For Emem Ema, the apple never falls far from the tree. Born into “a family of highly creative people,” as she puts it, with music featuring high on the like list, her affinity for music is understandable. A member of the K.U.S.H band that sang ”Let’s Live Together” which recently was chosen as the offical theme song of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun movie, Ema and her company, One Management, have in the last 10 years metamorphosed from being creative talent managers to a production company, creative consultants, strategists and event producers. At a recent facility tour of one of her business concerns, a new studio located in the Lekki axis, she spoke to Iseribhor Okhueleigbe, assistant editor, on a number of issues affecting Nigeria’s creative industry. Excerpts:
What is the link between law, which you studied, and entertainment where you are currently a manager?
Law is an encompassing profession, which affords you the ability to garner knowledge about other industries or professions. I’ve always been drawn to the creative and coincidentally studied intellectual property as part of my law degree. The beauty of this all is the ability to marry law and entertainment. My legal background helps in being able to draft and understand contracts, enter agreements with my eyes open and look out for certain elements as well.
How would you rate the Nigerian entertainment industry?
I have always said if we didn’t see the potential in the Nigerian creative industry, which has grown in the last 10 years… when we started, we would never have taken the risk. I believe we were one of the pioneer talent managers then and that was due to foresight, knowing that there will be an explosion of sorts in the creative industry (music, film and TV), it was only right to position ourselves as caretakers or representatives of those who will create this shift or be part of those initiating the shift. Whilst a lot of people were interested in being either the talent or record label or content producers, we saw a lot differently then. In 2000, you could name five to maximum 10 A-list artistes or movie stars or producers. Today, it is a different story. We have talent coming on the scene that have carved a niche for themselves in different ways, not just in music but in film, TV and now we are going digital. The industry is growing in leaps and bounds. It just takes a couple of people to say let’s do things the proper way, give the industry a strong foundation to thrive on and let’s expand the derivatives from this industry, so that it doesn’t end at just being on stage or TV. There are a lot of things you can do behind the scenes, there are a lot of people who are making things happen behind the scenes. There is room for improvement in the quality, storyline, delivery of our content and planning towards making all of this happen. It should no longer be a free-for-all kind of affair; we should guard our industry jealously from being ravaged by abuse and mediocrity.
Is this growth peculiar to Nigeria?
Growth is relative; in America their idea of growth is platforms for entertainment, which are constantly evolving; most people are going digital or mobile or at least, including both in their planning. In Europe it is different, so I can only speak from the Nigerian angle. To answer your question, if you were to compare or look at what Bollywood is doing in India and the fact that they have found a way to combine their movies and music, as seen in the success of Slum Dog Millionaire and the fact that the soundtrack was equally successful, I believe it is something we can replicate in Nigeria. I’m not comparing but when you look over there and see the standard, there is room for improvement (here) and I think it applies to the Nigerian creative industry. Our growth will depend on how fast and capable we are in harnessing the potential of our industry. Opportunities abound on so many levels. It is like the oil we are stubbornly relying on, there are a lot of derivatives from the creative industry that when harnessed will create more jobs and contribute immensely to the economy.
What is government’s role in all this and how supportive has it been to the creative industry?
There’s something called cultural importation, exchange or cross-pollination of cultures. Hollywood sells the American culture; it gives people who are watching the orientation that if I go to America, I’m safe, the government will protect me, and the standard of living is better. It portrays America in a good light. Hence you see agencies like the British Film Institute or American Film Institute in America, or the state or federal government in America or India giving grants and encouraging their filmmakers to create more of their films in America or the UK with incentives attached. So, when government realises that Nollywood, the music industry or the creative industry has the potential to show Nigeria in a better light, tell the Nigerian story from the Nigerian eyes to the world, then I think it should support in terms of providing grants, tax incentives such that if you shoot a movie somewhere, you get lower tax rates. It is done in South Africa where the policy has just been reviewed. It’s done in America; it’s done in Canada where, when you go and shoot in a particular location they give you a rebate of sorts. It could be 10 or 30 per cent. That’s why you see California State right now is trying to get people to come back to shooting movies in that state, because for some years the tax incentives were not so favourable. You see people going to shoot in Canada, Australia or South Africa. I believe Nigeria can position itself for this because we have fantastic vegetation and tropics where you can have desert scenery up north, sans Boko Haram, and in the south you have nice, lush vegetation and in the nest you have all of the rocks, fantastic climate and weather. I don’t see why Nigeria is not tapping into that.
What would you consider your greatest challenge in the music industry?
(Sighs) I think it’s being able to convince the financial institutions that there’s money to be made in entertainment, and how it can be made. It’s not the fact that an artiste has a hit song at the moment and you automatically think that must make him/her a good business person, then you give me money and I lose that money. But there are people who don’t just have a passion but understand the industry and also speak your language in terms of facts, figures, cash flow, ROIs, KPIs and all of those things. The challenge is making these guys understand that entertainment is also a business. It is not just a flash in the pan, not just the glitz and the glamour but there’s also business behind this. In America today, you would notice that a lot of the financial institutions have bought shares either in the studios or in the creative agencies or the marketing companies because they realise that there’s a lot of money to be made. I noticed this trend especially during the last recession, there are certain things people will not compromise – health, food, clothing and entertainment. It’s a form of escape route for most people. People would certainly try to get their minds off some issues by getting entertained, listening to good music and getting inspired by music, film or TV. It is a form of escapism for some. When it comes to piracy, I get into trouble when I talk about it. People think I’m being too hard or I’m not being realistic. In the music industry, I don’t think piracy is a problem. Quote me anywhere. I’ve spoken to some of my colleagues in the film industry. What causes piracy in the first place? It has to do with either the cost or availability of the product or both. People want to watch the latest movies, for instance, Iron Man, but how many people can afford N1,500 at the cinema? Meanwhile, there is a guy strolling down the road who will give it to them at N250. If we had more cinemas or community theatres, will people have to pay that much to watch a movie? But the minute the cost comes down and is available for people to watch, such that if it comes out in US on Thursday, it’s available in Nigeria same day, the numbers at the cinemas/viewing centres will rise and piracy will become almost extinct…I see that happening now; a lot more people need to get into the cinemas, a lot more people need access to watch these content at affordable rates.
As an artiste manager, how would you rate your clientele base?
We have been blessed to work with some of the best talent on the continent and internationally. So, our client base is healthy. You can name anyone, the who’s who in the industry right now; we have worked with them in various capacities. You don’t necessarily need to be signed to ONE Management for us to work with you. We’ve had great opportunities and we’ve equally provided opportunities for people who weren’t really known at the time.
With the benefit of hindsight, how easy is it managing both aspiring and established musical and entertainment stars?
There’s always a challenge as with every business especially with managing people. With the ones coming up, you have to cultivate, mould and market them. Every individual has different mechanisms of operating, you may have a client who loves attention, you have another that likes to just do their own thing and will involve you when they desire. You have to be sensitive to their idiosyncrasies and needs, as a manager you need a lot of wisdom and patience (laughs), a lot of patience. You also have to let them know they need to be patient, as Rome wasn’t built in a day. There’s no such thing as an overnight success; you have to constantly hone your skills. Even for established stars, you have to constantly be on top of your game. I keep telling people, let your competition always be the last version of yourself—you have to be better than your last material. So, for aspiring actors or musicians, I would say, where do you want to go? There’s going to be a plan and that’s where we come in. There’s going to be a plan to move you from point A to point B. How does it work? You have to be focused. Don’t say because this person came out, what has he or she got to offer? It doesn’t work that way. You don’t see the person’s struggles but you just see the result of their process or time of struggling.
There is this notion that stars are difficult to manage due to their ego problem. Do you share this view?
For me, people are different. What we therefore understand from managing artistes is that you have different personalities and it just depends on how you manage them. Are people allowed to be divas, with reason? Yes. But there are some that are extremely difficult and we deal with that appropriately. It’s life; it’s the same thing you say that successful people are arrogant. You can’t generalise things like that.
Where do you see the Nigerian entertainment industry in the next 10 years?
Ten years ago what we saw was that the Nigerian entertainment industry played a huge role in shifting the creative industries in Africa, and that’s what is happening right now. I think Nigeria will produce a couple of innovators in the creative industries – not just music, not just film, not just TV. The way we watch these things, imbibe or consume content, we’ll have more paradigm shifts in the entertainment industry and I think the world will take a closer look at what’s coming out of Africa, what’s coming from the largest black nation in the world.
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