WHEN ENTERTAINERS CONVERGED…

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Yinka Olatunbosun and Vanessa Obioha capture the fun that closed the curtain at the fourth edition of the Nigeria Entertainment Conference (NEC), but more importantly also bring home the pool of views during the stimulating sessions

The organisers had deliberately set the programme to have Daniel Oladapo Oyebanjo present the last paper. As soon as the last word was said by the panelists who discussed his paper, the suits and ties were discarded and the ladies climbed down from their high-heels, the moment the Master of Ceremony, Tunde Adewale (Tee-A), announced the close of the talk session and invited DJ Jimmy Jatt to fire the party.

It had been a long day and even though the speeches had been inspiring, it was time to indulge in the frenzy of relaxation. After the talk, came the party! Not a few members of the audience abandoned their seats to move closer to the stage. They wanted to touch Oladapo whose jacket too like that of many in the audience had been sent flying to another planet in anticipation of entertaining the crowd.

After introducing himself with the phrase, ‘I’m D’banj’, he launched into a medley of his hits.
Each song played on cue by the DJ was greeted with loud cheer. The males in an attempt to imitate the popular dance by the artiste, parted their legs, lowered their body, one arm outstretched working in an up and down motion before the parted legs. The females on the other hand moved to the rhythm of the song. It was an ecstatic crowd. Hands raised and swaying in motion, voices raised in varying pitches, belting out the lyrics of the song back to the entertainer on stage.

An overly moved D’banj kept telling the fans how much he loved them. Each time he tried to perform one last song, the shout got louder. They wanted more. Who could blame them? It had been a long day at the Nigerian Entertainment Conference and what better way to end it than with a D’banj performance.
After taking them down memory lane with popular hits like ‘Mr. Endowed’, ‘Suddenly’, ‘Oliver Twist’, and new hits like ‘Emergency’, ‘Feeling the Nigga’, D’banj finally bowed out with ‘Knocking on my Door’ to the disappointment of the crowd.

As if on cue, the crowd dispersed immediately even with DJ Jimmy Jatt still willing to play good music. Instead they besieged the VIP bar, with the thought that the party would continue there. But it turned out that the bar- an open terrace facing the ocean- was more of a networking ground. With bouncers wading off unwanted guests, the youngsters had no choice than to call it a night.

Those who had the privilege to be at the bar couldn’t resist chatting up the convener of the conference and CEO of BlackHouse Media and Nigeria Entertainment Today, Ayeni Adekunle. Some shook hands, patted his back in admiration for his tenacity through the years, while others either solicited for some kind of support for their projects or exchanged ideas with him.

Credence indeed must be given to Adekunle for his consistency in hosting the show despite the prevailing harsh economic environment. Since inception four years ago, NEC has become a platform where entertainers and stakeholders in the entertainment industry meet to deliberate on issues bordering the growth and development of the industry.
But more importantly is the venue of networking it provides for aspiring entertainers. Cutting across media, music, movies, fashion and lifestyle, the patronage so far has not dwindled. Thus, the lack of adequate space to accommodate the teeming crowd has been a major lapse in the conference.

However, NEC returned this year with a new package evident at the venue. For want of bigger space, the organisers opted for Landmark Event Centre. Previous editions of NEC were held at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The sprawling edifice masking the beautiful waterfront along Water Corporation Drive, Oniru in Lagos was the choice destination last Wednesday. Scores of entertainers, thousands of fans, several budding artists and representatives of corporate brands with vested interest in Nigeria’s economy, namely entertainment, swarmed the Landmark Village.

On the long queue that wounded up the curvy walkway near the entrance were young people who anticipated and much later witnessed the much trumpeted Nigerian Entertainment Conference 2016. Radio jingles and social media messages had heightened the suspense for a forum that featured giants in the entertainment sphere.

These young folks stood in the rising morning sun to either register or get accreditation for the conference – a process that was conducted at a steady pace. Inside the hall, sound system boomed. Nigerian stand-up comedian, Tee-A, the compere for this remarkable conference, delivered a “welcome address” to set the tone for the day. Well, he was sometimes a bummer during some interesting panel discussions as he also doubled as the time-keeper for the sessions.
The new location allowed the organisers effective use of space. For instance, one was serenaded by the huge white block letters of different arms of the entertainment industry neatly designed on the lawn.

Inside, exhibitors had more space to display their products and services to attendees. The hall was not overly designed but classy enough to befit such an occasion with a simple designed stage and good lighting.
Known for their quest to raise the entertainment industry to international frontiers, the organisers this year employed an innovative way for speakers to deliver their key notes. Using big screens as projectors, each speaker delivered his topic through a power-point presentation. This helped to ensure brevity and easy understanding of the messages. There were also two big screens at the back of the hall which displayed feedback from the audience on social media.

All these added to the new and revamped look of NEC. But that was not all. During Adekunle’s speech, he announced that the NET Honours which had been a special feature of the conference would no longer hold in the conference. Rather, it will become a part of another award, The Entertainer Award which will launch next year. The award seeks to reward entertainment journalists whose works have effectively and professionally reported and analysed the happenings in the industry. He also unveiled the NET Shop, an online platform where entertainers can sell their content.

Regardless of its fluctuating size, the gathering has since lived up to the billing as the authentic mouthpiece of entertainers in gathering stakeholders for a worthy cause. With seven presentations and panelists’ sessions, this non-stop, back-to-back entertainment talk shop graduated from a “town hall meeting’’ at Oceanview Restaurant, Victoria Island, last year into an enormous congregation of creatives this year.

Undoubtedly, the entertainment industry is under construction. Some would even argue that there is no industry at all. But where you have such artistic vibrancy, billions of naira revenue, international collaborations and global appeal, what do you call that?

Themed ‘Entertainment Industry as Last Hope for Africa’s Largest Economy’, this year was not devoid of heated arguments. As Adekunle noted in his speech, the country is in a critical stage and “new issues are added to the older issues, young people are searching for new identities”, therefore the need to position the entertainment industry as a major player in keeping the economy afloat.

As a non-oil revenue generator, entertainment in Nigeria has increased worth with the global fall in price of crude oil. In the convener’s opening address, he observed that taxation and agriculture constitute the preferred options after oil but with available statistics, there are indications that the government surely requires a better dimmer board set to redirect the spotlight and change our collective focus from oil revenue to entertainment. That was object of Ayeni’s submission.

“It is time to look at the non-oil sector. We want to diversify our economy if we want to tap into the opportunities that other sectors have and rethink our approach to development. It will be a disaster if we miss this last opportunity. We have seen the role of agriculture in the pre-oil boom era,” he remarked.
From Hollywood to Bollywood statistics, Ayeni laid the precedence for the argument that a lucrative industry can serve as a nation’s live wire if it contributes largely to the gross domestic product (GDP).

“We will continue to provide the platform for entertainers and corporate brands to meet. I pray that God spare our lives to see the day when Nigerian music will no longer be available for free download on the internet,” he declared.
Against this background, the first session of the conference which discussed ‘Restructuring the Entertainment Industry as Last Hope for Africa’s Largest Economy’ had panelists arguing on the right structure for the industry.
Olubunmi Oke, the COO of 141 Worldwide Nigeria, argued that there was need for more collaboration in the industry particularly between the channels of mass communication and entertainment. While Sonnie Ayere, the CEO Dunn Loren Merrifield Company emphasised on the need to standardise the industry.

Also the Director, Public Affairs, Nigeria Communication Commission, Tony Ojobo gave a statistical breakdown of data analytics in the country and how it affects the entertainment industry. He also revealed that in May, there will be more broadband service providers to cement the relationship between ICT and entertainment industry.
Veteran artistic director of Renegade Theatre, Wole Oguntokun, however would not be convinced that the industry has a structure. “We shouldn’t ignore the fact that we are backward in entertainment. There is no democracy without culture… We can’t talk about restructuring when there is no structure in the first place. What are we restructuring? We should be building. Entertainers are still orphans.”

The voices rose higher in the fifth session where the founder TV360, Deji Badamosi, led a strong panel to deliberate on the ‘Economy of Talents: Using the Entertainment Industry to Rebuild Nigeria’. Comedian, Folarin Falana who is a trained lawyer, popularly known as Falz the Bahd guy, viewed the proposed bill for the entertainment industry, MOPICON Bill as worrisome.
He rejected what seems like government’s multiple taxation plans on the industry which lacks state grants and generous support. He thought the bill, when passed into law, will strain free uploads of content by artistes especially the aspiring ones.

His view was matched by a Canadian-trained Nigerian lawyer, Isioma Idigbe, in the audience who insisted that bill has the potential to stifle the fundamental right to freedom of press, association and expression. However, she described the code of ethics in the bill as good. Falana posited that the bill’s regulations were too stringent for an average entertainer to succeed in the industry. To which comedian Bovi Ugbomah emphasised the need to get the government to propagate entertainment into the rural areas.

Prominent comedian, Gbenga Adeyinka, while lending his voice to the issue made a good suggestion to Folarin whose brand name ‘Falz the Bahd Guy’ is on a meteoric rise. He spoke on the need for known brands in the industry to protect their works as well as create a lasting brand that will stand the test of time.

During the final session titled, ‘Intervention Strategies: An Open Conversation and Case Studies’, which was moderated by THISDAY Glitterati Editor, Nseobong Okon-Ekong, the CEO, G-Media, Chief Gab Okoye, also known as Gabosky, was optimistic that the partnership between him and the CEO, DKM, Dapo Oyebanjo, in relation to building a distribution channel at SLOT and other online platforms will bring goodwill to many entertainers.
He questioned the motive of many artists in the industry and how that had impacted on the money allocated to the sector by the past government.

The whole conference revolved round content, structure and digital media, which were well represented by the various speakers. A very crucial insight was brought to the discourse when the MD/CEO, Braincraft, Tunde Falase, spoke on the inherent paradox in seeing entertainment as a global enterprise. The depth of research showed in his delivery which could have been expanded in length.

In his paper titled, ‘The Era of Global Business and Disruptive Models’, he was of the view that artists should create content with global perspective; be outstanding and never settle for mediocrity. He looked at evolving brands such as Snoop Doggy Dog and King Sunny Ade with music content that remained relevant over time.
For him, music should have a message that could be fun, reflective, provoke or shock. Citing the example of Justin Bieber, he demonstrated to the audience how ICT had boost Bieber’s career in the area of self-editing and self-marketing. He found a parallel in Frank Odega’s YouTube hit, “Gerrara Here”.

The CEO, EME Entertainment, Bankole Wellington, otherwise known as Banky W, didn’t disappoint the audience with his ‘bankable statements’. In his presentation titled, ‘Power of Content and How to Market it’, he aligned with the notion that talent is overrated but that hard work beats talent when it is not put to work. Creating unique content was the bane of his speech. Using himself as an example, he illustrated how music videos can be creatively executed. Storytelling is his technique in music videos while for his performance, a signature 3-piece suit and a bowler hat is the final word.

For D’banj, his delivery was a reflection of his mantra, ‘no long thing.’ His concise and animated presentation on “Content is the New Crude’’ served as a pointer to the dividends of publishing rights across generations of artists. Learning from the infamous break-up with his former business partner and music producer, Micheal Collins, also known as Don Jazzy, D’banj initiated the collaboration with G-Media and Nigeria’s largest mobile phone shop, SLOT, which boasted of a million customers in 2015 only.

In the panelists’ session moderated by Kemi Adetiba, Nigeria’s pop diva, Tiwa Savage, voiced her personal concern on the welfare of On-Air personalities in radio stations who are affected by the “pay-to-play syndrome”.
She also reflected on the quality of the content from many entertainers today who are fixated on selling whatever the people want.

Savage bemoaned the lack of music pluggers in the industry. Their absence, she said, had left her to the mercy of OAPs who constantly want her to send birthday wishes to them on social media. Gbemi Olateru-Olagbegi on her part talked about how she leveraged on the social media to promote her Gbemisoke shoes.
The actress and content producer, Funke Akindele, in her presentation titled, ‘Economy of Talent: Using Entertainment to rebuild Nigeria’ emphasised on the power of collective effort, devoid of jealousy and rancour, in driving the industry to the next level.

For the Managing Director, MultiChoice Nigeria, Mr. John Ugbe, who delivered a very informed presentation on ‘Intervention Strategies’, prior to the panelists’ session, entertainers need to think of the long term benefits of putting the right structures in place to check piracy, build capacity and ultimately, create jobs.

As much as the conference tried to position the entertainment industry as the last hope for the economy, the discordant voices of the stakeholders and lack of a feasible structure makes this dream a tall one. Like the speakers at the conference articulated, a collective effort must be made to achieve it.

While the organisers keep raising the ante in each edition, there are still some visible lapses in the organisation; for instance, the lack of lunch break and entertainment interlude. Simi billed to perform was absent at the gathering. As a full-day event, a music break will keep the audience glued to their seats instead of being restive.

There is yet to be a seamless transition from the conference to the break-out sessions. The organisers must keep in mind that youths make a high percentage of their audience and attend the conference to learn and also network. Therefore, the break-out sessions must be strategically timed so that they can benefit from it.
The issue of space is also yet to be fully resolved. In subsequent editions, they should endeavour to provide seats that can take the number of attendees.

To weigh the content of the just-concluded conference, the subject matters were timely but the discussions left certain gaps to be filled by other entertainers in other parts of the world where entertainment plays a significant part in a country’s economy. While logistics may bring additional expenses to the budget for the conference, the organisers may organise Skype sessions to facilitate discussions from international participants as the core issues in the industry are not just local.