For half a decade in the 1990s, Chris Kehinde Nwandu served, first as Corporate Affairs Manager and later, as Artistes/Promotions Manager for Sony Music, arguably Nigeria’s leading recording label at the time. That position exposed him to the inner workings of the music industry in Nigeria as well as the idiosyncrasies of some of the nation’s most sought-after musicians then. He speaks to eelive.ng about his tenure at Sony Music as well as current trends.
You were one of the most recognisable names in the Nigerian music industry at a point in the history of the country, but you have taken a totally different lane now, what happened?
New challenges, new callings, new expectations, a new vision and desire to excel in other fields of human endeavour. As at the time I left the music industry, the industry was at a point where things seemed not to be changing, the industry was not receptive to innovations which some of us the younger managers were advocating for.
The founding founders of the industry were more interested in doing things the old way, this was affecting creativity, revenue was dwindling at a fast pace, pirates were having a field day, the motivation for me was no longer there and I had to move on to something more challenging and creative. Thank God my prediction came to pass, all the old brands i.e Sony Music, Premier Music, Ivory Music (EMI) etc were all swept away by the tsunami of the young, vibrant, innovative new record labels, it’s that innovation that we are all celebrating today
But the industry was more structured then, don’t we need this back?
We absolutely need structures now. Unlike in our days, the artiste is now the musician, artiste manager, record label owner, marketer, producer, distributor etc at the same time. This kills creativity. In our days, we had the Artistes and Repertoire (A&R) Department , which was responsible for finding new artistes who fitted the bill of the company and bringing them in,. There were other departments and our distribution outlets were across the country (physical offices), where artistes from across the country also dropped their works for evaluation but all that is gone now. These are the reasons why we have more one album artistes unlike before
How exactly did you get into the music business?
I came into the music business by pure accident. It just happened one day, while still working as a Client Service Executive at one of Nigeria’s topmost Advertising Company (LTC Advertising Ltd) in Apapa sometime in 1992, I got a call from the Chairman of Sony Music, Chief Chris Olufunlola Okunowo who I had met briefly at one of our old Boy’s Association (Igbobi College ) meetings .
He told me he needed to see me urgently. I didn’t know what he wanted to discuss with me, but as it is our tradition at Igbobi College ,once a Senior sends a request to see you ,it is obligatory for you to answer that call. I was the National Publicity Secretary of Igbobi College Old Boys Association (ICOBA), so I felt he wanted to discuss ICOBA matters with me.
Few days later, I visited him, and I was shocked about his request. He wanted me to join Sony Music. He said he had seen some very good qualities in me that he believed the music industry needed.
Sony Music was then the most popular music company in Nigeria with great artistes. He asked me what I was earning at LTC Advertising, I told him, and he informed me he’ll triple the salary. Sony Music, according to him needed a very young vibrant person to handle its PR department and he felt I was the right man for the job.
I told him I didn’t have any experience in the music industry he just asked me to go and have a one on one with the MD of Sony Music, Chief Mrs Keji Okunowo and if I was convinced, we would take it from there.
The following week, I met Chief Mrs Keji Okunowo. She restated what the husband said and gave me a brief of what was expected of me. I told them to give me some time to think about it.
About three weeks later, they called me back to ask if I was taking the job or not. I had little problem convincing the LTC Advertising Management that I wanted to leave, they thought I was crazy leaving a professional job like Advertising to an unregulated industry like music more so I was already making wave in the industry as I was the initiator of what was then the Advertising Agencies Funfair (a social event involving top Advertising Agencies in Lagos).
After some time, my bosses then Mr Billy Lawson and Mrs Bola Thomas gave me their blessings and I moved to Sony Music after a month. On resumption I was made the Corporate Affairs Manager (Promotions Manager), the youngest in the industry then and after three months, I was promoted , they added the position of Artiste Manager to my job, so I became the Artiste and Promotions Manager of Sony Music.
Which artistes did you promote/manage at that time and what is your relationship with these people now
I managed artistes like Sir Shina Peters, Lagbaja , Salawa Abeni , Funmi Aragbaiye , Obesere and Stella Yama Locally, I promoted the works of people like Majek Fashek and Adewale Ayuba etc even though they had left our label when I came in. As Promotions Manager of Sony Music Nigeria (An affiliate of Sony Music Worldwide) then, I promoted international artistes like Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Maria Carey, Lucky Dube, Luther Vandross, Kris Kross, Patra and Michael Bolton.
If you look back at the time you were in the industry and now, would you say the music industry in Nigeria is doing better?
Obviously, the industry has taken a quantum leap, music is now more global, artistes are very innovative, creativity has improved, video quality has improved, technology now plays more roles than the analogue style of recording we were used to then
So, you think everything is fine?
Oh no, the innovations came with their own problems. IT brought about more artistes than musicians.
There is a difference between being an artiste and a musician. Anyone who can sing can be an artiste, but a musician is one who has the dexterity to play musical instruments, play live shows (not miming) etc. We don’t have many of those these days and it has affected quality.
We also don’t have recording companies again with departments, we have one man shows (record label), every artiste is now a record label owner. They have become jacks of every trades. But generally, the money is flowing now, and artistes are the better for it.
What do you think practitioners need to do to make the music business better in Nigeria?
The first is to address the issue of Piracy which is killing the industry. We should also set up a good structure especially in artiste management. With due, respect, most so-called Artistes managers are mere glorified messengers. Artistes should also invest more in the industry, like building a very viable industry that will create more jobs. The government should create an enabling environment for the industry to strive etc
Do you miss the music industry, is there any chance, you will still do something there?
I miss the music industry; it was the industry that brought me fame. It was an industry that threw me into global limelight At a point my MD, Chief Keji Okunowo even said I was more popular than some artistes and we laughed over it.
The success of my story will not be complete without the assistance rendered to me by most of my friends in the entertainment media then. People like late Amadi Ogbonna, big brothers like FAJ, KB, Mayor Akinpelu ,Tolani Akintunde,Muka Popoola, Femi Akorede, Steve Ayorinde, Jahman Anikulapo , Charles Okogene , Jude Arijaje, Alex Ogundadegbe, Niran Adedokun, Jude Nwauzor ,Ayodele Lawal ,Femi Adepoju,Azu Arinze, Mike Effiong, Femi Davies. And in the broadcast industry Keke and D1, Ambrose Somide, Late Toba Opaleye and many others In the industry, we had the likes of Morgan Okunnuga, Tope Akinyele, Dayo Olomu, Kunle Onime and so many others .
Are there any incidents that you can never forget during your time in the industry?
Yes, there were many but let me just mention two. With all sense of humility, I will say I was the one that first mooted the idea and encouraged Keke Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye, (DI) to start their record label, Kennis Music and it was just coincidental
Towards the end of my tenure at Sony Music, I had a call from Keke that they wanted to visit me because then, we had been best of friends and he has done so much for us promoting our artistes as the General Manager of Raypower and AIT. In fact, I remember that they started the revolution of cutting Compact Discs for promos in Nigeria, before then we were stuck with the use of Records (LP).
Keke didn’t tell me what he wanted to see me for, but on the appointed day, he came with D1 and his younger sister, Kenny St Brown (Best) KSB who just relocated from London.
Kenny told me he had the work of KSB which he wanted me to listen to, proffer professional advice and see if I can convince Sony Music to release it.
After listening to the songs (KSB first work), I told KSB areas she needed to work on. Because the songs were too western, I told her she needed to infuse some local content into it for local acceptance.
On having the work released on Sony Music label, I told them point-blank that it was not going to work. I was leaving Sony Music and most importantly, the company did not have the wherewithal to push it in the market.
I told Keke and D1 to go and start a record label, since they had the huge support of the media which is the most important thing needed to push an album. They thanked me and left and went ahead to do exactly what I suggested
They infused local content into the songs and started a music label. The first single they released was Mi o Shako mo which was followed by KSB’s work and the biggest of them all was Tuface Idibia’s African Queen
The second incident was when Lagbaja was to release his album Coolu Temper. On the day we were to launch the album on air, Lagbaja and I were driving to Raypower FM Alagbado.
Just as were on AIT Road (Lagbaja said we should park), he told me that as much as he trusted the quality of the work, if the album did not do well, he may change his mind and quit music. I said we should pray over the music and we did for about two minutes in the car before hitting the road again.
On getting to Daar Communication, we met Keke who asked us to go to the library to listen to the songs, so we could select the one to hit the air waves with out of the about 12 songs in the album.
But something miraculous happened as we were listening to the songs, Chief Raymond Dokpesi) walked into the library. He heard one of the tracks and asked whose song it was. We told him it was Lagbaja’s song. He knew Lagbaja because he was presenting Satz n Jazz on Raypower then.
Dokpesi fell in love with the album especially Baby Ta ni kofe wa, Coolu Temper and the remix of KWAM 1 song Baby mi Show Colour re and he instantly gave instructions that no presenter should go on air on Raypower FM without playing a track from the album. That was how the deal was signed, sealed and delivered as we say in law.
Within one week of constant airplay on Raypower FM, Lagbaja’s songs topped all the chats across Nigeria as other stations took it up thereby saving Lagbaja from what may have been an early retirement from recording since thousands of Motherlan patrons would have kept him on stage.