Not many Nigerians living abroad like to venture into event management due to the challenges that come with such venture but for Femi Bello, music executive and event organiser, it is a job that he embraces with his full strength. In this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, he speaks of the global acceptance of the Nigeria’s afro beat sound, life in the US and more.
You have organised shows for many Nigerian artistes in the US; which of them would you regard as your biggest?
I have worked with Wande Coal, Wizkid, Psquare, Olamide, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi and even Sarkodie. These are top African artistes I have worked on their concerts in the US. They are big concerts in their own rights and there is always a different approach to every show but I can tell you that Nigerian artistes will sell out any show in the US as long as we put proper structure in place ahead of the event.
How did you get into event promotion?
I have always been an event person. I have been involved in organising parties and making plans for people when they have events. In fact, I remember that I started throwing parties when I was 19 years-old. In Nigeria back then, just as we have now, there were different genres of music that people want to listen and groove to but I have always been a fan of R and B music. Growing up with my uncle, I fell in love with slow music, holding ladies and dancing to soft tunes. That’s how it started for me; it started basically after I left college.
What were the early days like for you as an event promoter?
The beginning of every great step is always difficult; it was not easy. To plan an event is one of the hardest jobs if you understand what it really means to bring an artiste down to a venue. You have to speak to his manager and talk to everybody that is around him that could make your job easy. The artiste aspect is just one leg of many steps you would take. Another step that is crucial is getting a perfect location for the event. Moving around with your crew to get the best location does not come easy. You need a strong and trusted team that understands your vision.
Which show gave you the biggest break in the industry?
That should be Wande Coal’s event in 2009. His show was the first event that I orgainsed with top artistes. It was not easy, but my team and I worked hard and we had one of the most successful shows and were really proud to have Wande Coal on the show.
You have been in Chicago for some years, what took you out of Nigeria at first?
I left Nigeria for Chicago when I was 20 years old. When I arrived in Chicago, I was looking forward to the snow because it was winter time. In fact, I wanted to experience it but when the snow came pouring, there was nothing pleasurable about it. The cold was too much. The cold was almost unbearable for me. I was fortunate my father was in the US; his presence helped me to settle down well.
You have worked with many top Nigerian artistes, what can you say about the experiences you have had?
Dealing with Nigerian artistes can be very challenging. The truth is that most of these artistes don’t understand how things work here, especially when they bring their shows to the US. They have a wrong impression about the way we make the shows work. So I always tell them that their approach towards show promoters is bad. Some of them don’t open up to the show promoters; they try to be smarter. They don’t understand the business aspect of the job. What they always care about is the money they want to make at the end of the show. They make the job hard for you when they don’t speak up.
How was life for you as a young man?
I grew up in Lagos Island but I was raised by my dad’s family because my dad relocated to the US when I was four years old. Growing up without my dad was not easy because I was raised by people who instilled discipline in me; they taught me values and morals a man must imbibe. I was quite rascally when I was growing up but my family raised me well.
What were your childhood fantasies?
I was always looking forward to going to the US to reunite with my dad. I always knew I would go some day but I wanted the day to come early. So, if anything was my fantasy as child, it was to go the US.
Tell us about your educational background?
I started my primary education at Ansar-ud-deen in Lagos. From there I proceeded to Nawarul-deen Secondary School in Obantoko, Abeokuta, Ogun State. I moved back to Lagos and was sent to join my dad in the US. I have been in the US for the past 30 years now.
Did you have any music background?
I wouldn’t say I had a music background but I grew up loving music and I still love music till now. I love listening to cool and slow music which helps me to relax. But no member of my family has done music before.
Tell us about your awards and nominations?
I have been nominated for several awards but I have never won in any category. For me, I didn’t start this job because I could win awards, I started because I wanted to see people succeed in the music business; I love to see people happy. It is my passion to see people smile and have fun.
Tell us about your love for Afro Beat music?
Everybody knows that when you mention Afro beat music, the name Fela Anikulapo-Kuti comes to mind instantly but then, look at how technology has helped the genre to be more acceptable globally. Today, you hear how music stars across the world infuse Afro Beat into their songs. That tells you that the whole world has embraced Afro Beat sound.
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