MIKE DADA Uniting Africa Through Music


Nseobong okon-ekong

His friends and acquaintances have started addressing him as ‘ambassador’ and it is for a good reason. Who knows, this seeming joke, may yet become a reality, even if he emerges as a honourary ambassador. But that was not his aim when he set out to court the understanding and a working relationship with the Africa Union. All he wanted was an influential continental institution to walk by his side in the execution of his dream project, the All Africa Music Awards, AFRIMA.

A graduate of Chemical Engineering from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Mike Dada cut his career teeth in the banking industry. Chemical Engineering, he said was a course he studied to enliven his interest in the sciences. His job satisfaction lay somewhere else, far from the realm of science. He found fulfillment in marketing communications and public relations, an industry that he traversed in the last 15 years in different capacities, as an employee, partner and lately as an employer.

When he left banking, he walked away with a prized trophy that was more than all the monetary benefits that accrued to him. His better half, Modupe, is still in the banking industry. With her still in banking, a part of him still remains in the industry where he started his professional life and where he was learnt some of the career survival strategies that has enabled him to keep his head above rough waters over time. On a lighter note, he said it was the banking industry that changed him from being a casual dresser to one ‘semi-casual’. “I say semi-casual because except it is absolute formal and necessary, I hardly wear a tie. But you are like to find me in a jacket, a blazer or something like that. When I came to Marketing Communications and Public Relations, it was also an accepted and preferred form of dressing.”

The native of Badagry, Lagos State recalled a major turning point in his life. He had left paid employment and decided to go it alone. He soldiered on for a few brief years, despite the rough economic environment that eventually sank his business. Dada was back to knocking about on the streets of Lagos in search of a job until he came up with an ingenious solution. He approached a friend, Alhaji Teju Kareem, Chairman of Zmirage Limited and proposed a partnership to him. This was born Zmirage Marketing Communications. Dada was in charge of this arm of the Zmirage business empire. He brought his skills to bear on the operations and the company began to make huge profits. However, the two could not reach a mutual understanding on how to share the gains. On the day he decided to pull out of the partnership, Dada had only N3450 to his name. He rummaged for long on how he was going to tell his wife that he could not carry on anymore. As he turned his back on the office at the close of work that day, he knew he would not come back. It took a few days before he could summon the courage to tell his wife. He was going to make a demand on her to foot the bill at home, while he got a grip on the direction his life was going.

While the partnership with Zmirage lasted, he had worked as a consultant on marketing communications and public relations for the organizers of the Kora Awards, a continental reward platform for the entertainment industry. The efforts to organize Kora took him to South Africa and other African countries as part of the production team, affording an opportunity to gain invaluable experience. The CEO of that award had defaulted on payment of certain monies due to Dada. The effort to get a redress was exhausting. Then a friend suggested he should concentrate on stoking the fire for a Pan-African reward platform for the creative industry which he conceived over a decade ago. He dusted up the proposal. Incidentally, his search led to Mike Strano, owner of PHAT Music and Entertainment, originally from Australia who has since made Kenya his home. The coincidence that they shared thesame first name and interest in the African creative industry cemented their relationship. In no time, they were working together and AFRIMA was born! The two Mikes brought formidable acumen to the table. Dada was the sponsorship, public relations and marketing communications wizkid, while Strano was strong in logistics and production. Standing side-by-side, Strano is tall, but Dada who may be considered diminutive stands on a tall dream to unite and develop Africa through culture and the arts.

For Dada, who now owns five companies including PRM Africa and Backstage Productions, AFRIMA afforded him another chance to do what he loves-to sell positive values. He had come to the conclusion that culture is the strongest natural product that could project the positive values of the African continent. Lately, Dada is emerging as a giant in another area of marketing communications-political marketing communications. His company worked hard in strategic selling of the candidature of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and Gov. Obaseki of Edo State.

“Everything else in Africa is copied. Culture is the only thing that is still original, indigenous and free in Africa. This is the one thing we must guard jealously. We cannot afford to lose it. The consequences are far too great to imagine. In all other walks of life, the opportunities that are open often lead to rivalry and cut-throat contest, but cultural interactions among African countries offer unlimited and unfettered hope for development and growth. I am often angry to see all the wasted opportunities in Africa. And since government is a strategic institution to bring about the desired change in Africa, working with the Africa Union is the most strategic avenue available to anyone who is passionate about bringing positive development to the continent.”

‘Africa Must Unite’ is a theme many legendary Africans like the late Ghanaian leader, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Reggae music superstar, Bob Marley and creator of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti have canvassed in varying degrees. Dada is threading a familiar path, even though he has chosen to prosecute his campaign through a different means.

Every year since 2014, an AFRIMA calendar is announced in partnership with the Africa Union. Unusually, there is a line-up of events leading towards the awards proper. This includes dates for opening and closure of submission of works by artistes. This period is followed by the adjudication season when the AFRIMA jury which is a 13-man professional team scrutinizes the entries. In between all of these, we have the AFRIMA Stakeholders Conference taking place across various cities in the continent. This definitely avails anyone opportunity as well as the music industry to be carried along on the processes, dates and timeline of the different activities.

Every year, AFRIMA introduces a wow factor that leaves the jaw of audiences dropping and eyes popping. All the editions of AFRIMA since inception in 2014 have been held in Lagos Nigeria. The logistics of moving participants from all over the world to the venue is crazy. “When we started we depended on the secretariat staff only. And even though the event takes place towards the end of the year, we find that we have to work all year round to meet defined timelines. Apart from the main event, we try to have a certain number of the build-up events in other African countries and we consider the different so that everyone will have a sense of belonging.”

Last year, the theme for AFRIMA was ‘For hope, for celebration.’ The criteria for choosing a theme is that it must align with the legacies of the African Union. In 2016, the AU looked human rights from the musical aspect. The consideration was on how to entrench human rights and educate people on human rights, expand the space of human rights in the continent.

“The idea is to use this platform of AFRIMA to awake and re-awaken the consciousness of those countries that you think are laid back or that their songs are for certain kind of elegy. All of us grow and move together. It is not in the interest of anybody for some countries in Africa to lag behind in terms of growth and development in the entertainment industry. The more people, cities, towns that are alive to the reality of growth and development, the better for the continent, so we don’t have more issues or problems in our hands.”