Warm, confident, humble, and creative, with a good head for business, she has revolutionised the craft of generating sound that makes people hit the dance floor. Within a short while, she’s stood like a colossus in a male-dominated field. Although born with a silver spoon, she takes life seriously and is comfortably in the league of highest-paid disc jockeys in Africa. Yet, she continues to dream big. Twenty-five-year-old daughter of Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola, Florence Ifeoluwa, aka DJ Cuppy is a global disc jockey and producer. In this interview, she tells Adedayo Adejobi about her music career, future collaborations, family and talents
You recently collaborated with Tekno. What informed that?
I am really excited about my new project Green Light with launched three weeks ago. It’s my first official single. It’s exciting for me because I decided to move back to Nigeria, and I’ve decided that this is where I want to make home having lived abroad for a long time. As for disc jockeying, I’ve been working hard building my brand and I feel it’s time to make my original sound. For a lot of DJs, they collaborate with artistes. I chose Tekno because he is an amazing, creative, always making great music. I value him a lot. We’ve always wanted to work together and this happened to be the project we embarked on; I am really proud of it. I think it’s a great song. We wrote and co-produced it. And I’m really happy; I woke up this morning to a million views on YouTube. I fell the song is doing well and I’m proud of it.
What’s the idea behind ‘Greenlight’?
‘Greenlight’ signifies moving forward. I am using green light as an indication of moving forward to the next level. It signifies a change in my position.
With the Tekno collaboration, would you still be a Disc Jockey?
Yes. People know I sang a bit on the song and that’s a way of expressing me. I am foremost a DJ, and my ambition is to remain a DJ. The plan is to infuse my music into my set. I love my country, is my cover of an original song by Tunji Oyelana. That’s the way I entered the market. I look back and feel the project was great, patriotic, as it came at a time when Nigeria was going through rough times. It was an opportunity to talk about old songs young people don’t know about. I think it was a great way to come out because it was different. Greenlight is the sound I love – it’s Afrobeat. I really love Nigeria.
You are moving from being just a DJ to producing music. How much of house music should people expect?
I love House music and that comes from living abroad. Having spent my last year in London, everyone loves Nigerian music. There’s never been a time Afro music has been on such a pedestal. When I first started to DJ, I used to be scared to play Nigerian music abroad because they’ll book me for shows and expect me to play their music. Over the last five years, everything has changed and people will book me abroad, and say they want just Nigerian music. Sometimes you have to break the rules. I’m so proud of where it’s come and the fact that I can fuse both, and don’t have to worry about playing music from all countries.
What’s the unique essence of being a DJ, as opposed to being an artiste?
DJ’s get a lot more opportunities to express ourselves, as we are not restricted to our own songs. I feel like I get to eat my cake and have it. I play other peoples’ songs and mine. I have more control over my creativity. I have a lot more catalogue I can get away with, and I think it’s amazing.
The BBC documentary on you seems to have put you on the global stage. What opportunities have come through as a result of that?
I did the BBC documentary titled, ‘Lagos in London’. They followed me and other Nigerians. I did a lot of school visits. Took them to Epe where I am from. It was a great piece globally broadcast. It helped me not only in Nigeria but in London. I would walk on the streets of London and people would stop me. It was important for people to understand that despite being from Nigeria while living in the UK, we still have our heritage and are proud of what we do. I, however, wasn’t happy with the piece because they’ve really decided to show one side of my character in particular. I was happy they showed for once, educated, exposed, Nigerians living abroad. I watch TV in the UK and the US, and unfortunately, they show bad images of Nigerians. I wasn’t happy with the perception that I was disc-jockeying because it was fun to do and that I didn’t take my job seriously.
DJ Cuppy takes Africa. What’s the idea?
It’s a personal show I am very proud of because my company produces the show for fox around eight countries in Africa, and it was me telling my stories, the struggle, highs and lows. For once, I got to show the world I am not perfect. Maybe because of my father, a lot of people assume everything runs smoothly all the time but it’s not so. Sometimes good, some are bad. My work takes a lot of mental discipline, work and stress. The show has helped increase my popularity in Africa. The project is huge, as it takes 30 people across Africa. I did it in 2015, there were financial problems, but things haven’t picked up since the project is heavily dependent on sponsors and partners. With green light and some of the things I am doing, I am sure by summer of 2018, I’ll be in great position to do it again.
Are you making enough money from disc jockeying?
I am making money. It’s important to make money. Am I running at a profit? No. I make a personal choice of branding myself, so I have higher costs than a lot of people because I put a lot of my money into my business. With everything I do, I have a reputation for doing things differently. The reality is that I generate revenue, but I have a lot of costs. Some may call them unnecessary costs, but I feel that it’s really important that anything you do must be done well. I may not be rising in profit, but my brand is rising in value every year. It’s all about creating a name that has value, and I believe that can later turn into profit.
But where would you be without your father’s name?
I don’t ever shy away from the fact that my father helps me because when I was younger and less confident in my skin, I used to bother about it. I am actually really proud of being associated with him. My dad is a great guy – and dad. He’s done a lot supporting me financially and morally. He tells me when I’m right and wrong. What he’s done in the area of disc jockeying, is that it’s created curiosity. If I wasn’t my father’s daughter, I would still have my skills set and would be just as passionate. The disadvantage is that they’ll say, she’s not that good because she’s Femi Otedola’s daughter. There are plus and minus being his daughter. I’m more prone to assumptions. I can do a really good DJ set but just because someone may have a problem with my dad, or may not just be happy, they’ve already decided I am a bad DJ.
You once said people should not look at your father, but your talent. Has the perception gap been closed?
I feel it’s changing. I’ll rather work with a Tekno than a Davido. It makes me feel like a credible musician. I understand and I can make good music. I don’t think anyone would say I like ‘Greenlight’ because it’s Femi Otedola’s daughter’s song. I am still working on it, but I think it’s changing.
Your sister, Tolani, has officially joined the music industry. Are there plans to collaborate with her?
Tolani is my oldest sister and I’m very excited for her because she’s been doing music for a while. It’s nice the world finally gets to hear her. I think it will be great to collaborate with my sister. Our house is never quiet. It’s full of creativity.
The Otedolas seem to be fast becoming a household showbiz powerhouse. Does that really run in the family?
Showbiz has been with me while growing up. My dad loves music. In the past, he did some work with Shina Peters. Music has always been something we’ve always loved. My dad used to tell me stories of when he used to go to Fela’s Shrine, so he’s been, my favourite artiste. Before I began to talk, I could sing ‘Yellow Fever’ by Fela. Because I come from a social family, we love music, parties. I love meeting people. So, showbiz comes from home.
How close are you to your dad?
My dad and I are the most similar (in the family). We have the same personality and are very close. I don’t want to say I am the closest, but we are probably the closest. My dad and I are the same sign; we share a lot of character traits. It was my dad’s birthday last week and it’s mine a week after. We are very similar, so when we have our family meeting, my dad and I are always in one corner, and then my mum and my sisters (in another corner). Because we are so close and similar, we clash sometimes. My mum is an amazing entrepreneur who’s also moulded me to what I am. She taught me how to run what I’m doing as a business regardless of how big or small it is. I can only hope that I am a parent, half as good as my parents are.
DJ’s are beginning to sing; almost becoming a trend now. Are you any different?
Jimmy Jatt has literally become the father figure for Nigerian DJs and it’s amazing what he did. After Jimmy Jatt came amazing people. It’s so important I create my own path. I’m coming out with my first single and I’m literally singing. Whatever I do, I want to be different. I used to say, I’ll like to look back and say, ‘Cuppy was the one who opened doors for female DJs.’ But I take that back because I feel I shouldn’t constrict myself. I want to be the person that pushed the buttons and did different things, especially for young people. I am 25 and this is such a pinnacle point in my career where it’s not a joke. All the things I’ve got to do, I have to start doing them now. I want to be Cuppy – to be that brand that did things differently. It’s really important that whatever I’m doing, I do well.
Who’s your biggest inspiration, and who do you have respect for most?
It’s so hard because my inspiration has changed over the years. As a young person, I’d look up to someone for something; I’d conquer it and walk away. When I get there, I’ll look for another inspiration. Every successful person I’ve met never says they have one role model. I surround myself with different people and pick the good, leaving the bad.
What are your struggles being a female DJ?
Being a woman is so difficult. I have to deal with being Femi Otedola’s daughter. Also, being young is hard in our country. A lot of people look down on young people. When I go abroad I deal with being black. I’m always up against something. But I’ve learnt to almost work twice harder to achieve. I’m probably very hard on myself, and that makes me uncomfortable. I move very quickly. I don’t celebrate things and that has helped me not to get comfortable because I’ve seen the struggles women have as DJs. I am grateful for whatever reason God has brought me at a time Nigerian music is at the forefront. Women DJs are getting more support.
For how long are you looking to be a DJ?
I still consider myself young. I have to make some decisions and think about the future. My dad always tells me if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I have more to offer music-wise. On the other side, I’ve been more involved in my dad’s business.
With a huge family business, aren’t you looking to succeed your father?
Before I was a DJ, my dad was training me to get my trading licence. If I wasn’t disc-jockeying, I’ll be an oil trader in the office and probably be complaining about how boring it is. Probably, too, making more money than I do now. For me, it’s happiness over money. Having said that, just because I decided not to be an oil trader, doesn’t mean I can’t get involved. Particularly with his company, Forte Oil, I would like to engage in renewable energy – whether solar energy or wind power. I’ve worked with my dad. With a bachelor’s degree in Economics, I’m very well equipped to do it. I think my dad has built something unique and his legacy must live on. But I am hundred per cent dedicated to my brand, and I would love to see it grow. Even though I get into his business, I would love to see mine grow so there can be more ‘Cuppies.’0