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Oti Bazunu: Raising The Bar For Jazz

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Oti Bazunu: Raising The Bar For Jazz


OTI 1The unique aroma of cigar pervades the air as I walked into his Abimbola Awoniyi close home on Victoria Island. The setting before me is unique in every sense of the word. The French doors at the apartment, the quality of upholsteries and interior decor of the apartment speak a great deal of the taste of the man who lives here.

On either side of the room are stacks of empty wine bottles. The manner of arrangement is artistic in form. The green colour of the bottles forms a great silhouette against the peach coloured wall. A soft Jazz number is playing in the background.

There is no doubt that Oti Bazunu is a lover of all art forms— music, paintings and theatre. His love for music pushed him into organising for the first in the history of Lagos, an all encompassing Jazz festival he aptly christened Lagos Jazz Series.

The Lagos Jazz Series has become an event where a growing numbers of contemporary jazz musicians who through their unique numbers are having the very best of undiluted Jazz music. After four years of brand building, bringing artists like Hugh Masakela, Fourplay, Bob James, and Roy Hargrove to Lagos.

When CNN interviewed him on “African Voices” a year ago, and broadcast clips from the Jazz festival that had Lagos swaying and dancing over a weekend in November, he was already prepared. He was prepared, because the three short years of the existence of the Lagos Jazz Series, were preceded by years of meticulous planning, and a degree of precision that now fills Oti with pride.

Some of the stellar names that have graced the stage at the Lagos Jazz Series include Bob James and Roy Hargove, Hugh Masakela, and Fourplay, with other home grown talent like 9ice, Omawumi, Waje. The dexterity of Cobhams Asuquo added credence to the performance of local artistes leading them to a new road of self discovery.

“People say that Nigerian artistes are not grounded with their music,” says Oti, that it is noise and what not, but you are a product of your environment. For example, year we took their music and broke it down and reproduce it in Jazz with musical instrument behind it rather than just digital DJ spinning and the singing. We took the music with the help of Cobhams and now convert it to Jazz and have them come on stage with piano behind them, base guitar, horns and trumpet. The artistes were like: ‘oh wow look at this! This is so is something different. My music is fuller and richer. I am a new person and guess what the world is embracing them. They like that new environment.”

With that new discovery, Burma Boy is now more requested for around the world. Oti believes a lot of it has to do with is maturity in music. “Maturity in what we did with him last year. When you introduce people to part of life they have not experienced before they become a new person, finer person. That is what we have done with today’s musicians in Nigeria.”

Like the Montreux Jazz Festival which was founded in 1967 by Claude Nobs, and Géo Voumard, Oti has been the driving force behind the Lagos Jazz Series. He has set a standard with the way music is performed and appreciated.

Oti’s first business is telecommunication. That is his Monday to Friday day time job but then he does his music and Jazz at night. He is the chief executive officer of Osaka Telecomms, the company that provides infrastructural facilities for other telecoms giants like MTN, Glo, Etisalat amongst others.

Oti spent most of his life in New York. He went to school in Montreal, Canada, London and later lived in New York for a long time before he decided to return home eight years ago. Originally from Warri in Delta state, Oti says he is now a Lagosian by way of living in the boisterous city.

“I love this place,” he tells me frankly. “I must do my part to contribute to the standard of living here in Lagos. The city of Lagos is just too hectic. I thought that open door music festival the kind of thing major city in the world do to cool the tempo of the city down. I thought a Jazz festival will be ideal for business district of Nigeria.”

Part of Oti’s future plan is to include highlife greats like Victor Olaiya on his list of artistes for the Lagos Jazz Series. “When the time comes we will surely have highlife musicians like Victor Olaiya perform at the Lagos Jazz Series. We are not particularly driven by money but what driving us is just to make people see the side of life that they are not used to.”

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