Cecil Hammond, President Flytime Group and owner of Flytime Promotions has for 15 years been behind the scene of grooming and churning out great musicians in the Nigerian music industry. To his credit, he has done over 40 shows nationwide, promoting young African talents and has been at the forefront of the showbiz industry through his popular concert, Pepsi Rhythm Unplugged, which is a meeting point for musicians and comedians. This year, the concert which has become an epitome of musical evolution in Nigeria, for the first time since its inception, will be held for five days with a line-up of legendary acts, to celebrate the successes of Nigerian artistes in commemoration of the organisation’s 15 years of remarkable concerts. Reflecting on the journey so far, Hammond, in this interview with MARY NNAH, said the upcoming event is one of the biggest risks he has taken in 15 years
At what point did you think that music concert was the way to go?
I used to go for some small events back then in 2003. I listen to the radio a lot and I love Nigerian music. What you guys don’t know or maybe you know, is that Ben Bruce is my uncle. So, I have always been in the entertainment space and I believed it could be better. So, one day I said to myself that I want to bring the best of Nigerian music and comedy on stage. I started talking about my idea to my uncle, Ben Bruce, a lot of others in the entertainment industry, artistes like Tuface Idibia, Style Plus, African China and others and they all supported me. And when they said this is their fee, I told them I don’t have such money, besides, we didn’t have any sponsorship then because it was the first of its kind; nobody was ready to bring out any kind of cash to sponsor the show. So, everything was done out of trust with the artistes.
The first edition of the show was in 2004 at Fantasyland, Ikoyi. As at then, I never really understood the mind-set of Nigerians with keeping to time, because by 7 pm, when the show was to start, we sold only 100 tickets. Because it was my first show, I was almost giving up; I went somewhere to calm my nerves. I was somewhat frustrated, I didn’t understand how I could have the top artistes and comedians on one show and only 100 tickets have been sold. I came back after two hours, around 9pm, surprisingly there were so many people outside Fantasyland; it felt like I was in a different place, I could not believe that so many people were there. I was shocked.
I entered inside and saw that there were so many people outside as were inside. That was when I knew that Nigerians were last-minute people; before that, they almost gave me a ‘stroke’. However, the show was very successful. We then decided to do the next show a few months later; which we took to Port Harcourt, Benin, Jos and Abuja. However, the shows outside Lagos were not really profit-making because we charged a lot less for a ticket. We also had logistics issues and other difficulties, but I just had to promote the brand by taking the show to other states too. However, all the artistes were very supportive, even up till today, because they did not charge for other states as much as they would in Lagos.
Today, Rhythm Unplugged is currently West Africa’s longest running music concert hosted by Flytime Promotions in Nigeria. The concert, which has been running for 15 years, celebrates Nigerian and upcoming African artists in the music industry.
Kicking off in 2004, the event has since hosted some of the biggest artists in Nigeria and continued in its style of unveiling new and exposing old artists in Nigeria to perform live to large individual and corporate audiences.
Do you think it would have been as easier as it seems, if you did not have all the connections you had right from the onset, like your uncle and the likes?
No, it would have been a lot harder. I have had the support of Rhythm 97.5 FM and Silverbird TV from the onset, these are my major media sponsors and so they made things a bit easier for me.
What is the biggest risk you have every taken on this journey?
My upcoming five-day concert scheduled to hold from December 20- 25, 2019 at the Eko Convention Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, tagged, “Nigeria to the World”, is the biggest risks I’ve taken in 15 years. It is five days back to back and that is risky because you are virtually begging people to come for the five days and to actually use their hard earned cash to purchase the tickets for the five days.
Has there been challenge you faced since you started out with Rhythm Unplugged?
The greatest challenge really up until now is sponsorship because every year, the artist’s fees go up drastically. Like someone you paid N3 million last year, is now N10 million while someone you paid N5 million last year is N15 million this year. Some people think some artists do things for us free of charge, which is not the case. We actually pay for every single performance we have on stage. So, it is really sponsorship. And another big problem have now is the venue. As you know, the biggest venue we have now is the Eko Convention Centre in Lagos but I believe that if they build somewhere bigger, it would be better for us. If I have bigger venue, I can charge less for ticket sales. And the only reason why we sell tables, it’s so that we can meet up with cost for our show. Not that we want to charge those people so much or segregate others, that is not the case’ it is because we want to pay for our cost. So, if we have a bigger venue, we can actually just do a N5, 000, N10, 000 or even N20, 000 concerts and the same for everybody.
However, the good thing is that we have people who believe in the brand and they keep on coming. Another thing with sponsorship is that they need to know that you believe in yourself and you are consistent and you are ready to show the people that you believe in your work.
Was there any point you felt like quitting due to certain challenges you faced at the start?
Never! I believe that if other countries could do great concerts, why shouldn’t we. A lot of people didn’t actually believe that Nigeria music would be where it is today but I believed it would since 2003. I have always been a lover of entertainment. I loved the Nigeria music and I was like why can’t we go international. When I started, I was very close to D’banj and Don Jazzy. I did a lot with them and we flew in and out of the country a lot. I know the kind of mileage they were getting and that made me believe more and in the Nigeria music. In the music industry there is a lot of money as regards to the artists’ fees and not concerts. I did it for the love and not for the money. And because of my passion for music, I knew we would get there even though we run losses sometimes. Still, we have been soaring higher. The truth is, artists make the money; we just try and break-even. We are just passionate about it, which is why the only thing that has seen Rhythm Unplugged through all these years is the passion I have for music. I have lost a lot of money to music shows, but I kept on going without backing down. A person without passion would have given up. I just believed that we needed to promote more and people need to believe in them more. However, our saving grace is being surrounded by people who believe in the brand.
The Nigeria music industry keeps evolving year after year, so where do you see the industry in five years to come?
In five years, we are going to be huge. Already we are huge with the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage and others making big moves in the United States and United Kingdom, in five years we are going to take over. I see the Nigerian music industry getting bigger in the next five years as long as the international community continues to play our songs.
What should people look forward to for this year’s edition of Rhythm Unplugged?
We have always done three days concert for Rhythm Unplugged but now the Flytime Music Festival; this year we are doing five days back to back. The concert will be held at Eko Convention Centre in Lagos for five days, starting from December 20 -24 and then finally the festival will close on December 25, Christmas Day, with a headliner concert by world renowned A-list Nigerian artist, multiple award winners, and Grammy Award nominee, Burna Boy. The 2019 Flytime Music Festival promises to be just as exciting with a carefully selected line-up of musicians and fan favourites from home and abroad.
On the day one, which is December 20, 2019, we will kick off with the longest running concert in West Africa, with the hottest Nigerian artists and upcoming acts. American rapper and songwriter, Mase and Jamaican Reggae singer, songwriter, rapper, Koffee and several other surprise acts will grace the stage to thrill over 5,000 attendees.
While on day two, December 21, we will have attendees traveling down memory lane with American R&B and hip hop vocal group, Boyz II Men. Concert goers will remember last year when RBRM with Bobby Brown and Bel Biv DeVoe shut down the stage! Boyz II Men will also be as mesmerising, as they perform ‘End of the Road’, ‘I’ll Make Love to You’ and many more.
We have always been proud to launch upcoming Nigerian artists to stardom from the Flytime stage. 2019 is no different as we introduce a new concert franchise, an Alternative style night. This is the focus of Day three. So, the day three December 22, will showcase Nigeria’s new unique sound with artists that are showcasing their musical freedom. The newest franchise to the Flytime Festival line-up will also star the hottest girl of the summer, American rapper, singer and songwriter, Megan Thee Stallion.
2019 as the celebration of our 15 years of existence will play host to two headliner acts over two days. So, day four’s headliner, December 23, will be “Everything Savage” with African Bad Gyal, Tiwa Savage. Concertgoers can expect a mind blowing experience as the African queen of afro-pop, takes us back in time with songs like, ‘Love Me’, ‘Kele Kele Love’ to the recent chart topper; ‘49-99’.
Day 5, December 25 would be lit! The festival’s last day will be shut down only as the evening holds one of the biggest headlining concerts Lagos has ever seen. Hence, the festival will come to a close on Christmas Day with a headliner concert by world renowned A-list Nigerian artist, multiple award winners, and Grammy Award nominee, Burna Boy. All shows will take place at Eko Convention Centre; Victoria Island as Flytime Promotions treats guests to the biggest Christmas concert ever.