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Passion, loyalty define who I work with, says Don Jazzy

Don Jazzy was guest of Fidelity SME Forum, a weekly radio programme by Fidelity Bank Plc to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. This month, Fidelity Bank Plc hosted a series highlighting the business side of entertainment and the opportunities that exist. Headlining the series was Don Jazzy, Founder & CEO of the Supreme Mavin Dynasty. On this episode, he shared insights on ‘Understanding the Business Side of the Nigerian Entertainment Industry,’ with the MD & CEO of Fidelity Bank Plc., Nnamdi Okonkwo, moderating. Excerpts:

When we started this programme, the whole idea was to talk to entrepreneurs and let them share their life experiences in business in a manner that inspires people and motivates them to achieve the kind of success that they have achieved. I am sure your story has been told multiple times over. However, in terms of business, tell us how it all began as well as your journey in the entertainment business so far?
No matter how many times I get asked this question, I never get tired of answering it because there is always someone new in the audience who would like to know exactly how we got to where we are now. Before I proceed, I would like to say thank and appreciate Fidelity Bank for creating this platform for us to talk to the people. It is really an honour. My name is Michael Collins Ajere Enebeli and I am from Delta state. I was born in my mother’ hometown of Umuahia in Abia state. We moved to Lagos at some point and I grew up in Awodiora estate in Ajegunle, Lagos. This was where all my other siblings also grew up.

My childhood was pretty much about a young boy helping his parents to raise money as well as raise the children. Going to church on weekends to help make music was an opportunity for me to learn how to play the instruments. I did that up until I turned 18 years old and an uncle of mine decided to take me to the U.K. He wanted me to go there and teach some of the musicians they had in the church. The church is Cherubim and Seraphim, one which people frown at because we wear white garment. It is the church I was born in and I have never seen them doing any rituals or anything of the sort. In the U.K., there were not many people who were confident enough in wearing the white garment to church. I guess that was the reason why my uncle thought I would be the one to come over and teach the church members over there. Eventually, after I got there, I got the church running smoothly. Along the line, I dabbled into playing music with some good fellows I met. I started with a group called Solek Crew, but at some point, we went our separate ways before I moved into another group called JJC & 419 Squad. I worked there for a while and learned the ropes of music production from the guys at JJC & 419 squad. While I was with them, I had become quite good at what I do now before I met D’Banj. We both decided to work on his album and by the time we were done with it, we thought about where we would sell it. Eventually, we decided to go back to Nigeria, where the people understood what we were doing. D’Banj’s album got released immediately after we got back to Nigerian and as God would have it, the rest is history.

 Thinking about your journey, right from the time of Tongolo, it appears that someone was definitely behind the scenes handling things in terms of production and business. Using this as an anchor, what would you say were your strategic or deliberate plans concerning how to make money out of music?
When we started at first, it wasn’t really seen as a business to us. We were just guys that had the passion for the music. We knew that if we had good products to sell, we would get popular and then the money would start to come. We were not thinking about the labour or capital initially. Later on, we started looking at it as a viable business before we decided to start structuring things. I actually think we started late in putting together a structure for the business. I got it right a little bit with Mo’Hits Records, but I perfected it with Mavin Records. However, I would say that with the mistakes we made from Mo’Hits Records where we were just learning on the go, we got better at doing things in Mavin where we just put what we had learned to play.

I must say that you have really taken your game to the next level. Just like you have in the music industry, there is collaboration and most importantly, there is teamwork. In the banking industry, for instance, if a company approaches me to provide financing for a new factory and it gets too huge for me as one bank, I invite other banks into a syndication where we share the risks and create syndicated loans. Listening to some of your productions, I can see a kind of syndication going on where someone commences and then the others take over. In that scenario, were you thinking about the business side of things? Do you think that if you did not make such combinations, the songs would not be hits or were you just thinking only about the business side?
The first song collaboration that we did was Dorobucci before Looku Looku. I recently signed new artistes and three of them are relatively new in the game. We thought of the best ways to get them as popular as possible, riding off the popularity of me, Tiwa Savage and D’Prince, and so we decided to do the collaboration. We do that from time to time. Although, it is easier for you to go to the radio stations and introduce yourself and your song with features by Don Jazzy and Tiwa Savage.

The Dorobucci song, for instance, is up on YouTube with over 20 million views. With that, the artistes have already gotten that face time that they would have been looking for as newbies in the game. We replicated the same with the Adaobi song, which just had three young artistes and me in it. Also, for the people that know me and want to see me will have no choice than to see my other people as well. It got them popular faster. We think of these factors before we make such moves. Now that I have signed new artistes, I may think of some other ways to incorporate them.

What you have done here in my business world is called branding. You come up with words like “Dorobucci” and “Eminado” which become national vocabulary. During these moments, were you really thinking of branding from the business side of view or did they just happen?
I created the word “Dorobucci,” but I was not thinking of branding at the time. I just wanted the talking points on “Dorobucci”. The more people kept asking about it, the more it got popular. I also considered the use of social media in this case. For instance, when you use the hashtag “#Dorobucci,” you see only us and no one else. Meanwhile, if you use the hashtag “#Inspiration”, you may see Inspiration FM or Inspiration Ghana and so on. With that, you cannot really tell the growth of your product. What I wanted was a place I could check and see the success of the product on its own.

With your experience in the music industry, what areas do you think can be good entry points for people interested in going into the music business?
There are lots of things that people can do in this space. One of the challenges that we have in the industry is actually human resources. We are looking for people that can handle different things. For example, Mavin is successful today not just because of Don Jazzy, but because I give professionals different arms of the business to handle. Whatever you feel is your selling point or an area you feel you can handle best, please go for it. For instance, I have songwriters, dancers, PR experts in my team.

 What factors do you consider before you accept going for a show?
First, it depends on which artiste you are talking about. For me personally, the money has to be high, because I am not an artiste, so you will have to pay for convincing me to come and perform on your show. For the real artistes, it depends on the location, the brand, the sponsors, and then the fees.

What are the factors you consider before you sign an artiste to Mavin records?
I have had different reasons for signing almost every artiste under the Mavin label. There is no one that has been the same. If I am looking for an artiste, it’s either I put out a word or they contact me. There are others that get to me through someone else that knows me closely. In business nowadays, people always forget to work with the heart. It is not every time that you go for skills. Aside the fact that my people have skills, I also look at the heart before I then look at the long term. It is better for me if we can work longer together instead of us to work for only a short period because you feel you have too much skills. If I see loyalty in the person, I know that he or she is someone I can bring up.

The biggest problem of most businesses in Nigeria today is succession. Of all the big industrialists we have had in this country, only about 10 of them would you see their children running those family businesses successfully today. For your business, do you envision a situation in the future where your grandson is still running Supreme Mavin? What are you doing to perpetuate this business to ensure that once you are gone, your legacy still lives on?
I started planning this since three years ago. I have looked at the music industry and I understand it to the point where I realise that you cannot be perfect forever. I look at people like Mohammed Ali. They say he is the greatest. However, can you imagine what Mohammed Ali would have been if he was the one that founded and managed Mike Tyson? I have a bunch of people under me that are going to take over after my time.