His life can be summed up in one word: MUSIC. The Chief Executive Officer of Church Organ Projects In Nigeria (CHOPIN) and the Organ & Music Magazine O&MM, Lanre Delano, was raised by parents who adored music. He is also the representative and sole dealer of the biggest organ manufacturing company in the world – Allen Organ Company of USA. Being one of first set of two students to start a Music degree programme in 1978 at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and graduating in 1982, Delano had done nothing else but things related to music. The simple bungalow located on the quiet part of Surulere, Lagos, gives an insight into his taste – portable, but magnificent. From the exterior to the interior, the whole apartment is just the way Delano wants it. At the right corner of the living room lie antique church organs. Plaques and photos of award presentations hang on his walls. The brown-eyed, huge, dark-skinned Delano speaks with Adedayo Adejobi and Funmi Johnson about his struggle to excel academically, his passion for the piano, and support from his parents and how he has built his music organ business
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How would you describe yourself?
In my younger days, I was a very adventurous boy in every way conceivable which might have influenced my foray into the organ music business.
While growing up, what are some of the things you used to do musically within the home?
My parents are great lovers of music and they did all they could to help us grow musically. Although they were average income earners, they hired a music teacher who taught us at home because music was not part of our secondary school curriculum at that time. Again because ours was a strong Christian family, every morning we usually have an opening hymn and a closing hymn; my father would tell me to take the hymns on the piano. So it was a full service and this helped me because it was a kind of distraction for me from too much play. I was not particularly an academically intelligent person probably because I was always playing and getting hyperactive and as such was not good in terms of academics but with music; I was calmer and concentrated more which was why my parents decided to follow up the special interest in me and did all they could to see me succeed.
What sparked your music interest?
My interest in music dates back to my childhood and I was favoured to have understanding parents who encouraged me fully to study music since that was my only major and academic interest. One of the encouragements I had was being allowed to watch and listen to Fela Ransome – Kuti’s music only at the shrine. My father insisted I studied music formally by sending me to Pa Kobinna Creppy at Kose Lane, Lagos, where I obtained my Grade 5 ABRSM in February 1978. My other teachers were Mr. Kayode Oni who taught me at the Music Department of The Polytechnic, Ibadan in 1977 before I gained admission into University of Ife as one of the first set of two students to start the Music degree programme in 1978.
I was under Prof. Adetunji Vidal who was then head of department at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). I graduated in 1982 with a Bachelors (Hons) degree in Music. In 1983, I did my NYSC programme with the Nigeria Police Force Band Ikeja under the then Director of Music, Police Commissioner, Ben Odiase, who composed the present national anthem. After my National Youth Service Corps, I applied to join the music section of the Nigeria Police Force. I went through all the physical drills and was employed as a cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police on Grade Level 08. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, I was posted to the General Duty Department of the police because of my physique. I had to leave the force because they did not accept my deployment to the Music Department.
What role did your parents play that led you into music business?
My parents had a deep love for music and hoped to develop same in their six children. To achieve this, my dad bought an upright piano. Though my sister and brother played the piano, I was the most involved. We used to play the organ at church, during morning and evening services as well as special services for Christmas. My mother believed I had special talent for music, though I was often distracted by other things due to my adventurous nature. Sometimes while playing the piano to my mother’s listening pleasure, I would suddenly excuse myself with a flimsy reason and never returned. Some people once said my parents took a risk by allowing me to study music in the higher institution as against more glorified courses like medicine, law or architecture. Today, the story has changed because I have brought a lot of honour to my family through music and my parents are very proud of me and what I have achieved.
How and when did you get into the organ music business?
That is a question I have continuously asked myself because I did not set out to do that kind of business – I knew nothing about it. Though I am one of the first two graduates of music from the University of Ife, we never had a course on organ music studies not to talk of having an organ in the department. Yes, I liked the sound of the organ which fascinated me at St Judes Ebute Meta, now Cathedral of St. Jude’s. That was all. I admired the pipe organ in a few other churches like St Peters, Aremo Ibadan, Cathedral Church of Christ Marina in Lagos and Methodist Church of the Trinity, Tinubu. That was all. It surprises people when I tell the truth that I never saw a digital organ in my life till 2001 at a small goods and appliances exhibition in Dietzenbach, Germany. However, I have been in the business for 14 years now. My company CHOPIN – an acronym for Church Organ Projects In Nigeria, was founded in 2002 and I sold my first church organ a week after the launching of the company.
How have you been able to fare well in the business when classical music isn’t widely accepted in Nigeria?
It is true that classical music is not as popularly embraced here like the highlife, hip-hop and Juju music and that is because it is not our culture. However, despite this fact, we still have an appreciable number of people who love, listen to and patronise classical music. It is western music and of course it cannot be as popular as the ‘pakurumo’, Juju, or highlife music but there is market for it. Church organ business in Nigeria is developing rapidly mainly because the interest in organ music has been rekindled especially in churches. CHOPIN is trying to create more interest in classical and contemporary music as well. We organise concerts and events and although we may not get the kind of crowd that the likes of Sunny Ade or Davido will get, we have a sizeable audience and we are content with that.
Who are the class of people who give you major patronage?
The elites are the major patrons and I tell you, we have a sizeable number of them. We organise music festival concerts and events. Also, churches are our patrons and you can imagine the number of churches we have in Nigeria and what that will translate into if we have the patronage from most of them. The love for organ music is getting bigger and increasing even among individuals. People are getting more and more interested in organ music these days and that means more business for us.
Would you describe the business as lucrative?
Yes, lucrative in all its ramifications; including the stress.
Including the stress – how?
With the brand of organ my company represents and sells – which is the Allen Organ, as well as conditions to remain a sole dealer – I will say the business is capital intensive. We are talking of the Rolls Royce of organs. Another factor is that in view of the economic situation of the country now, a lot of things have changed and have been affected. Since the business is based on foreign exchange, the depreciation of Naira has made the price beyond the reach of buyers. We have also been caught between some transactions. There was an example of a customer we gave an organ at the cost of $40, 000 at the exchange rate of $150 to N1 which translates to N6 million. Just like the Afrobeat king, Fela’s song, ‘…They start to save and save and save when alarm come blow …’ at the time they were to make the purchase, Naira had hit N250 to $1 translating to N10 million. They had to start raising more funds to reach the N10 million and just then the dollar went up again to N350 to a dollar. What would you expect? Same organ, same dollar of $40, 000 at N6 million now costs N14 million! In some other cases customers would pay deposit at $250 and when their balance is due for payment, it is $350. It is so sad. These are some of the challenges and stress we face in the business.
What are the notable installations you have been able to do over the years and for which organisation?
We have done 74 installations all over Nigeria to date and this was done for various churches and organisation. Majority of our installations are for orthodox and Pentecostal churches. We also did some installations for a few individuals and we did for MUSON as well. However, the notable ones for me include the one we did at Aso Rock Villa at the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Aso Rock where the Vice President worships. It is really a thing of joy for me and that for us is a landmark because that single job has fetched us several referrals. Another notable installation was the one we did for the MUSON in Lagos about six years ago. We organised the first organ recital at MUSON Centre, Onikan in Lagos on April 27, 2002 to formally launch the company and this paved way for the centre to purchase its first organ, to be featured at the MUSON Centre and included in the teaching curriculum of MUSON School of Music. Although it was a small organ we installed there, it was a landmark for us because we were the first to organise the first organ recital in MUSON and that helped greatly in developing the interest and awareness for organ music in Nigeria.
Is it a competitive business?
Yes, it is competitive in a way. But I am quick to let people know that what CHOPIN is doing and stands for is very different from other organ dealers. Based on my experience, I have categorised the competition into three main types: there are product competitors made up of representatives of other organ brands that jostle for the attention of the customer and try to convince them against choosing the Allen organ; I encounter in-house competition from members of the decision-making committee that try to influence the purchase of another organ brand other than the one I represent, mostly because of their selfish interest and the business stakes they might have with the other brand; and resistance might also come from certain antagonists who have no vote of confidence whatsoever in CHOPIN or my organ brand.
Why are you are the sole dealer of Allen organ in Nigeria?
I can’t answer that question. It is only my principals that can answer that question. They get inquiries on a regular basis from people who want to be dealers and they immediately forward such to me. They emphatically tell all inquirers to contact their dealer, Lanre Delano of CHOPIN. Many mischievous people send all kinds of emails but my principals are able to decipher the wheat from the shaft.
Is it a straightforward business in terms of getting orders and executing?
In some cases it can be straightforward if the customer knows exactly what organ is wanted. But where the customer throws himself open to all kinds of opinions, then it becomes a complex situation even till after installation. It could be filled with intrigues. I have experienced loads of unhealthy competitions and surprisingly I don’t know how I have survived and still remain on top.
Do you need to learn some skills to be able to do the business?
Not really but you need to have a knowledge of the good marketing skills coupled with knowledge of business, accounting and music.
Does it have a peak season?
No peak season. We actually get orders when we least expect.
Do you play the organ?
Yes; I play the organ but I cannot describe myself as a professional organist. I am into the business of organ sales and installation. I play the organ well, but I am not an organist.
As a graduate of Music from the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, how would you describe the music industry in Nigeria today?
I would say that there has been a lot of improvement and development over the years but I know that with some exposure they can do better. That is why I would give them a pass mark because if they can get this far without exposure, how much more will they fare if they now have all the necessary exposure – even in the classical music.