Had it been Mohbad was a PMAN member, it would have been our problem, says PMAN boss, Pretty
‘New era musicians shun structures for their own ruin’
‘Artistes’ mental health needs to be looked into’
‘Need for more education and sensitisation among practitioners’
By Anote Ajeluorou
RIDING on the back of Afrobeats, the moniker for what is unarguably the most successful Nigerian music brand and export to the world, the young Turks are ruling the airwaves at home and abroad. In no other time has Nigerian music been so dominant globally such that it is not just garnering coveted awards, its performers are riding the biggest performance crest of their lives in iconic global arenas with packed audiences. Collaborations now come to them in droves from other global super stars that were a mere a dream a decade or so ago. This is just how far Nigerian music has come and still climbing the ladder of success with remarkable ease.
But while this music storm is rising higher, there’s an ugly under-current that is hidden from the public. Indeed, there’s a storm brewing that bubbled over about a month ago when news filtered in that one of its fast-rising stars Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, with Mohbad as stage name, tragically passed away in murky circumstances that are still unfolding, with police investigation yet to be concluded. But pointers to contractual issues gone awry form part of the sad narratives flooding the news media. Aloba’s musical journey from first being Imole (light), as a gospel singer to Mohbad (I’m bad) as Afrobeats singer and his eventual tragic death is stuff fit for fiction. But this is for real.
But Mohbad’s death has no doubt rattled nerves within the Nigerian music industry, and raised serious concerns as to the health of relationships among the various music professionals, ranging from musicians (artistes), artiste managers, music label (record) owners, and the umbrella union for all players within the music industry, the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN). But there’s a third force that rewards music performance on the continent, All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), which has also become a rallying force for all musicians on account of trust it has earned for itself from practitioners across Africa. It lived up to its billing last Sunday, October 1, when it convened an emergency virtual meeting of some players in the Nigerian music industry to rethink the structure currently in place, with a view to tightening some loose ends among practitioners for better, healthier relationships.
Of the 47 participants who responded to the short notice, there were the convener, Mr. Mike Dada of AFRIMA and his team, Efe Omorogbe of MusicNow, who moderated the session, Mr. Sunny Neji, US-based master tailor and entertainment promoter, Mr. Kese Jabari, ace producer, Mr. Laolu Akins, Chairman of Lagos PMAN and female drummer, Ara Olamuyiwa (ARA), Kennis Music boss, Mr. Kenny Ogungbe, Music Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) boss, Mr. Muyiwa Ayilaran, PMAN President, Mr. Pretty Okafor, Mr. Chinedu Chukwuji, Justin Ige, among many others.
Dada provided a context for the conversation by tracing the trajectory of Nigerian music through the ages, from its lowly status years back when parents didn’t want to hear that their children wanted to join the never-do-well music profession, to now when parents are making enquiries how their children could become part of the boom. Dada painted a passionate scenario of what had been, what is and what could be if things were done right. Like everyone else, he expressed sadness that a rising star like Mohbad should pay the ultimate price, because certain structural deficiencies persis. But as stakeholders in the business of music-making, what should be done to avert a possible future reoccurrence? He therefore appealed to his colleagues to come up with solutions to what is arguably a brewing storm before it erupts and engulfs everyone. He expressed his belief in the ability of those in the Zoom room to think up new strategies to reframe the industry away from the ugliness that Mohbad’s case has thrown up. Dada sued for an open conversation that would unearth some underlying issues plaguing the sector with a view to finding lasting resolutions to them.
Omorogbe then threw the floor open for interventions designed to help refashion a new working relationships among players in the music industry. Among those who made interventions were Justin Ige, who pointed at the failure of policing, as part of what happened. He also canvassed a need for a central organising body that would regulate the music sector in terms of contracts and agreements, a body that could mediate and provide conflict resolution mechanism should there be dispute. Ige was insistent on a failure of policing in Mohbad’s death, since it was alleged in some quarters that he petitioned the police, but no action was taken to intervene.
Legendary producer, Akins, who has over five decades of practice under his belt, lamented the absence or even the dismantling of structures in the current music scene, saying that it was not always the case years back when he was most active. The absence of no contract and conflict resolution mechanism, he argued, was also a sore point for the industry, adding that the industry has become so unorganised that “many (young people) come in and don’t know how things are done. There used to be organs that work, but not any more.”
Ace female drummer and Chairperson, Lagos PMAN, ARA stressed that “artistes’ mental health needs to be looked into,” adding that “flamboyance and (quest for) the good life,” or the prospect of it that musicians now promote, seems to be a huge challenge, as musicians now go to unhealthy lengths to achieve their musical goals. ARA’s submission alludes to the desperation of younger artistes to make it in music at all costs, just as it speaks to what is prevalent in today’s Nigerian society, where every and any means to make it in life has become the destructive norm. In the music industry, it would seem things are gradually coming to a head, and this intervention couldn’t have come at a better time.
PMAN President, Mr. Okafor, however, gave a damning submission on the attitude of younger musicians who do not seem to give a hoot about structures, who believe belonging to a body like PMAN is a waste of time. But a further submission from a younger artist manager also put a different spin to the conversation, as it spoke to a lack of knowledge or enough awareness about what had gone before or how the industry is structured, and the need to retool the compass for ease of navigating the present and future of the industry. It spoke to the scant regard of younger artistes have for structures and why they don’t bother about them. Okafor said PMAN could not intervene in whatever was going on between some artistes and managers or record owners once such artistes were not registered PMAN members, especially in the area of contractual and other disputes.
PMAN president, Pretty Okafor
“In the five years or so that I have been PMAN president, I’ve been trying to talk to everybody, but each time I do that, I get insulted, I get mocked,” he lamented to his audience. “Because of what has happened to PMAN before, it seems nobody believes that PMAN’s structure can work. And also not understanding that PMAN is a trade union in the whole creative industry, not just in music industry. My team and I have been working tirelessly four to five years, trying to put the structure together. I’ve held meetings with several person and groups, but how many of their members are members of PMAN? I’ve held meetings with AMAN, how many of their members are PMAN members?”
Okafor related a personal story, how in 1990/91, he and his fellow young genius in the Junior and Pretty duo made music that sold all over the country, but received no royalties. When they wanted to involve the police to handle the record owner, their manager, Gideon Umoh advised them against it. Instead, he advised them to report the matter to PMAN, since they were card-carrying members of PMAN. And they did. They had similar problem with Polygram before it turned to Premier when they were signed on. Their record ‘Bolanle’ sold everywhere yet they didn’t get royalties and they couldn’t want out because of the nature of the contract that tied for five to 10 years.
“We reported the matter to PMAN and PMAN took charge,” he submitted. “After that time, it’s been disaster after disaster, in-fighting and all that. I know the structure of PMAN, and I’m working to get everything aligned the way it’s supposed to be. That was why we reached out to everybody, reached out to all the sub-associations. But there’s this mentality: ‘No, we don’t want to do PMAN; PMAN is jinxed.’ That was why my team and I worked seriously to get PMAN to where it is today. Nobody can say they don’t know what PMAN has been doing in the last three years. Nobody can say so. PMAN has an office that it never had for so many years. Nobody can say they don’t know the constitution of PMAN.
“ARA, my other EXCO made a statement on Mohbad, but I refused to make a statement even if it’s in our purview. These people – Mohbad & Naira Marley – are not PMAN members. My constitution does not allow me to speak on a matter that PMAN’s constitution will not allow to be brought to my table. If you’re not a member of PMAN and I go out there to spend PMAN’s money, my time, energy and connection, it’s not going to bring any benefit to PMAN. So that’s why I let it go. Had it been Mohbad was a PMAN member, it would have been our problem. Had it been Naira Marley and his record label are PMAN members, we will deal with them. I’ve seen it happen. We would shut him down and bring everybody to the table to address the issue. We will bring the artiste manager to deal with the issue.
“But all of them ignored the structure with flimsy excuses that PMAN is jinxed, PMAN wants to steal their money. I keep saying that PMAN is not Collective Management Organisation (CMO); we don’t collect money. We don’t broker deals; we’re not a promotion outfit. Our work is looking after artistes and practitioners in the music industry. We are for the musicians, for the record labels; we are for the artiste managers, music producers, etc. But how come everyone is acting as if PMAN is not in existence?
“We all know there were past issues, but we’ve been able to rectify them. And we’ve been speaking about these issues in the past five years. I’m tired; I’m fagged out. How did we allow ourselves to get into this position? Now we’re discussing as if we never had a structure. This was a structure that was built by past leaders; yes, there were some problems like in every organisation. But we’ve been able to fix them. But how come some people believe, ‘Oh no, we don’t want to deal with PMAN, oh PMAN is a jinxed organisation; we will not associate with PMAN.’ I’m saying this because I have evidence about how record label owners and artiste managers treated PMAN.
“But I don’t want to dwell on that. Yes, everything boils down to PMAN; it carries the headache. But we must ask the question: Why are practitioners not appreciating the efforts of PMAN? Why are practitioners not working with us to put the structures together. We have the biggest industry in Africa, but we’re losing it. We’ve built a genre that’s taking over the world, why can’t we put our structures together? Every blame shouldn’t be on PMAN; we’re doing our part. Now, nobody needs to go to PMAN’s office to register. They can do so via their phones, laptops, and desktops. They can easily register, be PMAN members and all these problems will be taken care of. But calling PMAN when an artiste, a record label owner is not a member of PMAN?
“Dada and Akin spoke earlier; they know that before you float a record label, you must register with PMAN. That was before; you’d be given a certificate. So what has happened with this new era of record label owners? What is happening now with the new era of musicians? We can’t be the only ones doing the work; it’s a general thing. We all know the truth. So why can’t we get our sub-members to be registered? PMAN is a bulldozer and we can solve any problem. We don’t need the police. Which police? But we can deal with issues. We can call the record labels, we can call the artiste managers, call the artistes, because we have a legal team; we have about five teams that deal with contractual issues…
“So, let’s talk about the best way to manage the disasters, I’m talking about disasters; this is a minute one. More is coming, and if we don’t correct the abnormalities, if we don’t correct these young ones the way to do music business in Nigeria, it will be worse!”
President, Association of Music Artistes Managers of Nigeria (AMAMN), Mr. Oba Sijuade, commended Mr. Okafor for his efforts in repositioning the sector, adding that music managers appreciated what he was doing; he further charged him to do more. However, he called for more education and sensitisation among practitioners, as ARA earlier advocated, so everyone in the music ecosystem knew the structures in place and how to access them. He said the meeting was timely and hoped that afterwards the right structures would be put in place, so everyone understands their place and how to relate among themselves.
AFRIMA boss, Mike Dada
Jabari commended the conveners of the meeting and paid tribute to Mr. Okafor, who he said he knew as a 14-year old boy when he and Junior burst into the music scene. He said Pretty was a grown man now with talents. He tasked the young ones to “connect to the apron strings of the old like the Akins, the Ogungbes,” who he described as old wines “who are still relevant in time and space.” Jabari promised to use his resources to help “advance the cause of the music industry on the continent.”
Also lending his voice to submissions was the moderator, Mr. Omorogbe, unarguably a force in the music industry. He traced traditions and genres over time and how they have collided and crossed paths. He, however, wondered why the new age seems different with the way younger artistes tend to dismiss anything that smacks of experience garnered over time.
According to him, “We need to stick together as industry, players, associations and stakeholders irrespective of generation, age, genre or sub-groups. Why? I understand that for us to be able to take collective action, there has to be synergy. There are times I’ve mentioned to colleagues when I’m having meetings with some persons and some young ones will ask me, ‘those old guys, what are you doing with those old guys?’ It’s like there’s something wrong with being a veteran, being in an industry where you’ve invested a lot of your time, resources, energy and all of that. So these challenges cut across board, and we’re here today as one group, with the same burden, with the same challenges and trying to find actual solutions, to see how we can resolve this stuff together, all of us as key stakeholders.”
While concluding, Mr. Dada challenged those at the meeting to think up strategies that match the challenges that have emanated from the growth and dramatic changes that have happened in the music sector over the years. He sued for strategies that are all-embracing to all sub-groups like artiste managers, record label owners, artistes, etc. At the end, it was resolved that there was a need to look at the mandates of the sub-groups with their leadership should be brought into constant conversation. The aim being to refashion a new mandate and structure that harmonise disparate bodies within the music industry in what is akin to an ‘Act of Parliament’, as Dada termed it. Omorogbe and Chukwuji were also aligned with a broad-based structure that caters to everyone. Chukwuji then suggested an adhoc meeting of leadership of music groups, which would come back to the general meeting/house in about a month’s time to present their resolutions and submissions for further deliberations by the house.