Thursday, August 2, 2007
Ladybrille Exclusive:Interview with Storm Records' Music Mogul, Obi Asika
This is Part I of our indepth interview with Obi Asika, Executive Chairman of Storm Media and Entertainment Group; one of the biggest players in music and entertainment in Nigeria--think SonyBMG Music Entertainment Group although not quite the same reach, for now. In Part I, we ask and Obi candidly responds to questions on his background, managing artists, substandard music videos and the lack of sophisticated African fashions in Nigeria/Africa's music videos. In Part 2, Obi & Ladybrille.com discuss the music business in Nigeria & Africa, entrepreneurship, piracy, artists abuse, technology/new media, Nollywood and international expansion and collaborations.
LADYBRILLE.com:[smiling] Obi, how are you doing? Storm is in da building![laughs]
Obi Asika: U already know My P [P= Personality, Swagger]! How are you doing and congrats on the growth of Ladybrille. We are tracking you out here in Nigeria, when are you next here? Just want to send some love out to all your readers and anyone who is Nigerian or African who is doing positive stuff keep doing you, Storm is definitely in the building!
Not sure [When I'll be in Nigeria] . You have been one busy man!
Obi: We stay hustling. 2007 has been a difficult year because of the political uncertainty that we go through in an election year but thankfully,all of that is done and work is [g]oing in full [swing]. It has been slow but we have been working steadily all year as we operate in several different areas; and thankfully we have always managed to be involved in pioneer projects in this country and continent.
LADYBRILLE.com: I always like it when those I interview tell my readers who they are. So who you be?
Obi: I’m a Nigerian of Ibo descent, proud son of a proud father. I am from Onitsha [a city in Anambra State located in the Eastern part of Nigeria], in traditional terms my clan is one of those that run [things] so to speak in my hometown [with a population of like 3m more like home city]. I was born in Lagos and grew up in Enugu until I was eight and moved to the UK until I was 21, when I returned to Nigeria in 1990. If you want to know more about me I guess you can google me, but I have been privileged to have gone to some of the best schools in the world and to have developed a global network from my teens until now. I am single but in a serious relationship, I have two sisters, one of whom is a director and partner in Storm.
LADYBRILLE.com: You have accomplished so much. You started Storm Records at only 22 years! Where did you get that kind of drive? I heard your father's death has a lot to do with what pushes you?
Obi: My father died when I was 36 [years] so it was not from there. My business side comes from my mother. She is the one that brought us up and her mother was a businesswoman as well. She always believed in us being self-sufficient so even though we went to great schools we were never allowed to feel different from other people even though both my parents spent most of their [lives] in the public eye. Also when we first [returned to Nigeria], the record label was part of a necessary progression.
At school in England, like many Nigerians, I was a gifted student athlete and became a DJ because of my love for music and frustration at not being able to play an instrument [[H]e was too busy playing football, rugby and other sports]. The first outing with the name Storm was a club promotion called “Enter the Dragon” in the summer of 1991, and then in 1992 we developed a TV show called “Clapperboard Weekend Raps” on Nigeria’s first private TV station and also “Soul with Sprite.” From the Rap show, we made and discovered several stars including Daddy Showkey and Jimmy Jatt, but the key artists were Trybe of Troubadors, Latee and the Wazobian tribe, Nodeen, Junior and Pretty, the first Nigerians to rap in pidgin [broken English] and make the music local. It was Storm making history which is something I am proud to say we have always done.
To be fair, I left the whole entertainment thing alone from 1995/6 until 2005. In the interim, I ran an oil service company and worked in oil trading and procurement in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry as aproject consultant to major groups such as ABB. However through all those years, the Storm brand was [well] represented by my brother Olisa Adibua who is a founding director from back in 1991. He has been holding it down on many levels for years, as a radio man, seasoned actor, event host, actor and showbiz impresario.
LADYBRILLE.com:[You later became] a "lawya!" but decided to go a different route. Were you just getting a degree knowing you did not want to practice law?
Obi: I was always into business. I started promoting clubs in London in 1984/5 to augment my pocket money so I was always one to go and seek out how to make an honest buck and I never liked to work for anyone so I had to find a way to make it work, and I did all the way through school,university and then back in Nigeria. I would never say to anyone to not use their law degree but my stock position is that I have several friends who are excellent lawyers but not one of them is doing what I have been privileged to do. Also, I use them all the time so yes lawyers are critical but no I do not regret not being in practice.
In my second year at Warwick University [UK] I already knew I would never practice law and that was pretty much how it turned out.
LADYBRILLE.com: Let's get into some of the artists you manage. By the way, a talented bunch you got. [laughs] Okay, I have to tell you this quick story. I first received Dare Art Alade's and Jazzman Olofin's albums in 2006, from a friend, as gifts. I was impressed. But the real kick came when I visited with ma boi [my buddy] Bolaji Akran-[emerging Hollywood director/producer.] We spent an afternoon at a tight [fun/good/strong] Nigerian restaurant in L.A. called Veronica's Kitchen—eating some pounded yam and Edikaikong [vegetable soup dish from Cross River & AkwaIbomites, Eastern part of Nigeria] [laughs].
When we were done,Bolaji walked me and one of his music buddies to his car and that is when he proceeded to introduce us to all of the Storm clan. [laughs] We were like bumping our heads to practically all the Storm artists. I was hooked to most-tight lyrics, strong beats and good collaborations! [Laughs] Okay let's get into it. [laughs]
Obi: Bolaji is like my younger bro., I’m so happy he is doing well. What he [discovered] is something many of your readers will [also discover]. At Storm, our levels are global. There is no "wanna be." [O]ur artists that sound American, like Ikechukwu and Naeto C, are American born and bred [in the USA]. Here, Storm is representative of the new Nigerian, young, urban, intelligent, global.
DIVERSITY OF TALENTS
LADYBRILLE.com: Your artists are so diverse. How do you maintain the Afro-pop type feel of Jazzman Olofin with the hip-hop yet soul connecting vibe that Sasha brings?
Obi: At the end of the day, we are focused on bringing the heat. This year, we will be putting out at least ten albums. Sasha is a problem for anyone. Naeto C is quite frankly a phenomenon. Then of course, there is GT whose album is called "The Truth" and will be our Christmas present to Nigerians, Dare and Jazzman will release their second albums in the last quarter. I am excited about the music quality that we are doing now and I cannot wait until it is all out so that we can share it with the people.
LADYBRILLE.com:Ikechukwu is an interesting addition to your Storm list. His style and very fit physique has a very international appeal. How much emphasis do you place on your artists to be physically fit?
Obi: I think it is all part of the branding. He holds something like three black belts but he sings, does spoken word and is extremely articulate--perhaps one of the most in Nigeria after Dare. He has modeled in New York and in Europe so the look does not hold him back. What we are trying to do now is to communicate his immense talent so he can get past his huge song from last year. I think people will be shocked when they see some of his new content and personally I cannot wait to see the way it is going to blow for him, he is also a talented actor and pitchman, so all you brand managers looking for people to work with holla at the kid!
LADYBRILLE.com: Most are dying to know this! Sasha has been dubbed Nigeria's first lady. She has strong lyrical content, good style and speaks to the heart. She is frequently compared to America's hip-hop artist, Eve. To date, however, Sasha is yet to release an album. Why such long delay?
Obi: We had to get it right and it is now. She has an album with at least seven guaranteed bangers. “Adara” is just out now on heavy rotation and it only gets better. The album will be available in September and she is “First Lady" of Storm Records so you know we are not playing with that, expect another video before we release the album. Sasha is one of the most talented, has a great personality, is truly committed and I am proud to have her on board. Also she has a great personal story [and] is always pushing positive agenda, so we are happy to have her represent our brand to the ladies.
LADYBRILLE.com: Alright Obi. I am frustrated here. I am soooo tired of seeing ridiculous music videos! That's why I now do the "Incredibly Bad African Music Video." Why crappy videos, especially the fashion styling, to tight lyrics and beats?
Obi: You have never seen that in a Storm video. The thing is, it [comes] down to budget. The industry is not structured right. We have great relationshipswith all the major designers and in fact Nnenna from America’s Next Top Model just did a cameo for us in a new video we are about to activate to MTV for Naeto C and Ikechukwu. In that video we used a lot of Nigerian designers, Fusion, Okunnoren Twins, Tiffany Amber and of course Deola Sagoe. All their work is appreciated. Please keep watching our videos and you will note the styling, one of our stock phrases is “We Rep Naija All Day Everyday” The truth of the matter is that we are always looking to leverage and project anything Nigerian that has value but some people still do not understand how to collaborate.
LADYBRILLE.com: Nigeria, today, has so many reality TV shows. Storm Vision even co-produced Big Brother Nigeria and has The Apprentice in the works. But, what I am not seeing is anyone capitalizing on the tremendous opportunity to create an African identity/style that incorporates sophisticated African/Nigerian fabrics and fashion into music/film/reality television shows. As a record label owner, what plans does Storm have to do that?
Obi: I think that people like D’Banj are already down that road, just to let you know we do much more than what you think. We created Ambo, which was a reality show to find a star for Nollywood. We produced Doctor’s quarters which was the first drama commissioned by M-NET [South African international broadcasting company] for this market. Also we produced Nigeria’s first interactive game show on Silverbird TV [Nigerian TV Company] last year and we are in the process of going live with several productions for clients.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Interview by Uduak Oduok