Joey Akan is a massive name in the Nigerian music industry, and so is Asa Asika. Both gentlemen are of a different profession but the multi-billion Nigerian music industry. The former being a renowned journalist with access to many top names in the industry, thereby giving him the opportunity to interview and AR for many top artists. The later is an entrepreneur and music statement—the successful manager to many artists but well known for working as Davido’s manager.
Both men are kings at what they do. Check out this juicy exchange of information with both phenomenon, with Joey Akan dishing out intriguing questions and Asa Asika giving phenomenal answers.
Why are you in management?
I ended up here.
How did you end up here?
So obviously, I have family who has worked in the entertainment industry. When we were in secondary school, I used to do parties with my friends. What really got me involved in it was that we had a rap crew in our school. They were called the Bonafide crew. You know how in every school you have your local champion, they were our local champion in my secondary school. So they came to me one day saying ‘yo we want to get signed to your uncle’s record label’. At this point in time, I was very new to a lot of things going on in Nigeria, because I didn’t grow up in the typical Nigerian setting. So I was learning a lot of things about Nigeria. For instance: Primary school. I didn’t go to a school that taught the Nigerian curriculum till Primary 4, so I was slow about Nigerian general knowledge and stuff.
You were very sheltered?
I won’t say sheltered. I just didn’t go to a school with a Nigerian curriculum. I moved to Lagos and I moved to a primary school here, I was catching up with general knowledge and stuff. So I was catching up on general knowledge, talkless of Nigerian music. Obviously, I knew there was Nigerian music and Nigerian artists and all of that stuff. I always knew that I had a cool uncle in Lagos. But I had never really paid attention to it because at that point in time, it’s not like I’m going to a club or I’m actually buying music or stuff.
So when you came around you guys had a relationship?
Yeah, of course. Uncle Obi was my cool uncle. So my friend tells me that he wants to get signed to my uncle’s record label, and I’m like ‘all these ones that you people are talking is English to me. I don’t really know much about it.’ I go home and tell my Dad. I’m like: ‘I want to talk to Uncle Obi about this, that my friends say they want to get signed to his record label.’ My dad says: ‘don’t worry after school one day, I’d take you to his office. He takes me there, we have a conversation and Uncle Obi.
How was the conversation? How did he treat you?
Uncle Obi has always been a cool guy, so he was like ‘okay cool, where’s the music?’ Because Uncle Obi likes the idea of young kids trying to get into music. At that point, this was like 2005/ 2006 when the beginning of the new Afrobeats wave, with the D’Banj’s, the Naetos was about to start. D’Banj them had started. That time it was Jazzman, Dare, P-Square. Of course Uncle Obi was mad interested in the idea of a boy band or a young group. He said ‘bring them,’ they brought their music, we had a few meetings and off of that, I started getting dragged into the music. I was at that stage where you know how you do your secondary school parties and stuff. But the catch we had was…
Secondary school was when you struck this deal?
Yeah. The catch where I really got dragged in was because I used to throw parties with my friends. We ended up starting to use my parties, the younger parties, to promote Storm music in the younger crowds. So everybody knew that a party at Whitesands—because I went to Whitesands—or a party that Asa is involved in, Naeto C go show up or D’Banj go come. The first big party we did was at The Vault, and we had Naeto, Brackets, 2 Shotz, DJ Humility…
Wow. Were you guys paying them?
There was this thing back in the day called Junior Achievements. It teaches you how to be an entrepreneur. How to do a business, you invest your money and make some money. We did a t-shirt line, and then we has a launch party. At that point in time, Storm Music did one stuff at the time called Storm45 at Vault. So it was easy for me to get Vault. I think for that whole party, we spent less than N1 million for everything. N1 million then and N1 million now are completely different. We paid for the venue, we paid DJ Humility. The only artist we didn’t pay was Naeto, but we just had to fly Naeto from Abuja, I think. One of our guys lives in the same estate as Brackets, so Tosan got Brackets. 2 Shotz was signed to Storm then, and I was cool with him. I don’t think we paid 2 Shotz even. Or if we did, we paid him very very small. Everything we did was from favours. At that point in time, we had used DJ Humility for a few parties so I had a relationship with him and we had our rates.
It was really good. And from them on, we just started having parties. I remember we did one party at a place off Awolowo road that was the big one. We had D’Banj, Sauce Kid, Ikechukwu, Naeto, eLDee, everybody came to that one. And as I started growing older, I started doing events in clubs. My job at Storm was to make sure the music was being played in the clubs. Obviously, because I was doing events at clubs, I was building relationships with promoters and DJs. And then from that, I started doing club events for artists that weren’t signed to Storm. I can remember, the first non-Storm event that I did was Banky W’s club tour for ‘Lagos Party’. Then I did Sid’s ‘Something About You’, the “Turning Point” album. I did the club tour in Lagos. Then I started doing Wednesday nights at Rehab.
What were you learning from this time?
I’d say building a network and just proving to people what I could do. Because the biggest issue I had then was ‘who is this small boy?’ And a lot of people used to think that I just used to get favours because of who my uncle was and stuff like that. DJ Xclusive used to be in the UK then. I remember I wanted to do an event and I wanted Xclusive to DJ, because I had used him for one of our parties in London. At that time, Xclusive was like the poster boy of DJs. I remember convincing Rehab that ‘oh let’s bring Xclusive.’ I think that that was one of the parties that everybody was like ‘Asa really has a crowd, and he has a network and stuff.’
At that point in time, I think I was doing Wednesday nights at Rehab. Then I started getting allowed to do Friday nights once in a while. I remember one time I wanted to do, I think eLDee’s ‘Is It Your Money’ mixtape release party. It was a Wednesday. And people were like ‘it is a Wednesday. Do you think you can pull a crowd?’ And everybody started realising Asa has a crowd. Because you know with this kind of thing, your network is your strength. If you don’t have your crowd as a promoter, you’re useless. I learnt that you had to build a crowd. you have to have your loyalists. And you have to be offering something or doing something that other people couldn’t really do. And my major thing was that at my event; celebrities. At that time in Nigerian entertainment, Nigerin artists becoming celebrities was just becoming a thing. So I used that a lot. Even till today, Nigeria, we haven’t really embraced the club culture in terms of having like club gigs.
You know how in South Africa, it’s normal to have AKA performing in a club or Cassper Nyovest. In Nigeria, Davido, Burna Boy or Wizkid performing in a club is pretty much unheard of. Max, they’d do an appearance or they throw a party. I think that our club culture in Nigeria still has a long way to go and that’s one of the things I really want to change. With our Mainland Block Party for example; we’ve changed the narrative of the whole thing. You know how Nigerians want to go into the club, buy bottles and stand in the corner. Rather than having people really dance and listen to the music. With our Mainland Block Party, if you notice, the major thing is that as much as we have headline performers and stuff, we focus on the DJs. That’s why us having a Major Lazer headliner in December is important. We could have had an artist headline. Because this industry is more than just the artists. And the DJs play a huge part in it. I feel like we’re starting to respect them, but they don’t get the respect and recognition they should get.
This lockdown is even helping DJs. People have released how important the Nigerian DJs are. Every Nigerian DJ will tell you one thing about me is; till today, even with all our clients whether it’s Davido, Mayorkun or Oxlade, there’s a certain way they receive our music. There’s a certain way I relate with the DJs. I know how important the role of DJs is in a career. Call DJ Obi, call Spinall, if a Davido record is coming out on Friday, they have it in their emails the week before. They’ve played the song and are familiar with it. People always say to me, ‘how did ‘If’ get so big? or ‘Risky’?’ ‘If’ and ‘Risky’ for example, all the club DJs in Lagos had it ages before it came out. They heard the song, they liked the song. I had that cosign from DJs that ‘this is a hit.’ I already knew before putting it out that this one is going to clubs. For me, one legacy I want to leave is that I did more than just contribute to the artists. It’s a big playing field. I want everyone to say that yes, this guy did this, this guy did that. Producers, songwriters, DJs, everybody deserves a slice of the cake man.
When did you decide to become a talent manager?
You know, saying to babes ‘I’m this guy’s manager’ is mad cool. While at Storm, I was lucky because Storm had a very nice roster. So when I was doing stuff in clubs for Naeto, Ikechukwu, Sasha, Eldee, YQ, Sinzu—and I guess what it was was that as I grew up—people saw that Asa can handle more than just this. The first person to actually say to me that ‘come and manage me’ was YQ. And had a very decent run at that point in time. We had ‘I Like Girls.’ YQ had quite a decent number of good features. For the first artist I worked with, I think I did quite well. I worked with R2Bees for a while, when they had that Nigerian run. ‘Kiss Your Hand’ with Wande. They were here for like a year or two. That was me. Then obviously, I worked with Naeto for a while. But my first full fledged management job where everything was on my head was David.
How did you guys meet? What was the first time you guys met?
I can’t remember the first time I and David met.
But when did you notice David?
You know how Lagos is now, you go to certain schools, you’re going to have mutual friends. So David went to BIS, I went to Whitesands. There were guys in my class that moved to BIS in David’s class and vice versa. We had a few of those kinds of friends. We knew each other. I knew there was this guy David that used to make music. Our friends were always saying, ‘ah we will like two of you to do stuff together.’ We always used to have conversations and stuff. And then at this time, David wasn’t only interested in being an artist. He wanted to be a producer and run a label. David had called me before saying ‘oh my cousin is putting out music blah blah blah. We would try and do some stuff but it never really gelled
Was it B-Red?
No, NPZ. It never gelled for multiple reasons, school, Nero NPZ was still doing his own stuff. But when we were like okay, let’s actually give this thing a shot was when David said, ‘you know what? I’m coming to Nigeria and I want to be the artist.’ That was in late 2010.
Were you surprised he wanted to be an artist?
I always knew he was going to end up being an artist.
Because I had been around him long enough. And I used to say to him: ‘guy, you’re better than all these guys you’re making beats and writing songs for.’ We always used to say it. You can do this thing better than all these people. So eventually, he gave it a shot, made a few songs. He had become a local champion in our social circle. Everybody knew that yes, David can blow. It was just a thing of now making him mainstream. So David calls me like ‘I’m ready to move back to Nigeria. I think I have my first single which is ‘Back When’. He came back to Nigeria, got the finishing touches for the song. We got Naeto on it.
Did you believe in the single?
Yeah. I loved ‘Back When’. And at that point in time, ‘Back When’ was the kind of music everybody was dancing to. Naeto was hot at that time, that feature helped a lot. And at this point in time, remember, I had built this whole network of club DJs and promoters and stuff. When David came back, it was just more of a thing of like putting him into the system, which we did. We put out ‘Back When’. It did what we wanted it to do. It wasn’t the biggest song in the world, but it opened us and pushed him into another level in his career. That’s still like my first delve into management.
What’s the difference between being a promoter and talent manager?
There are similarities and a few differences. Being a manager, you’re managing someone. You’re responsible for someone’s career. It’s more personal. You’re making decisions on behalf of somebody also. There’s a lot more strategy in it. You have to think like ten steps ahead, stuff like that. I would say it’s a bit more personal because all the relationships you’ve built from being a promoter, you now have to use them in a certain way. It’s way more personal. It is completely different from when someone is coming into a club and you’re giving him drinks, you’re giving him a table. It’s completely different.
Initially, were there any challenges?
Everybody knows the challenges we faced with David’s case. David’s case was a very peculiar case because obviously he didn’t have the support of his family. And you know how it is in Nigeria. Doing something different from what your parents want you to do is already wahala on its own. We had to first prove to his dad to an extent that this was something we wanted to do. That it was viable and sustainable. That was the first challenge after putting out the music. Then after gaining the buzz, now maintaining that buzz and doing stuff in a certain way, where at the same time you’re still not pissing off your family. Everybody knows the story. Just balancing everything.
But for you as a person, as David grew, you became more famous in a certain way. What did that do to you?
I tell people all the time. At the beginning stages of David’s career, David and I, it was completely different for us. Because as much as people say ‘oh you have this guy supporting you and backing you, I wasn’t calling Uncle Obi, saying ‘Uncle Obi help me do this’ or call Naeto saying do ‘this for me.’ We were still on our own. I was learning on the job, David was learning on the job. We made mistakes. When you’re young and you start making some amount of money, you misbehave. It got to our heads, we were rude to a few people we didn’t need to be rude to. Also you have to remember, in Nigeria we were always on the defense because there was always ‘who are the small boys?’
But why do you think this ageism exist is in Nigeria?
It’s the way we were brought up.
But you guys pulled through.
Yeah, we pulled through. We thank God.
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