Emem Ema is the epitome of cool. She also has a tenacity of purpose that is admirable, more especially in the media/entertainment industry where ambition should be made of sterner stuff. The CEO of One Management, a leading entertainment company and co- founder/owner of Vzhun Media spoke to the Sam Umukoro Interview on a number issues that occupy the front burner of discourse in the entertainment industry. And of course what she has been doing since KUSH, the successful music group that is now defunct.
Sam Umukoro Interview: After KUSH, Lara George and TY Bello, have both released solo albums. How come you have not yet released one?
Emem: Well, you’ve listened to what TY and Lara have released and they’re great. Music for me as an artiste is a very spiritual thing; I like to take my time and make sure that everything is perfect, the right sound, working with the right people and so on. So, to answer your question, I actually released a single that we put out a couple of years ago under a moniker and the response was awesome. It was produced by Dapo Torimiro (a member of KUSH and producer based in the US). For now, I lend my creativity to production and focus on the business arm of show ‘business’.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Specifically, what have you been up after KUSH ended as a group?
Emem: I’ve been busy learning, living and loving! (Laughs) I’ve been working behind the scenes and learning the ropes of the business. We started a boutique talent management company in 2005 that has evolved to what it is today. It has given us opportunities in the area of creative strategy, booking, talent management, marketing communications, event and audio-visual production.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Do you think KUSH would come back together for a reunion album in the nearest future?
Emem: I’d say ‘Never say Never’. It is a topic that has come up several times, especially more recently. So, I’d say, again, never say never.
Sam Umukoro Interview: you released a single under a pseudonym, what is the title of the single and what is the name you used?
Emem: I used the name Mem’O (smile)
Sam Umukoro Interview: What is your view about the current trend of Nigerian music in terms of style, creativity and originality?
Emem: These days, those three things you’ve mentioned are relative to the artiste, label and the consumer (audience). Opportunities abound in the Nigerian music industry. This is evident in the influx of diverse talents, and like any other industry that has been successful in Nigeria, the temptation to concentrate on one particular sector in that industry, to the detriment of others, is glaring. That’s one of the reasons we decided to concentrate on talent management because at that time, there were a lot of talents, but there were no channels to develop or cater for it. Now management is a ‘trend’ of sorts.
From the creative point of view, music, from when we were growing up and when I was active as an artiste, is different from what it is now; with only a few actually making what I will call ‘evergreen music’. But then, this is an era where most people’s attention span is limited or selective. So, as an artiste, you’d need to satisfy the desires of your audience, whatever that may be. In terms of style, most are channelling their creativity to their brand and not exactly to the music. It doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there who are sticking to their true calling and genres.
The audience mostly decide what they accept and consume as music, and radio plays a huge role in this because, to an extent, radio controls what people listen to. The internet has also made it an all-comers affair. So, you have a choice of bubble gum or a la carte/ gourmet music, depending on what your choice as a consumer is.
Sam Umukoro Interview: You are involved in talent management. How do you think Nigeria’s creative industries should be regulated to effectively harness the country’s abundance of talents?
Emem: This is a very good question that on several occasions even we in the business have asked ourselves. If it were in the US, one would lobby for certain policies to be passed that will develop and sustain the industry, its stakeholders, protect copyright owners and nurture the necessary skill set that abounds.
We have a very good establishment in place to help with this. For example, look at what the NBC is doing with ensuring that our airwaves support Nigerian content and culture. Our copyright laws are one of the tightest and well put together in the world, but the challenge is in enforcing it and keeping up with the trends in the industry. 15 years ago, iTunes didn’t exist but it came in and changed the course of the music industry globally. How do we tackle disruptions like this in the system? Don’t get me wrong, iTunes is a blessing in a way, but how do we protect those who create such masterpieces from their ignorance or being taken advantage of?
At the end of the day we need policies that’d make Nigeria a beautiful bride to be courted by the Big Five (record labels), knowing that if they decide to invest in Nigeria or open shop here, their interests will be protected, and no one will be knocking on their doors demanding for royalty whether or not they are authorised to collect it.
So, we need a system or structure that will make the industry sustainable. California as a state in the US generates GDP from the creative industries that if it were a country, it will be ranked 5th in the world. That says a lot. Also, in the last five or so years, guess what sector has continually increased its contribution to the GDP of the UK? The creative industry!
Sam Umukoro Interview: There have been few female music groups in Nigeria over the years. What do you think is responsible for this?
Emem: How many male music groups have we really had since Plantashun Boiz and Styl Plus? Maybe Infinity. The dynamics of a group doesn’t really work financially and logistics wise, especially in this country. I think it is a general thing and not just peculiar to a gender.
Sam Umukoro Interview: You mentioned that a female artist must work harder than her male counterpart? why? Is this peculiar to the Nigerian entertainment industry?
Emem: It is a global situation, something to do with breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ but in Nigeria, there’s a lot to deal with. Culture, expectations from a lady at a certain age. However, in the industry, you find quite a number of female artistes having to work thrice as hard as their male counterparts just to get a shoe in. It’s the same in business as well not just in entertainment. Like you’ve got to earn your stripes to sit at the table with the boys.
Sam Umukoro Interview: You also worked in oil and gas, why did you leave the industry?
Emem: I still do that, (smile). In our early days, it helped with initial operations for ONE Management. I got involved while I was in the university and it is an industry I enjoy as well. Diversification is good, wouldn’t you agree?
Sam Umukoro Interview: Who are your favourite Nigerian female artistes?
Emem: They are too many to mention! I’m a huge fan of any female artiste who has to deal with working thrice as hard to get her name and music out there. It takes a lot of work and determination for this reasons, I am a huge fan.