• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Rikki Stein discusses the Business of Music

Rikki Stein at the British Library Celebration
Energetic dancers from Fela! The Broadway Musical in Concert, Lagos

Fela! The Broadway Musical in Concert took Lagos by storm this past weekend with back-to-back performances for three evenings. Members of the orginal Fela! On Broadway cast were present and the energy from Sahr Ngaujah (who plays Fela), the dancers, and the live band was an out of this world experience. Each belted out tune, played instrument, and acrobatic step paid tribute to the legend of Fela who was more movement than man.

Fela’s manager for 14 years, RIKKI STEIN has been described as one of the few who knew the musician intimately. In between stage run-throughs and rehearsals, BUSINESSDAY sat down for a chat with this 74- year old world acclaimed music promoter. Here is what he had to say about African artistes, digesting music, and digitally remastering Fela’s songs.

Fela in the 21st century                              

It took 10 years to digitally remaster Fela’s songs. Some of those songs were recorded with primitive equipment. We got rid of all the click and clacks and could only do 10 minutes a day, so it took 10 years. Now, when you listen to Fela’s music, it sounds fresh like it was just recorded today.

Involvement with Okayafrica

As an international adviser to AFRIMA, I was looking through the nominees from the last few years and noticed that these artistes have solidified themselves in their regions and the attached diaspora, but nobody has heard about them outside of that. Okaymusic is a digital music platform we have created to solve this problem. Every artiste who signs with us will have their music uploaded to all major digital platforms.We have also attained Apple music curator status which enables us to post a playlist every week. This is important to bring these artistes to people’s attention. Currently, we’ve signed on Iceprince, Becca, 2Face, Brymo, Niyola, and Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania.

What got you started on the path of promoting music?

I must be a genetic manager. I couldn’t help myself. I don’t like to be upfront too much and I’m quite happy to stay in the background. People say Rikki, “we don’t know what you do but we like it.” I tell artistes, I play the telephone. If I don’t play mine, you can’t play yours. I love my job even though it’s a stupid job because it is basically a cross between a fireman and a psychiatric nurse. You have to be crazy to do this 7 days a week. People ask when I will retire, and I say I wouldn’t stop until I drop.

The New Afrika Shrine replaced the old arena where Fela performed to teeming crowds

We are thoroughly entertained by music, but is there more to this art form?

We need music. Music is protein. Just as you eat and do. The protein allows you to act and spend what you have absorbed. When we listen to music, it cleanses us and allows us to do. In the shrine, we never used to applaud Fela because everyone is involved in this underground spiritual game. The artiste gives music, you in the audience receives it, and in appreciation/acknowledgement, your feedback is received by the artiste. Thus, you leave the venue a happier person ready to translate this energy to something else. In movies, we are engrossed in the story and don’t notice the music, but it is there doing something. We sometimes forget that music is a healing form designed to heal ailments of heart, mind, and spirit.

Several artistes have failed because of poor management, what needs to be known about the business of promoting music?

It is easy to blame the manager. Of course, it can be the cause, but it can also be a combination of other factors. Some artistes sell out live shows but haven’t sold many records. In this new age of digital, a lot of responsibility is thrown back to the artiste. You cannot just leave it to the promoter to do. A diligent manager can achieve results that cannot be gotten elsewhere. Even when mishaps happen, failure is part of the journey. Be prepared to get up. It helps you re-examine the process, so be happy for the opportunity to do so.

How have you been able to assemble the right team through the years?

I follow my nose and give everybody a chance to be fantastic. In 2011, I brought 40 tons of equipment and 80 people to the “Land of lastminute.com”, Lagos for Fela! On Broadway. The team was from Marseille, Calabar, Mali, England, and New York. We work round the clock on these shows because we love what we do.

Your advice to musicians would be?

From what I can tell, those artistes who are visible, that is 2face, Wizkid, and Davido are just a tip of the iceberg, underneath which is a seething mass of talent and aspiration. Spend less time thinking about what people want to hear and spend more time investigating what is in your belly. What is your vision? Fela used his music as a polished extraordinary vehicle in which to transport his message. Alas! His message is still relevant today not just here in Nigeria, but globally. That concept of the chosen few and this tendency to normalize corruption. From the song, Just Like That, “Nothing to give the youth good example” is a line that resonates with me.

Featured image courtesy of BBC