BY IKENNA OBIOHA
It is no doubt that the Nigerian entertainment sphere is often plagued by poor funding. To Alex Ozone, a music promoter and tour manager, this isn’t a challenge, rather a motivation. Well-known in the industry for his A&R (artiste and repertoire) skills, Ozone has exported some of Nigeria’s great contemporary acts to Europe for over five years through his self managed promotional tours.
Chatting with eelive recently, Ozone reveals his plan for this year’s trek through Europe; gives insights into the politics behind sold out shows, and relays on how industry dynamics are evolving to adjust to global standards.
Tell us about the 2019 Europe tour and the headliners?
Part of what we do is to promote Nigerian culture across the globe, most especially in Europe. We have been doing that for the past five to six years, and it has been successful. So, for 2019, we tagged it Culture Tour, and we are starting with Lil Kesh. It will be followed by Timaya… that will be in May. And we have Tekno, Patoranking, Kizz Daniel, Reekado Banks, Zoro — who is on serious demand over there — and Victor AD. So, that is our list for this year, but we will be taking them one after the other.
What influenced the number of artistes going in your tour this year?
Usually, we do three tours every year, that is quarterly. For those three tours, we have an artiste headlining it, making it a total of three artistes touring in a year, except last year that we had just two. But this year we are starting off on time. The names I gave you will depend on the demand for them. For example, it is Lil Kesh that they want to see right now in Europe, this moment. And after this moment, who else they want to see again is Timaya, which we have [in] line ready for May/June. So, after then, we will weigh the options and find out the artiste that is in demand. It’s not really our own choice; it is the market demand of the fans that we follow.
Why just Europe?
You have to know your strength, your base. You have to go where people appreciate you, where you can be able to penetrate your market or your brand. So, Europe is my own strength, it is where I know I can sell my product or sell African culture. I don’t want to run around and then gain nothing. I want to go to where I will be able to achieve results, not monetary results but positive results for the culture movement.
You being in business for four or five years, what particularly will be different about this year’s tour?
What we thrive for in everyday of our life is changes with positive results. So far, we keep increasing every day, we keep improving. So I believe the next tour will be better than the last one. The last one was Reekado. Hopefully, Lil Kesh tour will be better.
What are the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The truth remains that it is never easy. Nothing good comes easy. We don’t have sponsors, we don’t have support from anybody; these are individual efforts. People say raising funds or finance are major setbacks, but for me, money is not everything. I try to let all these artistes know that there is no money. I don’t have a sponsor. But this is what we can do. So, I cannot see monetary problem as a challenge, I see it as a motivation to work extra harder. So there’s been no challenge so far.
Tours here and abroad, which do you feel yields more results?
It depends on the type of result you are talking about. Is it in terms of awareness? Is it in terms of monetary result? What result are you talking about?
That is what I try to say: Europe market is not really a big market for African music. That is Schengen, not UK, not Dublin. I mean that Schengen state is not really a big market for African music and that is why we keep pushing to sell these, and we thank God that gradually, we are getting the desired results. People are turning up for shows unlike back in the days when artistes play in a small room, and then, maybe 10 or 20 people will come and watch, but right now, hundreds are coming up to watch. You can’t even compare it. This is the goal of Afrobeats. In Lagos, you can pull up like 20 shows in a day or 10 shows in a day and there will be massive turnout. But over there, you can’t pull up three shows in a city for one week.
Our artistes sell out abroad but this is something that they can hardly do here. Why is that?
People are beginning to appreciate Afrobeats now. I believe they are selling out in Nigeria, but the concept of selling out, I don’t understand. But the truth is here, just like what I was telling a friend of mine in the industry, when an artiste like… say Wizkid live on stage. Why do Wizkid need to invite Davido or other artistes to come perform on his own themed show? Why can’t he do that show alone? Let us know his true fans. Not when I am doing my concert, then you are inviting other known names. But over there, it is only Lil Kesh. So, anybody coming out to watch Lil Kesh is a Lil Kesh fan, so you see the difference. So, basically, over here, different fans come to watch, but over there, it’s only… even this thing they do in UK, I don’t see it as a sold-out concert because they need to invite Maleek berry, they need to invite Mr. Eazi, you need to invite so, so people to come and watch your show, which means you are inviting their fans. If you want to know your worth, pull up a concert, play for three hours without a guest artiste, and then let’s see how many people that will come for you at the end of the day. Some don’t even know their fan base. You don’t even know the crowd you can pull as an artiste, which is quite different from America because if it is a Chris Brown tour, its only Chris Brown concert and maybe the MC or whoever that will introduce him. That’s all. In Europe, I try to put only one artiste on the tour, and I try to market and make sure that those that come to the concert are fans of these artistes.
Are the European audience critical of the quality of performance the artistes deliver?
I had an experience with Olamide tour, and that’s why I say we improve every time. Olamide performed, the fans went crazy. Olamide performed for just 30 minutes. Now, people started reacting. I’m sure it was in the news then that Olamide performed for 20 or 30 minutes. I never knew that he was meant to perform for 45 minutes – that is the time frame. So, to them… because the fans went crazy, to Olamide it was cool, he had satisfied them, once they leave, lets party. But to them, they want him to be on stage for 45 minutes or one hour. They liked that live performance because they had made up their time for you; to be there for you, so you must satisfy them for at least an hour. Not 10 minutes, 20 minutes, you must satisfy them for one hour because they made out time from their busy schedule to come and watch you, so, the performance must be 100 percent.
About artistes being unable to shut down a show here in Nigeria, what do you think is responsible if they are able to achieve same goal abroad?
They have never achieved it abroad because they invite different artistes to come and support them, including Wizkid. Wizkid has never done a solo concert. They can’t say they sold out a show. It is a normal concert headlined with other artistes.
How do you handle case of artistes breaching contracts?
I try as much as I can to build a family relationship with all these artistes as well as play my own part professionally. The truth is they will always breach their contracts. You know I was pushing the Duncan Mighty stuff, it never happened, it breached. I took it as one of those things. People wanted me to put it in the media, but at the end of the day we say that we are still good friends. But had it been I put it out there, I fight him, all those things… right now we are doing business, we are exchanging money. So, to me, I see everything as they say ‘every disappointment is a blessing,’ and you shouldn’t let that weigh you down from moving forward. When dealing with these guys, they are human beings and they are artistes because their way of reasoning is always different. You have to understand them to know how to deal with them.
How else do you think such cases can be prevented?
It can’t be prevented, but it must be prevented from happening frequently. You have to play your own role perfectly, so that at the end, you won’t be crucified; it won’t be your fault. It will be the fault of the artiste or maybe the management or whoever that is in charge.
Plan for the future?
My plans for the future have to start now. My plan for the future is to take this hustle to the world stage, taking street music to the world stage. Making people to believe that anybody can do it; that is, opening opportunities for everybody to do what they can do. How do I mean? What I mean is that the plan is to create employment for everybody through entertainment, the way I’m seeing it. So, whatever comes from it, to God the glory.
So far, you have been exporting to the rest of the world. How would you view it now? How is the acceptance of Nigerian music?
It has been awesome. Nigerian artistes used to perform for 10 or 20 people, but right now, they are making waves. Back in the day, people will tell you it is not possible. If you announce a Darlington tour tomorrow, it will sell. That is the acceptance of the culture of Nigerian music. The acceptance is very awesome. It is very fast.
At the time you worked with Olamide, he was the hottest thing, right now it is Burna Boy who is on fire, why isn’t Burna Boy on your list?
I go for those who are like my family and I sample them, we run these streets. And in these streets, we don’t have money. Burna boy is on demand, the truth is, Europe cannot afford his fees – except for a few cities. I do commercial tour. Burna Boy feels that he is on demand, he has a fixed fee he has to be paid, which I cannot afford. So, I will go for an artiste who I know can be able to sell like 15 shows and be accepted and he comes back to Nigeria and queue.
How do you know what the Europe market wants?
That’s why you need to know your job. You need to study your line; you need to study the market. I’ve got pool of partners; both in the street, both in the business. I make enquiries. I make enquiries before I make any move. I don’t just wake up and say; ok I’m bringing Lil Kesh. People do it, this is a top secret, people do it, and at the end of the day they feel frustrated. Why is Ozone’s tour always successful? Why is my own not? That’s because they don’t ask questions. They just hear because ozOzo is doing it, let me do. At the end of the day… it flops.