iROKO Partners takes legal action against Afrinolly
July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments
iROKO Partners is taking legal action against Afrinolly, a self-styled mobile phone app focused on Nigeria’s entertainment industry, Nollywood. The app has built its business model on showing Nollywood feature films and trailers. The issue is that Afrinolly has never spoken to or been granted any rights to do so by iROKO Partners, whose entertainment library is in excess of 5,000 Nollywood movies.
Afrinolly, a Nigerian company based in Lagos, has been streaming Nollywood movies and trailers, exclusive to iROKO Partners, and others, without any authorisation or consent from the content owners. Afrinolly has gone further and misrepresented itself with handset manufacturers and telcos alike.
Jason Njoku CEO of iROKO Partners says: “In an industry that is rife with misrepresentation, piracy and copyright infringement, we are left with no option but to begin legal action against Afrinolly, who have been illegally building their business on our content.
“We spend millions of dollars legally buying and organizing Nigerian content and hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in combating piracy and ensuring movie producers are remunerated properly for their content. It is simply unacceptable for Afrinolly to steal their work and profit from it. It has caused great harm to our Nigerian-based content providers and has placed great strain on the delicate balance and ecosystem that exists. Afrinolly, since its inception, has never bothered to even discuss with us or other content owners and has definitely not remunerated anyone to date.
“We have been approached by a number of Nollywood producers, who have expressed dismay that their movies are being exploited. As part of our commitment to the lifeblood of the industry, the producers, we see no other means than to seriously consider our options, look at how we can manage the damage done to our reputation and bring this extraordinary mass copyright infringement to a swift conclusion.”
iROKO Partners, the world’s leading distributor of African entertainment, has formally asked the owners of Afrinolly to remove all illegally sourced content from iROKO Partners’ platform- YouTube channel – (NollywoodLove) and other owned and operated channels.
iROKO Partners will be seeking N100Mn compensation.
Up and Coming in Kampala Africa’s Growing Middle Class Drives Development
July 9, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Horand Knaup and Jan Puhl*
Africa’s growing middle class is fueling development across the continent. Ambitious entrepreneurs are creating growth with companies focusing on everything from fashion to pharmaceuticals. But poor infrastructure, corruption and political conflict are hampering their efforts.
Sylvia Owori is examining the photos for the summer collection, but she isn’t satisfied. “Much too much oil on the skin,” she says, pointing to a young woman. “We want to show off the dress, not her legs.” A click of the mouse, and the candidate is out of the running.
A new girl appears on the screen. She is wearing a yellow miniskirt, as she poses against a pale and misty backdrop of Lake Victoria. “This one is good,” says Owori, to an audible sigh of relief in her studio in the Ugandan capital Kampala. The photographers, designers and seamstresses surrounding her are relieved.
Owori is East Africa’s most successful fashion entrepreneur, the style icon of a growing middle class. She owns boutiques in Kampala and the Kenyan capital Nairobi, and the models in her agency can be seen on runways in Rome and Paris. She also publishes African Woman, a glossy magazine that showcases local fashion trends. “We want to celebrate Africa’s beautiful people,” says the designer.
Owori, who combines modern fashions with African colors, doesn’t shy away from making bold statements. “The fashion world currently has its eye on Africa,” she says. “This is our opportunity, and we should take advantage of it.”
Growing Domestic Demand
She is the epitome of a success story. And success stories are no longer a rarity in Africa, despite its reputation as a continent of poverty and suffering.
Africa’s economy is developing at a pace similar to that of Asian countries, including Japan. Five of the 10 faster growing countries in the world this year are south of the Sahara. Commodities like oil, natural gas, lumber, ores, gold and diamonds make up a shrinking share of economic output. In many up-and-coming countries, mineral resources no longer play the decisive role, as the service sector and manufacturing expand.
This growth is producing a middle class that’s growing from year to year. According to the African Development Bank, this middle class already includes 313 million people, or 34 percent of the total population.
Africa’s middle class lives in the cities, and its members are either salaried workers or, like Sylvia Owori, have their own firms. They are young and well-educated, and they want TV sets, cars and fashionable clothing. The continent now boasts 430 million mobile phone users. The growing domestic demand coming from the middle class served as a “buffer” when the West plunged into crisis in 2008, says Mthuli Ncube, chief economist of the African Development Bank.
Recycling What the West Throws Away
Owori has come a long way. She grew up in poor circumstances in Kampala, and she never knew her father. A relative eventually brought her to London, where she took fashion courses at the city’s Newham College. When she returned to Uganda in 1998, the country had fallen behind, even by African standards, after years of dictatorship and civil war.
She earned her starting capital by importing clothes from the West, but then she began designing her own collections, and soon “Sylvia Owori” was the most popular label among women in East Africa.
Owori has her collection produced by seamstresses in villages. She has trained 200 women and sponsors the purchase of their sewing machines. “When I receive a big order, I can deliver quickly and flexibly,” she says. On the other hand, she says, the women can stand on their own feet when she doesn’t happen to have any work for them.
Her latest creation is a denim laptop bag shaped like the map of Africa. “This bag was once a pair of jeans,” she says. “You threw it into a container for old clothing and sent it to Africa. We made something new out of it and will sell it back to you.” Swedish fashion giant H&M is interested in the bag, and two other Western fashion chains have asked Owori to meet with them in London.
It’s a question of finding new ways to stimulate economic growth. The corrupt oligarchies in many African countries have made money from the export of commodities, but only a fraction of the population has benefited from the proceeds. The growth being generated by Africa’s middle class is more sustainable, say development experts. Much of it is based on the processing of African fabrics, wood and fruits, and it creates jobs.
Small and mid-sized businesses need well-trained workers and political stability. Bureaucracy and corruption are obstructive, and civil wars are bad for business. Africa’s middle class is a “guardian of democracy,” says Ncube of the African Development Bank.
‘The Age of Entrepreneurs Has Begun’
Emmanuel Katongole is a typical representative of this middle class. He drives a shiny black Mercedes SUV and wears tailored suits. The African Development Bank awarded him a business prize for opening a pharmaceutical plant in Luzira, a suburb of Kampala. His company, Quality Chemical Industries, produces 6 million pills to treat HIV and malaria a day, half of which Katongole exports to neighboring countries.
Quality Chemical Industries is a joint venture with Indian manufacturer Cipla, which holds the license for the HIV and malaria drugs, and owns more than 40 percent of Katongole’s company. The company offers its 350 employees training, meals and medical care. “People like to work for us, and we have no disciplinary problems,” says Katongole.
“The age of entrepreneurs has begun in Africa,” says Katongole. When he began importing antiretroviral drugs in the 1990s, about 15 percent of the population in Uganda was infected with HIV. Today it’s only about 7 percent, a decline for which Katongole deserves some of the credit.
He convinced the Indians to come to Africa, and he won over both South African venture capitalists and the Ugandan government, which helped him start the project. President Yoweri Museveni, a mild autocrat by African standards, takes the fight against AIDS seriously — unlike other rulers on the continent.
The government had the ground cleared and leveled for the laboratories, installed the power supply and provided the company with tax incentives. “Quality Chemical Industries is a successful example of a partnership between the private and the public sector,” says Katongole. “Africa has to produce more finished products.” If the world wants to do the continent a favor, he adds, it should help companies like his with financing. “Classic development aid makes governments lazy,” says Katongole. In fact, the reputation of development aid has suffered considerably. African economists argue that it keeps millions of Africans trapped in poverty.
Richard Kimani, who lives in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, about 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) southeast of Kampala, is also banking on entrepreneurial freedom. His company, Kevian, earns about €25 million ($31 million) in annual revenues from the sale of fruit juice concentrates. His employees bottle 75,000 liters of concentrate a day, and about 30,000 small farmers supply Kevian with mangos and pineapple.
Kimani took out a low-interest loan worth millions with the Cologne-based German Investment Corporation (DEG), a state-owned institution that finances private-sector investments in developing countries. Kimani wants to expand Kevian, and new bottling equipment made by the Bavarian bottling machine manufacturer Krones is already on a ship bound for the Kenyan city of Mombasa. It could take a while for the equipment to arrive, however, because the customs agents at the port are corrupt and the roads in Kenya are miserable. “Shipping a container from Europe to Mombasa costs only a little more than transporting it by road from Mombasa to Nairobi,” a distance of 500 kilometers, says Kimani.
He got into the beverage business 20 years as a producer of mineral water. His Kevian bottled water, which comes from a well on the outskirts of Nairobi, filled a market niche. But there was a downside to his success. Kimani is a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group, but the country’s then president only supported members of his own tribe. Banks refused to lend him money, and hired thugs destroyed his plants. But Kimani was undaunted and moved his company farther away from the city. In 2002 he entered the fruit juice business, which had previously consisted of expensive imported products from South Africa and Israel.
Once again, his product was a success. In Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Zambia, more and more health-conscious urban workers are drinking his Kevian juices. Now Kimani even wants to expand into Europe, where he hopes to supply the Heidelberg-based company Wild, which makes the Capri Sun juice drink, with pineapple and mango concentrate.
‘Voter’s Know What’s at Stake’
But the next potential problem is already on the horizon. Kenya holds elections next spring. During the last election, five years ago, politicians incited violence between gangs of thugs, fueling ethnic hatred. As a result, 1,300 people were killed, hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes, the tourism industry was shattered and many businesses were destroyed.
“It won’t be that bad this time,” says Kimani. “Voters know what’s at stake now.” The middle class in Kenya has a lot to lose, he says. It won’t tolerate the same kind of chaos that erupted five years ago.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
*Culled from http://www.spiegel.de/international/
iROKOtv, the “Netflix of Africa”, reaches 500,000 subscribers in less than six months
June 15, 2012 | 0 Comments
14 June 2012. iROKOtv, the “Netflix of Africa” and the continent’s first legal online source of Nollywood films, is delighted to reveal that it has recorded over 500,000 registered users in less than six months since its launch. The news comes just months after the company announced that it had secured $8m in funding from US-based hedge Tiger Global, early investors in Facebook.
Headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria and with offices in London and New York and a staff of almost 100, iROKOtv has been groundbreaking in bringing Nollywood to the African Diaspora, with viewers logging on from over 178 countries across the world. To date, over 9.3 million hours of Nollywood movies have been watched on irokotv.com.
Jason Njoku, CEO and Founder of iROKO Partners says: “What an incredible six months it has been for iROKOtv – 500,000 subscribers in under 6 months is an awesome feat for us. We are a relatively young start-up and are super excited to have built up such momentum in such a short space of time.
“The secret of our success to-date is pretty simple; we love what we do, we love Nollywood movies and so do our 500,000 registered subscribers. Content is king and we are unrivalled in what we can offer from our 5,000-strong movie library. The iROKOtv team uploads movies onto the site every single week, so our fans, who we know have a voracious appetite for all things Nollywood, have a constant stream of awesome content at their fingertips.
“Nollywood is a global phenomenon – our fans are scattered all over the world and had previously struggled to get hold of any movies. The iROKOtv platform enables them to watch classic and new films, on a safe, easy to use, beautifully designed site, whether they are on a computer, tablet or on their mobile phone – anywhere in the world. Nollywood has never been so accessible and this is only the beginning for us.”
iROKOtv’s largest markets are the US, UK, Canada and Germany – the site currently has more viewers in London than in Lagos. The West now has a reliable outlet to access Nollywood movies. However, as Africa comes online and broadband penetration surges, it is expected that the site will see considerable growth in traffic from across the continent, which will position iROKOtv as one of the leading sites for aggregating the African Diaspora.
As of 1 July 2012, iROKOtv is introducing a subscription service, where viewers will retain free access to the current catalogue of Nollywood films, but will also be able to watch brand new, exclusive Nollywood releases, uploaded weekly, for only $5 per month.
Launched in December 2011, iROKOtv is a subsidiary of iROKO Partners, Africa’s largest, legitimate distributor of Nigerian film and music entertainment with key partnerships with the likes of Facebook; iROKOtv viewers can login via their Facebook account, and is YouTube’s largest African partner. iROKO Partners is expected to increase its viewers to over 250 million in 2012 across its brands iROKOtv, iROKING (the “Spotify of Africa”), Nollywood Love and iROKtv, Africa’s answer to “E!”.
In April 2012 Tiger Global, a New York-based private equity and hedge fund run by an early investor in Facebook and Zynga, led two $4 million rounds of investment into iROKO Partners, in one of the largest ever fundraisings into a West African tech firm. The funding will continue to be used to build iROKOtv’s library and to continue working directly with Nollywood production houses to buy the higher prices for the online licenses to Nollywood films which enables them to better monetize their content and to reinvest in making more, higher quality productions.
In May 2012, iROKOtv announced that from 1 July 2012, subscribers across the world will have exclusive access to brand new and exclusive Nollywood releases, uploaded weekly for $5 per month and payable by SMS, PayPal or card.
For additional Information Contact
iROKO Partners firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Hope +44 203 176 2808
Pelham Bell Pottinger +44 20 7861 3925
Piracy Is A Threat To The Entertainment Industry In Africa
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
-CEO Chima Movie Empire
By Pandita Njoh Eta
As the movie industry led by Nigeria surges by leaps and bounds in Africa, it faces a number of challenges. With marketing and quality as some of the concerns, the biggest of them all seems to be piracy says Augustine Chima head of the Chima Movie Empire. It is a veritable canker warm and needs concerted action from all stake holds to curb its nefarious influence on the sweat of the hard working men and women of the industry. In the industry for years, Chima Movie Empire is the all-in-one solution for movie production, celebrity networking, movie sales, marketing and much more. To its credit are several Nollywood projects driven to unimaginable heights with record sales and profits. We continuously evolve with Nollywood and other competitive markets and possess the required knowledge and experience to deliver distinctive masterpieces says Chima in a chat with Pan African Visions.
PAV: Could you introduce Movie Chima Empire to us and the kind of services that it offers?
Augustine Chima: We offer a variety of services to talented people out there, ranging from; managing actors, actresses, artists, models, to movie production. Also organizing events, premieres, beauty pageants, showcasing products throughout different models. Both home (Nigeria) and abroad.
PAV: In a world of competition, what makes the services offered by Chima Empire stand out from what others do?
Augustine Chima: The entertainment industry is a very competitive one, thus we never compromise quality, for that is what we strive for. We go for exceptionality and try our very best to get the best quality product needed by the consumers. We reach for the needs of the consumers so we can be on the right track. We also, get feedback from the consumers, by carrying out surveys to self evaluate and be sure of what we do.
PAV: You are based out of the continent, how are your operations in Africa managed in a way that positive results are achieved?
Augustine Chima: We are able to accomplish this by partnering with home based organizations and production houses such as Dolce entertainment. Also, we have a crew back in Nigeria that handles the affairs there. We also organize a yearly Miss Abuja pageant
PAV: A major threat to the entertainment industry especially in Africa is piracy, is there anything Movie Empire does to fight this, any solutions you have in mind on how to fight this and make sure the hard work of people in the entertainment industry is well rewarded?
Augustine Chima:Piracy is a ‘canker’ worm that is killing the entertainment industry especially the African movie and music industry. It is something that cannot be completely eradicated but can be reduced. It is like rat; the more you discover new traps for it, the more it discovers new ways of stealing your corn. Organizations have been created to bring producers and marketers together to help join forces in fighting against this particular problem that is deeply affecting us all. Some film makers have completely given up on the fight against it, but these organizations are there to help encourage them in the fight. Also joining forces with bigger industries such as Hollywood who are more advanced in doing this by giving awards to those fighting against this , and also forums to educate filmmakers on new strategies to benefit for this change, has been a great help. We really call on those involved in acts like this to be aware of the damage and loss they are causing on the industry, because some of them do this out of ignorance.
Also we want to inform them of the detriments and consequences involved when they are caught in such an act. There range from huge amounts of fines and jail time. Thus beware pirates!!!
PAV: May we know some of the biggest projects that you have worked on and who are some of the people who have impressed you most in the world of African entertainment?
Augustine Chima: Great faces in the industry such as Enebeli Elebuwa, Olu Jacobs, Pete Edochie, Ramsey Nouah, inspire me. I love to identify myself with people of great vision, image and, statue, they are a big encouragement to you even in your low moments. My first co-production was far from home, featuring, George Kalu, Fred Idika, Regina Askia and Ramsey Nouah. Subsequent productions include busted life, which is going to theaters in Nigeria this summer ,we are currently working on a new project called ‘ true life addictions’, great movie line.
PAV: How would you size up the African movie industry as a whole, there seem to be complains that there is a decline in quality with everyone doing their own thing from acting, to producing etc without adequate training, your take on this.
Augustine Chima: The complains are genuine. Nollywood and the rest of the African movie industry is struggling to fight these bad wolves in sheep clothing who don’t value good and quality work. Some people just do things and call it movie. As like every other career movie making, acting, entertainment as a whole is a calling, and when you are called, God gives you the potential for it. But people with no calling just want to do it, and that is the problem.
PAV: Based on your experience what are some suggestions on how the African movie industry could improve itself to the level where it can comfortably compete with the rest of the world?
Augustine Chima: Quality is what we are striving for. Movie makers should be able to attend forums, critics, summits, festivals and keep the training and learning process going. This is one career that is always evolving, and therefore all these work together to bring success. Partnering with other national and international companies to get bigger success than there is now. The government should continue to support us with the funds that are needed. Sponsors are also greatly appreciated, award shows such as the NAFCA, should continue, as it encourages all the movie makers. Producers should be involved with movies of good story line to keep the flag of the industry flying. Adequate training is what we all need in this industry, thus I encourage everyone to go get trained in their individual domains.
D’Banj Breaks Silence: Lengthy Interview with Ayeni Adekunle
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
On Kanye West Deal
‘I’m a risk taker’, he says. ‘Life is all about risks. But you must never endanger yourself. I don’t endanger myself, which is why, even though I’m here, I’m still in Nigeria all the time, performing’.
With incredible energy, and the kind of passion that endeared everyone to him when he first moved back to Nigeria in 2005, D’banj says his deal with Kanye West is a case of ‘preparation meets opportunity’.
‘I pulled up with my entourage at the Emirates first class lounge in Dubai. We were returning from Scott Tommey’s birthday. I came down with Bankuli, my P.A. Chuchu, and my business manager Chidi. My entourage was large and I was looking fly. One of the hostesses ran to me with a Kanye West placard. I said I’m not Kanye o – then I told my guys ‘Kanye is around so no dulling.’ Chuchu and Bankuli spotted Kanye walking in to check in. They went to him and he said we could come over’.
‘As they came, I had my iPad with me, and my headphones. First thing Kanye said was ‘I like your T-shirt’. I wore a Zara T-shirt and a D&G ring. He liked my appearance and said he’d give me 5 minutes. I told him ‘I played with you in Nigeria during NB PLC Star Mega jam. I’ve done a song with Snoop and we’re going to shoot the video now. I’d like to play you my songs.’ I played Oliver, Scapegoat, and fall in love. He was dancing. He removed the headphones and said ‘I don’t mean to sound rude, but if anyone has to bring you out in the states, it has to be me, not Snoop. He asked when I was going to be in the US, and I told him I was going there that day. Then he asked who my producer was, and I said Don Jazzy. He said ‘come with him.’
Three months later, D’banj, Don Jazzy and their crew were in New York, where, according to D’banj, it took almost forever before they could establish contact with Kanye. ‘It was only an email address he gave us at the airport. So when we got to NY, we sent several emails but got no response. Not a single one.’
‘Then we met someone that knew someone that knew another someone and we got another email address. We sent several messages again, no response. Then Bankuli sent a final one saying, ‘we have been in New York for some time and sent several emails. We have waited long enough and are now on our way to do the Snoop Dogg video’
And then the reply came. ‘Sorry to have overlooked your earlier emails. Mr. Kanye would like to meet with you tomorrow.’
‘We didn’t believe it. Don Jazzy, who had been reluctant all along, still did not believe it. Even when we got there (Wyclef’s studio) the next day, he stood outside. When Kanye came I went to call him ‘Oya come now, come play am the music now’. It was difficult to believe it was real and it was happening. Then when Kanye came in, with the GOOD music acts, I was like, ‘wow’.
From there everything happened fast. Next they were meeting Jay Z, making a presentation to LA Reid (At Electric studios), and discussing contracts. But while the label offered him a traditional recording contract, D’banj opted for a joint venture agreement structured to guarantee three things: retaining full control of his materials in Africa, signing Don Jazzy on board (on behalf on Mohits USA), and, he says, bringing the Universal/Def Jam imprint to Africa.
‘I’ve always thought of how I can be a useful vessel to the industry. A friend and colleague always says to me: ‘D’banj, you’re the Jesus Christ of the industry.’ So having ran Mohits for nine years, I already had plans of how we could blow Mohits up. I had plans of expanding, and most especially, bringing hope to that 11 year-old kid somewhere in Africa who may never have had the opportunity to get signed to major labels’.
‘So it was not really just about me. There’s a big market in Africa. I said to them, ‘I’ve sold millions of records in Africa, we’ve done millions of hits with CRBT, and I’ve run the most successful label on the continent. You take care of the US, but let me take you to Africa.‘ And I’m happy to tell you that we’re doing that. D’banj’s album will be the first under Universal/Def Jam Africa, and we’re already putting all the structures in place’.
On Mohits Split
‘I’m a businessman.’ I learnt from my mom, who’s a very successful businesswoman. So having run and funded Mohits for nine years, I knew we had to move to the next level. And everything we wanted was happening. Finally we could take African music to the world.’
Just like the lyrics of the song, D’banj was an Oliver Twist. Here’s a guy who had conquered a continent; was sitting on the top three list, and making more money than anyone else in his category. D’banj was a big player in Nigeria, where there are over 150 million people; a big player in Africa, with over 850 million people. But he wanted to play big globally, with 7 billion people to grab from.
And that’s where the problem started. ‘Don Jazzy was no longer comfortable. You know, we were like fishes out of water, in this new system, starting all over again, like when we returned home in 2004. I got him a place in the US, set up a studio there, just so he’d be comfortable and be able to work without going to hang around the studios. In one year Jazzy did not make a song. I said, maybe you want to go back to Lagos, you’ll get inspiration there?’ I was all about the work, I wanted us to make this happen, so we can bridge that gap and create a path for Africa. But Jazzy wanted us to go back home. And I understand. He’s my friend, my brother’.
‘But I never expected him to do what he did.’ He said to me in July last year ‘Let’s scatter Mohits. He told me there are two captains – two captains cannot be in a ship. I was like ‘that’s not possible, this is a marriage’. He said ‘then this marriage is no longer working’. I said then let’s go for counseling; I asked, so what happens to our children?’
Don Jazzy wanted Mohits, D’banj says. And that happened on April 16, 2012 – after months of a bitter feud, characterized by accusations and counter accusations, widespread speculation, leaked emails and failed reconciliation attempts.
‘You can see he has signed already’, he said, showing the agreement with Don Jazzy’s signature. ‘I have full rights to my catalogue and full ownership of my Koko Holdings, while he has full ownership of Mo’Hits, including the artistes and liabilities.’
Already judged guilty in the court of public opinion, and publicly disowned by his own boys Wande Coal and Dr SID, D’banj says he’s sad, but not bitter. Does he feel kind of lonely, alone in the cold? ‘Asking me if I’m lonely because Wande or Jazzy has left me is like asking my first sister if she’s lonely now – she has two kids now, lives in Canada. Don Jazzy is still my brother – we just had to move on. We’ll still work together in future, same with my boys. In fact, just this week, he sent me the remix to Oliver Twist that we’re releasing in the UK on May 14. All the interviews I’ve had here, I kept hyping him.
It’s already in my system – you know me, I’m a one-way soldier. Jazzy is a very quiet person. Loyalty is key. My loyalty still lies in the friendship I had with him. He was cheated by JJC, and I was present. I swore never to cheat him. But I’d like to think our visions became different.
‘It was clear when we met that Jazzy wanted to be the biggest producer, I wanted to be the biggest African entertainer, not the biggest singer. I had my mind on money. In order to say I’m the biggest, I had to be the richest. So for a very long time, he was on the back end. He respected my act, I respected his music judgment. Every meeting that brought us money I went for. I’d say I need to confirm from Don Jazzy because that was the agreement, even though I knew it was my decision. First Glo deal was $500,000. That Land cruiser jeep was because of my demands. It was because of the skill and exposure that I used to bargain. I’m a businessman’
‘People say I’m less talented, I was known as a jester in the JJC squad. I’d make everyone happy and play the mouth organ, but I knew what I wanted. I decided to give Don Jazzy power in 2007 when we realized that after four years, they did not recognize us as a record label. We had signed artistes and done all this work. So we restructured, and restrategized. So I told him to chill, so he can be more respected and be the don. I’m older than him by one year, yet I respected him like a don. I remember when he came out at Ali Baba show, I knelt down for him, so people would say he’s the baba. All the talking in my ears and all, it was an arrangement. All the Sound city advert and all, he did not tell me anything. It was all an arrangement.’
With his UK publicist Vanessa Amadi taking notes nearby, his manager Bankulli interjecting every now and then, and several legal documents surrounding us, D’banj spoke passionately of his former partner in the same way a man might go on about a cherished and respected, but estranged, lover. He’s on his sixth cigarette, and thinks the room is stuffy, even though no one complains. So he opens the sliding glass for ventilation. ‘Jazzy did his part’, he says, sitting down again and looking me in the face. ‘He made the music for nine years. But nothing stops him from making for twenty more years. We could have changed the formula. Why didn’t he want to change the formula? It was time to expand the business, Mohits was Motown reloaded.
We always knew we would expand, he always said I had more swagger than anyone else he knows, And I know he’s one of the best producers in the world; we wanted to make Mohits the biggest in Africa. Other labels were springing up. So if we could conquer America, London when no one had done it before. Most of our people stop in Germany, or Paris. But this is America, this is the big league; it makes us the strongest, the biggest. We had already made the money. And who best to introduce me to the rest of the world? Kanye did not want to change anything about my music, my style of dressing, or my brand. It is God’s favour. But Jazzy was and is very scared. Something had worked for eight years, so he wanted to maintain the status quo. People are afraid to try new things.’
‘But’, he tells me, still maintaining eye contact while lighting another cigarette, ‘I’m not afraid. I’m a vessel that God is trying to use to help the industry. I’m a bridge. Once in a few years, one artiste comes from the UK to run the world, none has come from Africa. Fela was the closest. It’s been my own dream; I made my name from Nigeria, unlike Seal, Wale, and Tinie Tempah. And I want to bring Universal, Def Jam and all to Nigeria. So if I can build that bridge, then we’re good, because it will give hope to the boys in Asaba, in Oshogbo that this thing is possible.’
The day after our Canary Wharf interview, we meet up at Highbury Islington, where he’s shooting a documentary and the promo for the Oliver Twist competition for the UK. D’banj’s new crew: Semtex (a white A&R rep from the label), Bankuli and Vanessa, are on the ground, working with the production team. ‘This is why we’re here o. This is the work’, he says as he invites me into the dressing room.
‘And when people say why am I not talking, this is why. I’m focused on making this happen. It’s more important for me to make sure I don’t disappoint all those who have invested in me; all those who believe in me and are supporting the movement, than to be fighting over who’s right or wrong. Even now that I’m talking to you, I don’t even know if I should be doing this interview.’
It’s very unexpected that D’banj – the super aggresive D’banj – is speaking in this manner. He has fought many battles, cut off many former friend-associates, ignored the Nigerian media, and reportedly humiliated several Mo’hits members, including Ikechukwu and Dr SID. Temperamental, often impatient, and vocal, those who know him will tell you the D’banj they know, is not the one that’s speaking.
The perception is that you’ve become arrogant, unreachable, proud. You’re not the D’banj we used to know; not the D’banj I used to know – and most people in the media will say this is true
Obviously people will say stuff – but this is me. I can’t keep up with everyone, no matter how much I try. But I understand where I’m coming from. I cant forget my roots – all the interviews I had yesterday, I was ‘bigging up’ DJ Abass, he gave me my first show in London. You saw me giving Jazzy props in my interview earlier. That’s me. If I was arrogant I wouldn’t have been the one even chasing Jazzy around since he told me last July that he wanted to scatter Mohits. Last time I saw him was on February 19 at Irving Plaza. He didn’t support the show, and he only came on stage when SID and Wande were performing. I wanted peace.
And even my mom, who had supported us from beginning, who gave us the house we stayed in (in Michael Otedola estate, Lagos), the Previa bus we used and paid for Tongolo video, spoke to his parents last December; ‘this is what your son said o’. I remember my mom saying to me, ‘if you guys have been together all these years, and no wahala, then if you need to part, I hope there’ll be no wahala.’ She was very particular about that. I had enough proof to have come out and speak; this thing has been on for a long time, and we’re in April now. But I don’t want to cause any wahala. I don’t want to spoil anything. I don’t want trouble. Right now, I just want to be able to move on and do my business.’
That’s surprising, because when the leaked emails emerged, revealing private email conversations between the estranged partners, all fingers pointed at D’banj. Don Jazzy, a likeable celeb and social media addict, didn’t have anything to prove. D’banj was the one who looked bad, and, understandably, would want to make a move that could earn him public sympathy.
‘The signing (away of my shares in Mohits) was already being discussed before April 16. If I kept quiet from January till now, what would it benefit me to leak anything? Remember all the stuff about my password and all? We know where that was from, I really wouldn’t want to think it was from him, my brother, but it could be from anywhere, but I don’t want to call anyone’s name’
But were the emails forged?
Everything in those emails were facts. And I don’t even think the mails favoured me in any way. It’s not the exact mails that were sent and signed, but there were elements of truth in the mails that were published.’
Why did you tell Ebony you own Mohits?
My mom advised me not to speak. And the interviewer took it out of context. I co-owned Mohits. We registered the business in 2004, and we owned it 50:50. So I spoke about that, but the interviewer took it wrong and the fans put pressure on them and they corrected it.
How about Sahara Reporters?
I never wanted to have any interview. It was on the eve of my US show. I was told I should do the interview, because they’re very troublesome. I had to do the interview for the sake of my show the next day. I was guaranteed that there’d be no politics questions. I had not been in the country. And I had been under pressure. Sadly, when that happened and I was being attacked in the media, none of my guys came out to support me.
Looking at all this, what are your regrets?
The truth is that if nothing went wrong, you’d have still heard all this good news and Mohits would take the glory, I didn’t come out in eight years to say anything. Everyone made their contributions. There were no issues, as long as it worked. My mistake was thinking that we were one. People don’t question their brothers and sisters.
How do you feel about Wande Coal and Dr. SID taking sides with Jazzy?
I won’t be too quick to judge Wande Coal. I hear it was Jazzy that tweeted those Wande tweets. I don’t know how true that is, but I know he had our social media accounts. As at a month ago, I couldn’t access any of my accounts. My password was changed on Twitter and Face book. Then Universal intervened. I’m about to be verified on Twitter now. I’m not really a social media person, so it was Don Jazzy and some of our other guys that were running it. Wande himself knows the truth. He cannot talk to me like that. The whole Mohits knew who ran the label business wise. They knew who to come to when they needed to get money out, after we recorded the album.
Who knows the factory where Dansa was made? But you will know the marketing manager. The car he’s driving, I bought him a brand new Prado from Phyllis and Moss after he crashed the car he won from Hip-hop World awards. I bought six Range Rovers last year. I bought D’Prince an LR 3 last year, he crashed it, then I bought him a Range, and it’s true that I bought two Bentleys. Because of Jazzy. But after July last year, after the issue with Jazzy, I bought myself the Aston Martin.
You bought that? I thought that was a gift?
I bought it.
How were you able to fund all that?
In the last nine years, there are a few people and corporate bodies that God has helped me build relationships with, either individuals or banks, or even corporates that are involved in the growth of the industry. I’ve enjoyed their support, and even now that we’re going global, we’re pooling the funds together from all these places.
Could you possibly be Nigeria’s richest pop star? A billionaire?
Vanity upon vanity. Money is material. In terms of what we’re doing, you’ll call me a Trillionaire, because this vision is too big for only me. With the help of the industry, the government, people like you Ayeni, we will not only be billionaires, but trillionaires, and not just me, but every little kid that has same talent like Beyonce, or Nicki Minaj. And with the standard of the UMG worldwide, we can pass people out from our own Universal Music Group Africa, Universal Def Jam Africa, and everyone should jump on this ship with us. It’s not the Titanic.
There’s been a lot of confusion – what label exactly are you signed on?
My album comes out under my label/GOOD Music/Island Def Jam. I’m funding the D’banj album, in America, through GOOD Music/Island Def Jam. GOOD Music is Kanye West who is co-executive producing with me. The deal comprises of Island Def Jam, in US. But in UK, it is under Mercury. My first single will be released in Europe on May 14. My work will be released in Africa through Universal/Def Jam. We don’t have these structures in Africa, and they’ve seen how much money they’ve lost. They’ve seen what I’ve done with Mohits. I made my pitch to them; I’ve made them realize how much they were losing in the African region. Over 150m Nigerians, over 800m Africans. 2% of that is 8.5m. They were not making anything except from S.A, which has been the US of Africa. So we will be launching this label in Ghana, in partnership with Vodafone, launching in Nigeria in partnership with MTN. Def Jam Africa will be up soon; Kenya, SA, and North Africa will follow.
Why are you risking all this? What if you burn your fingers and lose everything you’ve worked for?
Lose out? Well, I am happy I even have something to risk. To whom much is given, much is expected. Look at Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jay Z, Kanye West, these people take it to the max, take it to where they believe that they can push it to. In the first instance, coming back to Nigeria with Jazzy was because I was a risk taker. And I wouldn’t say I’m throwing everything away. I would say I’m putting everything back in, in order to rip into the future. I get a broadcast from Tonye Cole every day. He says when you tell people this your vision, know that it’s not for you alone – it’s for everyone. It’s like what Fela did. If what I’m doing doesn’t work, but sows that seed that will germinate in three, five years, it means my name will be written in gold.
Some people have tried this before you, unsuccessfully. Do you have doubts and fears sometimes?
My last album was in July 2008 – no album in four years and I know what I still command in those four years. The momentum for me to be able to do this is because I see how much it took me, I saw the benefit, it’s God, and the favour of the relationships we’ve built. Plus, I don’t take no for an answer, I don’t take negativity. It will work in Jesus’ name. If not, I wouldn’t have landed in the UK and hear Oliver Twist on the radio. Nor would I be in the mainstream media with them saying I’m pioneering afrobeats. I said to them ‘Oh hell no, that’s Fela’s music. Fela is the legend.’ So I pray to God – I beg my fans, it‘ll be good to do half a million downloads. It’s possible, it’s a different market. Platinum in UK is 300,000. I believe with the support of my people in Redding, Coventry, Dusting, Hackney, Thamesmead, Abbeywood, we can do it.’
And so, as I say my goodbyes and flag down the cab that’ll take me to Heathrow Airport, I can’t help thinking out loud: should one man sacrifice the wishes of the collective on the altar of ambition and material wealth? But then, what should be expected of the man whose dreams and ambition grow beyond those of other – possibly myopic- members of the collective: should an individual sacrifice his personal desires; derail his destiny, so to speak, in the interest of the collective?
In all of this, faithfulness and loyalty have been brutally murdered. And the jury is still out on who pulled the trigger.