LESSONS FROM D’BANJ
Last week, the Oba of Lagos took time off a very busy schedule to play host to a very unusual set of guests.
Fresh from a trip to the UK and the US, D’Banj and the entire Mo Hits crew decided to pay a courtesy visit to the Lagos monarch. The visit, according to his spokesperson, was to officially present his new album to the Oba, and ask for his blessings. What’s a pop star doing in the palace of a traditional ruler?
Well, in case you don’t know, D’Banj is not your regular pop star. The 28 year-old entertainer may appear exuberant and urbane, but deep down his soul lies a man who understands how to court power; how to use his star status to his advantage; how to identify with people, issues and causes that could sell his brand and soar his rating.
So if you’re one of those surprised by the meeting between D’banj and Oba Rilwan Akiolu, maybe it’ll be good if I also told you that the charming musician has also been hosted by the senate President David Mark. He’s had lunch with captains of industries; and state executives. And he not only finds time to see the high and mighty. Just like 2face and Julius Agwu and few others, he’s known in different orphanages and less privileged kids’ homes across the country. In fact, through his Koko Foundation for Peace and Youth Development, he’s sponsoring over 50 helpless youths for ICT education – yet he’s only 28 years old and his recording career less than five years.
But that’s not what fascinates me about D’banj. If you remove your glasses and look closely, you’ll quickly see that the young man is teaching his contemporaries a lot of lessons no showbiz journal can teach them. OK, so he’s not the first artiste to return from nowhere and move straight up the charts. He’s not the first homeboy to be decorated with Channel O and MTV awards. He’s not even the first to rake in N10 million in a week. After all, there’s been Femi Kuti and 2face Idibia before him. And if you look further, into the catalogue of outgoing performers, you’ll see that that likes of KSA, KWAM 1 and Ayinde Barrister have achieved impressive feats in personal capacities.
What D’Banj brings to the table, is unusual business acumen, an understanding of modern showbizness like no other. The young man is like a teacher, in front of a crowded classroom. Chalk in his left hand and a cain in the other, he’s teaching his colleagues, and plenty upcomers, the rudiments of showbiz, the dos and don’ts. If it was a university class in real life, the course would be called ‘Koko 101’. And if he were to compile the lessons into a book, then the title would be: ‘how to make money like it’s going out of fashion – a guide for today’s artistes’.
In a country where most artistes quickly go from rich to broke -no thanks to soaring piracy, unpaid royalties, dwindling record sales and extravagant lifestyles- D’Banj and his partner Don Jazzy are developing an art that will prove useful to a generation of Nigerian musicians. And just at a time when we were getting tired of the sexual connotations of the koko philosophy, they’re holding us by the collars, whispering in our ears that ‘the Koko is entrepreneurship!’
During a visit to Nigeria recently, respected lyricist Talib Kweli told a group of industry leaders, ‘record sales are dropping seriously. What most acts are doing now is to sell chips of their personalities. The main revenue for acts now and in the future will come from endorsements, business ventures and performances’. That’s what Jay Z and 50 Cent and Akon have since realised. Global showbiz stars are toeing the same line, ensuring the stay in business long after the fans have tired of their art.
But back home the norm is for artistes to rely on record sales, performance fees and, in some cases, spraying. Of course we all know they end up fighting with the label over revenue arising from sales, and the earnings from performing are consumed by an extravagant lifestyle.
So what’s D’Banj doing differently? He’s bagging endorsement deals like he’s using talisman to convince the brand managers. He’s showing the entrepreneur in him: partnering with Bank PHB for an upcoming reality show and Globacom for the Koko range of mobile phones. D’Banj is embarking on a series of projects that, when completed, may turn him into the richest artiste in Nigeria . While some of his contemporaries are busy making babies, he’s discussing with his partners about floating a Koko condom line; while some are setting up a harem of wives, D’Banj, in spite of the sex theme of his lyrics, is staying out of trouble. These days, the only thing he’s doing, apart from making more money, is giving back, through his Koko foundation. From helping the motherless babies, to giving out scholarships and fighting against the increasing violence in the Niger Delta, the lanky entertainer knows it’s important to give back to a society that accepted him with open arms when he returned home from the UK in 2005.
Oh, and he’s still finding time to make music too! The singer’s new body of work ‘The Entertainer’, will be released next week, after a talk-of-the-town Launch in Lagos today and tomorrow. The album is D’banj’s first solo body of work in over 18 months, and anticipation has already reached feverish proportions, following the acceptance of ‘mo gbona feli feli’, ‘igwe’, ‘olorun maje’ and other early singles off the album.
The new work will mark the beginning of a new phase for his career; as he takes more executive functions at Mo Hits (where he’s vice president). The label is seeking to push forward Wande Coal, Dr SID, The Prince and other talents. Then of course, D’Banj will aim for more attention internationally. He’s already gotten a Canada-based publicist. And I hear talks are on for major international collaborations.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s meet in class for Koko 101…