one talent all my life; from the beginning I found a way to multi-task.” It was clear that she came prepared. More than 10 long years of her time has been put into picking up crude talents and refining them to become made men.
Of all these talents, working with Wizkid was most exciting for her; she explained that it isn’t a comparison between the named talents but about her own experience working with them. She said, “I think it’d be Wizkid. Not because of who he is today but pretty much everything I went through managing him.” Until I heard her narrative, I thought I had heard in full how Wizkid got the Empire Mates Entertainment (EME) record deal. What I heard was actually a part; hers was more revealing and believable. “I think he found me. Someone recommended me to him and he sent a text. I was deleting texts from my phone and then I saw his text and I was like this boy that Nyore (a dancehall artiste back in the days) said sounded like Little Vicious and he was 16. There was a program I was doing with Nomoreloss called ‘Talk Nomoreloss’ and we used to give talents a chance; we would get them to send their music, call us or send texts and we would push them up to perform. So I have been doing ‘Basement Gig’ type of stuff since like forever. For me, it was an exciting experience working with Wiz from the beginning when his music sounded some type of way and the process of getting everybody to believe, even the bouncers and touts on the streets. I go to some places now and they remember me as the one who used to sneak Wizkid in those days. He was so young.”
“How old was Wiz when you met him?”, I asked. “He had just turned 17 when I met him and he was unsigned”, she responded; then she continued, “He used to do backup for Kel. There was a video I uploaded of him on my Facebook page, doing some freestyle. He went to perform with Kel at Greenspring, Banky W performed there too. At the close of the show Banky told everyone he wanted to host them at his Manager’s house and then when they got there, I think M.I said,’Yo Wiz help me get my phone or something from where it is charging’ and Banky said, ‘are you Wizkid?’, ‘are you the boy whose freestyle video is on Facebook?’ That was how it started.”
Skales also featured prominently in her down-the-memory-lane drive. Her time managing Skales, as she recalled, is one of the most exciting times of her career. She said she found it smooth working with him because he is self-motivated. “As an artiste if you do not believe in yourself, no matter how much people tell you ‘you are great’, it won’t happen. The artiste has to look in the mirror and see that figure. The days he doesn’t, it is the manager’s job to remind the artiste of his greatness. For Skales, he knew the stuff he was made of and he knew what he could become and that image never left him. What I had to do was to enhance what he had, guide his thought processes, and create the best ideas to keep his image.”
Kel was another talent Osagie was eager to talk about. She explained that their time together was especially exciting because that was her first artiste management role. She shared how they would copy her music on empty CDs and wait outside radio stations to get a plug-in. The excitement on her face as she narrated these stories was clear to see.
Osagie has grown from the one-artiste manager to owning a 360 management company named The Zone Agency with a clientele that includes prominent figures like Timaya, Reminisce and MTV Base VJ, Ehiz. Osagie said she only needs a 10 minutes conversation to access a talent and the qualities she usually looks out for in talents are: actual talents, self-confidence and humility but she admits she has had one or two talents she misjudged; like Mayorkun. She said what it takes to become a star “is an understanding that you can’t do it alone but knowing that you can do it. It’s a perfect balance of both characters.” In one or two instances she mentioned Dapo Tuburna and Attitude as two of the talents she is preparing for future success.
Osagie’s Mass Communication background and her experience as a publicist are two features she considers as pluses to her managerial skill. She explained that “I found a way to marry my interest in entertainment and media. I majored in public relations and advertising that’s why to a large extent what I do as a talent manager some people might say is the job of a promoter or a publicist. I actually don’t do PR, but I have a background and I put a bit of my knowledge of it into my talent management.”
Her style of management can be described as consultative, where artistes are allowed to own the creative process and she, as a manager, has minimal input. “The creative process is entirely up to the artiste because I believe in being very original. When music comes from your true emotion, there’s a bigger chance it would become a hit because people would be able to listen to it and feel the same emotion.” She hesitated in citing examples of her input in songs for a bit, before mentioning that the rap verse in Attitude’s Aye Ole was her suggestion.
Of course Osagie knows a lot about evolution of artistes, especially from rap to pop music. She has managed Skales and has seen many other artistes “find their (new) sound.” She made me understand that it is a move she would endorse for her client depending on the motivating factor. “If it feels right to you as an artiste, if it feels natural to you, go ahead. Since you’re not doing it because another artiste became no. 1 by dropping a pop song”, she said. She picked out M.I Abaga as a shining example of what a Nigerian rapper should be doing. “The difference between M.I and others is in their creative approach. I don’t know any Nigerian rapper who can hold a crowd and get them going with a rap song like M.I does. I am one of those people who think Nigerian rappers should fix up their lives,” she said.
At this time, my chat with Osagie was nearing an hour but it felt like we started minutes before. The conversation was interesting, at least for me. She was open to sharing her experiences and I was more than willing to listen. She responded to my question on what our industry lacks saying, “We need institutions. If there were more institutions that can teach, educate, train people, it would help the industry. If we had the right structure we will have more successful artistes and there would be more money to make. We would not have just 10 artistes that everyone is booking every year, We will have so many more successful singers and everyone wouldn’t have to come to Lagos per se. You would be able to build an industry in whatever city you’re in.”
She talked about institutions that would not just teach artistes the basics -recording and melodies – but other aspects of the music. Osagie spoke about how long it took her to learn music publishing – an aspect of music responsible for ensuring songwriters and composers receive payment for their input in commercially sold songs. I was surprised to learn that some Nigerian music professionals with as much as 10 years experience can still be clueless about music publishing. “I didn’t realise how important music publishing is until I spoke with international music professionals. You talk to some of colleagues who have been around for more than 10 years about publishing and they don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Osagie also spoke on the importance of knowing how to play an instrument as an artiste. She said, “I wish one could teach artistes from the scratch so we can have smarter musicians”, citing the case of Dapo Taburna who dropped out of Redeemers University to attend a music school and Seyi Shay whose understanding of music impressed her when they worked together. Osagie commended Godwin Tom’s ‘The Music Business Series’ as the kind of structure the industry needs more of, stressing how the music structure in South Africa benefits their artistes. She said, “Ask yourself why Nigerian artistes are performing everywhere else because we don’t have everything here. SA artistes have structures. Almost every SA artiste has a publisher, they have distribution deals with some company who is doing store sales and they don’t sell their CDs on the road. They sync their songs for TV commercials and they are getting endorsement deals from any and every brand that there is; like Nike, Adidas. Casper Nyovest is selling out shows of tens of thousands of fans in his native country, filling up stadiums. He doesn’t have to make compromises to go the UK or US. We don’t go out to buy tickets to shows of our artistes. Even if we will go, we would first look for free tickets.”
I wanted to be sure of what I heard, so I asked her, “are you saying Nigerian artistes are the ones pushing for the international shows as opposed to the international music figures coming for our music?”. She reiterated her point, “We are not just excited but we are hungry to go out there because what they have there, we don’t have here and our artistes want that experience.”
The shortcomings of the Nigerian music industry are well known but there have been a lot of positive instances lately – Nigerian artistes are selling out shows in the western countries, signing international deals and collaborating with global pop stars like Drake and Omarion. The movement is tagged “Africa To The World” and the likes of Wizkid, Davido and Mr. Eazi are in the fore front. Osagie points out two factors responsible for the increased penetration of African music into the global music market and these factors are: the uniqueness of the sound and the growing population of Africans in western communities. She first said, “it is the sound” and added that “another thing Is the rate at which Africans are traveling out to settle and form communities outside there. This is creating a market for our music.”
While the “Africa to the world movement” has caused bouts of joy in the continent, there has been a call for caution. This perspective comes from the fear that Africa could lose ownership of her sound to the new audience. Osagie doesn’t see it that way. She said, “it is a blessing because it gives us more opportunities. I don’t think it is a curse. I know a lot of people are saying they would run away with our sound like they did to Reggae and Dancehall; but I don’t think so because the Nigerian sound actually evolves so when they think they’ve figured it out, it takes a new turn.”
Osagie dropped another dose of caution; she said, African music can go global and our industry would still remain foundational if the new opportunity isn’t optimised. She said, “it isn’t just about being on the international stage, it is about what we do with it in Nigeria. How can we use it to improve our community; bring more investments in our industry, more institutions, create more opportunities for aspiring artistes, aspiring managers, A&R, aspiring songwriters. It’s more about what we can do here than our there”. She shared her believe that these upgrades would make it possible for us to smoothly trade with any industry around the world.
Nigerian songs could have been on the playlist of soundtracks of the record breaking Hollywood movie, Black Panther, but for the missing links. She said, “I was at a workshop where I learnt how Black Panther was meant to have mostly African songs but the publishing issue and cases of not having the right document between composers did not let that happen.” I sat before her, imagining JJC’s We Are Africans playing in the background as T’Challa charged his Wakanda brothers & sisters to battle. The sound of her voice jolted me out of my fantasy. I heard her say, “it’s our role to ensure that things should go as it should. We should be finding ways to plug in and key into those opportunities and make it work. Networking, building and maintaining those relationships. It is beyond them just discovering the music, It should reach the point where we get to do actual business.”
WOMEN IN MUSIC BUSINESS
The topic of women in the music business was part of our discussion. The industry is usually spoken of as challenging and rigorous, especially for women but that hasn’t stopped Osagie from blooming like a flower in the industry that’s said to be male-dominated. She admitted that being a lady makes her job tougher but ‘that metal chic’ stands the heat and is in fact refined by it. She said, “Yes it is tougher being a woman. I can’t be too forward, my work has to speak for me. I have to do twice as much to show result. A guy can pull-up anywhere in a native and everyone is saying ‘baba baba baba’ and he gets what he wants; but as I am now I would pull-up in a T-shirt and jean, and no one is offering me anything.”
She said she has been in positions where she had to make tough decisions because of the nature of her job. She shared one of such experiences with me to help me understand that talent management, especially for women, is no leisure game. “I got married on a Saturday and on the following Thursday I had to travel for a week. Imagine. But one just has to find the balance between work and family. You have to understand what each needs at a particular time.”
She however expressed her happiness that more women are finding their feet as talent managers in the industry. She said, “The opportunities have always been there, it is just for women to be bold enough to claim it and I think more ladies are going for it these days.” She mentioned Louisa Williams who used to manage Kizz Daniel during his days with G-worldwide, as a good example. She also mentioned that artistes like Adekunle Gold and MC Galaxy have female managers.
For someone with such an inspiring history, someone who sits in a place of reverence in the industry today, I was interested in listening to her talk about her future plans. If Osagie wasn’t who she is, she would have felt she had done enough to pack her stuff and go home; sit back and smile at her trophy shelf and account balance but ‘That Metal Chic’ is still on the grind. Osagie is still out in the evolving music market nurturing talents and she said she would be out here for two more decades, at least. “I am still at it, it’s an ongoing process; a journey. I plan on being here for another 20 years. I have achieved some dreams but everyday I wake up with a new one. The finish line keeps moving forward.”
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets