Friday, 26 June 2009

… And the grove goes on for doctor entertainer

HE was on phone when I arrived at the restaurant on the Lagos Island, where we had scheduled to meet. However, Ayo Osunrinade managed to signal me into the bar, with the telephone conversation still on.
From close observation, the lengthy phone call that rainy afternoon has something to do with It’s Friday Night, an evening of live entertainment, which debuts on June 26, at the newly opened Landmark Village. We actually got feelers about the up-coming show, so, we made effort to unveil the brains behind the gig; hands keep pointing at the UK based Osunrinade.
“What we are about to do is entirely different from the usual concerts you see in Nigeria,” he says, calling for his laptop, which one of his men brought within seconds.
He inserted a CD containing the radio jingle for the show, which he played twice, with the voice of a UK based comedian, Eddie Kadi on the background. Creative concept, if you ask me.
“The jingle is already on some of the radio stations in Lagos and others more to come. This is something we are passionate about and we are putting in our best.”
From the way Osunrinade speaks about the show and his Urban Entertainment, I nearly concluded he comes from the arts background. Guess Ayo’s profession? He’s a trained medical doctor! In fact, he practiced for years in the UK with a stint in Nigeria, before embracing his passion –– entertainment.

FOR many, studying medicine is a thing of pride, but the Osunrinade’s case seems different; his was out to prove a point.
“I did it because I thought it was a challenge for me at that time; nobody pushed me to do it. In fact, I remember my father never wanted me to do it.”
“Well, he didn’t think I had the temperament… and all that. Eventually, it looked like it turned out right that I didn’t have the temperament to sit down, listening to people’s problem continuously. All the same, I went ahead to do it.”
Clearing all his papers at the A’levels in the UK wasn’t enough to convince Ayo’s father of his son’s ambition.
“During my A’level abroad, they said I wasn’t cut out to be a medical doctor; they didn’t think I was going to pass my exams. But I smashed it. Yet, my father suggested I consider doing something else; he didn’t believe I could put my head down to study, but my mother wanted me to do it; it was her dream.”
Just one week in the medical class, the reality donned on him.
“I realised that this was not going to be me for too long. However, I was able to finish it.”
He continues: “I did it to prove myself to myself; everything that I’ve done in life was always to prove something to myself. I probably should be sitting down somewhere now to become a professor, but I’ve never done anything to conform that.”

AFTER practicing as a psychiatrics in the UK for years, Osunrinade thought of diversifying his career.
“I went to Business School in the UK after which I came back to Nigeria to do something in healthcare; this time, on the business side of it. At that time, Nigeria was beckoning, so, I had to come back home to do some stuffs; yet, I felt all of that was boring.”
Meanwhile, even as a medical practitioner, he had promoted a lot of shows in the UK; he was deeply involved in entertainment.
“At a point, I was managing a Nigerian artiste, Abbey, who was based in the UK; I got him up to the UK chart. I also have a cousin, Tunde, who is the lead singer for Lighthouse Family; I was always with them, touring around. All the while, I’ve always been doing things in entertainment.”
Tired of shuttling between Nigeria and the UK, Osunrinade resolved to set up Urban TV in the UK, with the aim of promoting the black continent.
“There was BEN TV, which was particularly focused on the Nigerian market, but I wanted a TV that will focus for the black market; a more mature market. We put it together and got on to Sky TV; nobody believed us.”

HOWEVER, the medical practitioner was forced to sell off the station as the economic meltdown hit UK.
“We sold it to BET TV last year when recession set in. Toyin Subair of HiTV originally planned to buy into the channels, but something happened and I had to sell it to a network I never intended to sell to.”
What do you have against BET?
“Toyin is my good friend; we’ve known each other from secondary school; he was my preferred bidder for the channel. We were having a kind of competition with BET at that time; some of the films we bought, they could not buy it for the UK market because I had already bought them for Urban TV. But in all, it was a good experience.”
Right now, Ayo and his team are working round the clock to ensure the success of the first edition of It’s Friday Night, which he insists is entirely different.
“I spoke to another friend of mine, Ade Aderogba, who had a lot of experience in entertainment as well on the financial side; he used to be the financial director of the biggest classical music promoter in the UK. I also brought in two investors into the business. So, we decided to do something in Nigeria through Urban Entertainment. I’ve done a lot of stuffs in entertainment outside the country, but this is the first time we are doing something that will make people know what Urban Media is all about.”
The show will feature comedians Gordons and Eddie Kadi from the UK, close up magician, Kasrani, D’ Spremes, DJ Heavy D from London and a US based Afro jazz instrumentalist, Adeniji (Heavywind).
“Adeniji used to be here; he has a huge followership. He used to play at B Jays, here in Lagos, so, we’ve decided to bring him back to spice the whole show. We have also decided that in every show, we must feature new locally based talent. For us, that’s a way to give back to the society. Any artiste we feel will do well; we will put him on the bill. In fact, we plan to give young talents the platform to showcase their talents; soon, we will unveil the plan to Nigerians.”
On the choice of the artistes, especially the Congolese-born-UK-based Kadi, who seems not to know much about Nigeria, Osunrinade hints, “the guy is absolutely hilarious; he’s been here once, but in the UK, he’s well known and runs shows in BBC. Good comedian studies the environment he’s going before performing, so, why does people believe that it has to be the same group of comedians? We know Eddy is good and he’s going to show himself here.”

FOR Osunrinade, this is time to change the concept of showbiz in Nigeria.
“Everybody does a comedy night or a music show, so, it’s not as if it’s the first time. But there’s too much talent in the world for it to be the same set of people performing at show; I don’t know why sponsors do not think there are other talents available. They are interested in sponsoring an artiste that will sing the same song today, tomorrow and over the years, yet, there’s multitude of talents all over the world. So, we decided to focus on those over 35 for the variety night. It’s not going to be about music; there will be comedy, magic, acrobatic … you will have something new to see.”
However, it seems the show is for the upper class?
“First of all, you have to understand that the audience I cater for is the audience I understand, which is my age group. But as we grow bigger, we are going to get the young people, who will work with us, who will tell us what appeals to their age group. I don’t want to pretend that I know everything; that will be the greatest mistake. So, we are going for an audience we understand for now. Nigerians are very exposed; if you do a good show and you promote it very well, they will come. The job is for us to know the right people to bring,” he says.
In his opinion, the country’s entertainment industry has come of age.
“There used to be an intellectual snobbery about entertainment; sometimes, you still see it. People keep asking why I’m doing entertainment. To be honest with you, if I had wanted to do oil and gas or telecomm, I probably would have been better at it than many. I chose to do this and that’s what I’m doing because I don’t have interest in oil.”
Have you ever been confronted with that?
Yes, all the time –– Nigerians say stuffs like that. For me, there’s no big deal in oil and gas or telecom; everybody can do that; go to Abuja and beg… stuffs like that. I’ve done difficult things; I don’t think there’s anything difficult in setting up an oil and gas business.”

DO you often tell people you have medical background?
“No, no, I don’t introduce myself as a doctor; I always think it prejudices people. Even in my complimentary card, I didn’t put it; It’s only when you ask me about my background that I tell you I come from a medical field, and a lot of people get shocked.”
From all indications, Osunrinade’s involvement in entertainment is purely for satisfaction.
“I do things based on how satisfied I’m. I don’t think I will be able to enjoy just making money; I’ve got to like what I do. I’m certainly not where I want to be in terms of cash, but I am not suffering. I want more, yes, but not at the expense of my own joy; that just won’t happen.”
He also commented on the re-branding project of the country.
“I think Nigeria in a lot of ways, has started the re-branding process without knowing it. Recently, there was a list of immigrants into the UK, and Nigerians were not in the top eight. I’ve lived in the UK for a better part of my life, for the first time, you don’t find a lot of Nigerians running to UK; that for me is re-branding. For a lot of US to be coming back to Nigeria to do something is enough re-branding. Re-branding Nigeria is about what the Nollywood and musicians are doing outside the country; everybody loves Nollywood. I think re-branding is about the government doing what is right. If the number of people traveling abroad for healthcare reduces, that means the health sector in Nigeria is working; that’s re-branding.
He cited Lagos as a case study.
“Re-branding is about what is happening in Lagos. I used to think Lagos was a jungle, but when I came in, I noticed the transformation of the city in two year. It’s so amazing that I’ve been here for about six weeks; you drive around without your car falling into potholes. For me, this is enough re-branding.” He continues: “If the first black president of the US is planning to visit Africa for the first time, and he didn’t visit Nigeria the most populous black nation in African, then there’s a problem.”

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