In Music, Talent is Useful, but not Enough

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Laolu Akins

Legendary music producer, Olaoluwa Akintobi popularly known as Laolu Akins, has worked with great artistes such as Shina Peters, Onyeka Onwenu, Adewale Ayuba, Mike Okri and late Christy Essien-Igbokwe. He was the producer of Shina Peter’s “Ace” and “Shinamania” albums. He also produced Ayuba’s “Bubble” album, as well as being the supervising producer of the maiden recording of P-Square’s titled “Where were you last night?” Akins, who is also a drummer, talks to Festus Akanbi on current trends in the Nigerian music industry

Nigerian music industry is changing like every other. Do you think old generation musicians are still relevant in the emerging dispensation crying for a generational change?

It is a natural phenomenon for things to change in life generally, and it should not be different for the music industry. It’s the kind of change or changes that occur that’s important, is it for good or otherwise? As for the relevance of older artistes, any industry that jettisons its history would have nothing to learn from or make references; therefore, growth will be an illusion. So, I believe the older generation is still relevant even if only for guidance and counseling. But we can and are doing much more by being the backbone of the industry.

Your consistence in the Nigerian music industry is a confirmation of your position. What will you describe as your staying power?

Well, I believe the grace of God has been at play because I have had great opportunities to entrench myself through exposure, learning and continuous work in every aspect of the industry. I have been a performer on stage with small medium and big and renowned artistes all around the world. I have worked on production sessions behind other artistes and have been in charge of small and big productions myself both on stage and studio. I have continued to take advantage of any and every opportunity to expand my knowledge by learning tricks both in terms of old and new technology and I am not lazy. I also love and enjoy what I do and have tried to embrace every generational development in our industry without discriminating against anything or anyone.

What is the nature of the relationship you had with those music stars you produced? Names like Sir Shina Peters, Onyeka Onwenu, Adewale Ayuba and Salawa Abeni come to mind here?

Very cordial and harmonious. I have been very lucky with the artistes that passed through me or vice versa and we have enjoyed great relationships. Not that we have not disagreed on issues, whether in the course of work or otherwise, but we have allowed the spirit of understanding, giving and taking to rule while focusing on what we are engaged in and the results we looked to achieve. There’s been great mutual respect and cooperation and each part has played their respective roles accordingly.

How were you able to manage stars like Christy Essien and the Lijadu sisters?

With all sense of responsibility and sincerity, our roles are different but related and our goals often the same i.e. to achieve success in what brought us together. No airs, each party understood the roles required of and recognised our individual responsibilities and line of controls and decision making. With those in place, it was easier to be focused on joint results and not occupied with undue and unnecessary diversions.

You were a prolific drummer. Do you think there is any major role for drummers in these days of technology?

Definitely, the drummer has remained and will continue to be the foundation of any ensemble of musicians. Talking from experience, a lost drummer will lead the entire orchestra, band or quartet astray, which is why even today in modern technological developments, rhythm instruments are paramount in the digital domain, and software developments come with onboard rhythm instrument of all shades and forms for a variety of usage when you’re composing or producing music. Drums are a major instrument and drummers will never take the back seat in music.

Will you say anything has changed in the Nigerian music industry?

Many things have definitely, some good and some not good. Today the Nigerian musician can access the entire world without leaving Nigeria and sell his music while hitherto we depended on international records companies to give our music exposure which was a tough cookie at the time. They were simply not interested but will rather sell us theirs. Also, technological advancements have opened the space for better and wider opportunities so our music has more listening ears now more than ever and the attention of the world’s music industry has been drawn to us and all that is good. But the not so healthy part is that we are not ready, structurally, to take advantage of these positive developments.

We are still vulnerable in the hands of the well- established industries outside our shores, who are happy to collaborate and still take advantage of our weak structures and lack of cohesion and understanding of the workings of the global music business. Added to that is the quality of music we are making. Content wise, we should be doing better, copying and repetitive styles is the order of the themes. Everyone seems to believe that unless they do dance music, fill up the lines with street and vulgar language, it won’t sell. What then happens is that the interest is beginning to shift back to older music and artistes which have now been labelled “Legacy Sounds”. I think we need to be more creative and daring with our creativity. There is so much room for success now that the entire world is keen to hear our stuff.

What was your experience like during the tour of Europe and America by SALT?

It was exciting, and was the beginning of my real exposure to the world and the key that opened the door to where God has placed me today, both as a person and as a music industry professional. It opened my eyes, my ears and my mind to significant possibilities some of which was responsible for my decision to dig deeper into the industry. It was actually a turning point for me.

Is concert culture dying in the Nigeria music scene?

Not really, the various problems we have created by ourselves as a nation are holding us down from expanding the scope of live music and audience participation. Problems of insecurity, brought about by bad governance, lack of confidence and fear of losses by investors, economic instability and lack of proper entertainment structures to front the push for a virile concert culture. It was not bad until COVID-19 made matters worse and now the #EndSars imbroglio. My prayer is that all these negatives get turned around for the better and we can rebuild.

What is your advice for upcoming musicians and producers?

My advice is that every serious musician or producer is to first make a firm decision and be sure he/she is ready for the music business plunge, then open their ears, eyes and mind so they can hear, see and be able to identify opportunities when they appear, be ready to make the sacrifices necessary to learn, to give and take and then develop himself/herself to be able to face and over challenges when they occur. The industry is full of challenges, talent is useful but not enough. Hard work, sincerity, humility fairness, sense of appreciation and compassion will help.