Mike Dada is the executive producer of All African Music Awards (AFRIMA); in this interview, he spoke to CHARLES OKOGENE, on the challenges of organising the award, the preparations for this year’s edition and what to expect from the award which is scheduled for November.
Can you capture for us how the journey of AFRIMA has been?
Well, like in every journey, it has been exciting, challenging and above all, full of experiences. We are glad that we are moving ahead; this year will be our fourth edition; one of our objectives is to provide a platform where artistes in the continent and beyond can connect with each other and that we have been able to achieve so far. We are also glad that the people of Africa have embraced it. We have used it to tell the real story of African music and add value to it and the artistes themselves have taken it up. Every year we have the biggest African artistes attending. Preparation for the award starts every year from March till November. These are our objectives; to connect people, connect cultures and we are meeting them. Generally the journey has been exciting.
You are already in the thick of the preparation for this year’s edition; what are we to expect and where will it take place?
The announcement of the host country will be done in the next two weeks; the AU Commission will take the crucial decision but I can tell you that four countries have signified interest to host the award and they are Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana and South Africa. The date has also been scheduled already. It is November 9 to 12 2017. As for what to expect, all I can say is that we will raise the bar again. Expect all the razzamatazz that accompany music awards that is as big as AFRIMA. That decision will be taken on August 11 and thereafter we announce the host country.
We noticed that funding for events like this is not a tea party; how have you been able to attract sponsors?
That has been our biggest challenge. You know more than I do that to produce an award as big as AFRIMA, we need huge funding and we also knew it from day one that it won’t be easy. We knew it won’t be a walk in the garden and we were prepared for it. We were prepared to confront the challenge. It is either the economy of the continent or sponsors are not ready to take on such a huge show. But one cannot take it away from the economy of the continent which is not that strong. Attracting funding or sponsors has been a major challenge but we are getting around it and we will continue to because we were prepared for it. However, the funding so far has been through entrepreneurial effort, individual doggedness by partners, colleagues and board of international trustees who feel that whether there is sponsor or not, the show must go on. And mind you, for an organisation to sponsor this award such company must operate at the national or continental level; and the question you ask yourself is, ‘how many brands in Africa operate at continental level that are genuinely committed or grown out of Africa that will commit the kind of money we need to host the award.’ But again, a lot of brands want to sponsor the award because they want to use the platform to connect with their consumers; while AFRIMA provides that platform, the question again is, do they have the right budget? Do they have the capacity and will to do that? That has been our major challenge and we are confronting it.
How can you rate the impact of the award on the winners – especially the artistes?
Yeah, my background is PR (public relations) and marketing. We know that AFRIMA is a good brand and one of the things that gives me joy is the outcome of the award on the career of the artistes; some, if not all the artistes that have won the award, have come with stories of incremental development in their career. I am aware of a lady that was unknown until she won AFRIMA award; her name is Iyalla. She won the award, Revelation of the Year, in 2014 and by the following year, what she was collecting as performance fee was quadrupled so much that she built a house for her parents, became a role model in her village where girl-child marriage was the in thing; when she won the award, she became very popular and all that girl-child marriage became a thing of the past. These are some of the impact the award has on winners and in some countries some of the artistes are welcomed with ovation after winning the award, so it is an indication that the award is credible and we are so concerned and committed about the credibility of the award. That is why when people say we should add cash to the award; we ask them how much money is enough. What is important is that they are recognised by the platform, by AU, by the African people and of course they go home with 3.9 carat gold diadem which of course indicates that such artiste is the best in Africa. And so, if they have capacity to build upon that, they have a very good channel to do that.
Credibility is very key for us because over the years, we have come to realise that is one thing that nobody can take away. We are committed to ensuring that the process of selecting the winners is very credible and transparent. Our 13-man jury comes from all regions in the continent and we recognise those in the Diaspora too. We have auditors and for this year, we have signed on a reputable auditing firm that will examine what our judges have done. That is why the award is always full of surprises because the artistes people think will win never get to win. We have told them that they have to communicate; you have to mobilise people to vote for you if you must win AFRIMA Award. If you win AFRIMA Award, you have won a very transparent award.
What are the criteria for those who are selected as members of the board of jury?
We consider many factors; one, generational, two, genre of music and so on. And among the jury members we have music producers, musicologists, members of the media ( music and entertainment journalists), we have veteran musicians, promotion executives and we have different generations and age brackets, genders and they are drawn from all regions of the continent – Anglophone, Francophone and so on. Integrity, credibility and character are very key to us and at the end of the day, applications are submitted from different regions. We do background check and not only that, every three years we review their membership of the board and those who have performed well are retained. One of our judges is the one that produced Magic System, the musical group from Cote D’Ivorie. We have both the old and the young on the board so that at the end of the day, no generation is left behind. So, those are the criteria we look at before appointing our judges.
We have seen many music awards in Africa, especially in Nigeria come and go, what are you putting in place to make sure that AFRIMA will outlive those who pioneered it?
Thank you for that question; for me that is my key objective. I want a situation where there will be the 50th edition of AFRIMA and which means that by then, most of us who started it will not be alive to see that edition; that is the implication. And for that to happen, there must be an enduring structure that is sustainable for AFRIMA to be self-sustaining. For me, I do not intend to stay in this position in AFRIMA forever; aside the fact that it takes away one’s life away, takes you away from your family, it is also a very stressful and demanding job. And so, it is not something somebody will do for a long time. After the first five years, my decision will be whether to quit or take another shot at it. We also have a succession plan and we also want more people to come on board. In AFRIMA we do not run a one man show. That is why I try very hard not to project myself too much in the face of people. It is deliberate; except for those in the industry, not many people know that I am involved in AFRIMA. Our decisions are collectively arrived at. That is how the secretariat works; we carry everybody along because we do not want a situation where people will think it is Anglophone or Francophone affair. No, and in that way, the award will outlive us. We are putting structures that will help the award stay alive for a very long time.
How have you been able to manage the Anglophone/Francophone mutual suspicion that has always created problem in an organization such as this?
One thing is that the platform is the power of music and music is a universal language. Yes, while that dichotomy or suspicion might be very obvious in other sectors, it is not very visible or pronounced here. And what has worked for us here is that rather than being a minus, it a strength for us as many of us have been forced to learn French or English as the case may be. For instance, I have been forced to learn French and one of the judges promised that this time next year he will not need an interpreter; that he will express himself in English. Some people are also learning Portuguese. So that has been a strong point for us.