You can’t miss him in a crowd. He towers in height and shimmers in glowing skin. His demeanour is refreshing; so are his thoughts. He is a blend of shrewdness and creativity. He mixes splendour with brilliance; and rewards excellence with fame and fortune. He is global but he reckons with everything exceptionally local. Please, meet Alex Okosi. As the man at the helm of affairs at Viacom International Media Network Africa, he makes things happen. Vanessa Obioha writes about the executive vice-president and managing director of BET International and Viacom International Media Network Africa’s relentless spirit
He could have been Nigeria’s own Michael Jordan. Gracefully lanky but he didn’t get to play professional basketball – no regrets. Today, he brings African talents to the global scene. You can’t miss him in a crowd. He towers in height and shimmers in glowing skin. His demeanour is refreshing; so are his thoughts. He is a blend of shrewdness and creativity. He mixes splendour with brilliance; and rewards excellence with fame and fortune. He is global but he reckons with everything exceptionally local. Please, meet Alex Okosi. As the man at the helm of affairs at Viacom International Media Network Africa, he makes things happen. Through MTV Base Africa and other brands, Okosi has been able to place the continent in a positive light.
It was in 2005 that Okosi spearheaded the launch of MTV Base Africa, the African version of MTV Europe’s urban music service, MTV Base. The channel was launched with a piece of live music special with performances from local African and international artists. It was a huge welcome to local artistes like D’banj whose music career was just starting. As part of his goal, Okosi was focused on not only providing a platform that will showcase the diverse music and culture of Africans but also to create content that will attract globally. African music, particularly Nigeria at the time was steadily gaining recognition and Okosi understood the potentials of local talents. Three years later, he launched another initiative, this time around an award system that would reward creative talents. The MTV Africa Music Awards often called the MAMAs served as a vehicle for raising the profile and the earning power of African musicians.
It was the ‘it’ show for talents who looked forward to the international exposure the platform provided to climb the ladder of success, our own African Grammys. It was one place where African talents compete stiffly to win the coveted awards. It was a musical battleground for some of the major music artistes from South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria. Although the award’s consistency has dwindled in recent times, its impact on the Nigerian music scene cannot be overlooked. Some of the major winners from the award show were mostly Nigerians like D’banj and 2Baba, and even international acts like Rick Ross, Kelly Rowland and Akon.
With the passion which he drove the MTV Africa initiative, it was evident that Okosi who was born in Enugu and started his career at MTV in 1998 has one mission in mind: to reimagine Africa.
“When we launched MTV Base in 2005, our mission was to showcase a reimagined Africa. An Africa that was beautiful and we wanted to showcase that through music and talents. We have done a lot of work in that space that we are very proud of,” he said recently at a BET event.
Since he assumed his new role at BET International two years ago, Okosi has not rested on his oars. He is responsible for the management and the development and overall strategy for BET International while continuing to oversee entertainment brands MTV Base, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., NickToons, VH1 Classic and BET on the African continent.
The task is a herculean one which Okosi has somehow managed to handle well. He draws his energy from the opportunity to work across an incredible array of brands and with young Africans across the continent to be able to develop these brands and localize them. He modestly attributed his success to the team he works with who helped in bringing their vision into fruition.
As he leads the BET International, Okosi again is waving his magic wand, ensuring that Africa gets the spotlight. For almost two decades that the BET Awards — an award that celebrates the brightest African American stars across music, television, film, sports, and philanthropy — has held, the award category that recognizes Best International Act was not given during the main show. All of that changed immediately Okosi took over the reins. For the first time last year, the award was handed to the winner during the main show. That feat was celebrated in Nigeria mainly, as many have criticized the handling of the award backstage. More so, last year was won by Nigerian singer Davido. For Okosi, the change of rules signals that Nigerian music has gained global recognition.
“I think the reality is that BET started as a US brand. We grew it internationally and of course we start building and adding pieces,” he explained.
“The most exciting thing is that we are nowhere where the Best International Act is now given out in the live show. There are lots of awards that are not given out on the main show; I think that was what people didn’t understand initially. Our award is part of the main show and I think it is a great testimony of the network understanding that this music is international and it is recognised. For me that it is what I celebrate, for us to be able to get to that point is recognition of great work of the artiste. So beyond the main show, we also have the pre-show that goes to audiences across the US.” The International Act category has honoured previous African winners who have gone on to explore Africa’s culture proudly and become recognizable worldwide for their talent: from Nigeria’s 2face to D’banj in 2011, from Wizkid in 2017 to Ghana’s Sarkodie; and from Stonebwoy in 2012 and 2015 to South Africa’s Black Coffee in 2016.
This year’s edition scheduled for June 24 also has Nigerians nominated. Burna Boy and Mr. Eazi will be vying for the Best International Act while Teni Apata was nominated in the Best New International Act. For Okosi, it is great news for the continent.
“The awards this year will provide an amazing platform to highlight the Best International African talent that we have in the world. I think what is really great is that our music has really travelled, our artistes are travelling. They are delivering good music that the world wants to hear, their notoriety is rising. The BET Awards provide that, it is really a viable platform for them at least to be recognised globally. Just being nominated is tremendous. The BET brand is one of the top brands not only in the US but also globally when it comes to media,” he concluded.