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Exclusive: Oti Bazunu And All That Jazz

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Exclusive: Oti Bazunu And All That Jazz


Ozi2When Oti Bazunu started the Lagos Jazz Series in 2010, he perhaps wasn’t expecting the kind of reception it got. In this interview, he tells FUNKE OSAE-BROWN how the festival is seeking to redefine entertainment

The ambience at his Abimbola Awoniyi Close office on Victoria Island still remains pretty much the same since the last time I visited less than a year ago, except for a couple of paintings gracing the entrance. A portrait of the late famous Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, by Lemi Ghariokwu is placed on an easel on the right hand side of the entrance while another colourful painting of a bailey dancer is at the door.

“Welcome. Mr Oti will be with you in a moment,” his personal assistant, Kimberley, says as she welcomes me. Before long, Oti Bazunu appears from an inner office.

“How are you doing,” he greets me.

“Do you still remember me?” I ask.

“Of course, I do. You are my school friend!”

“School friend?”

“Yeah, my friend from the school of hard knocks,” he replies jokingly.

Oti and I met last year. That was the first time I ever had an extensive interview with him on his project, the Lagos Jazz Series. He is the initiator of the Jazz Series that has grown into a festival. He is an interesting character and any time spent with him is never boring. And so, this year again, he has another interesting story to tell.


“The budget is increasing every year,” he tells me as soon as the interview began, “and this year we are a little over half a million dollars, which is about N170 million, in budget. It is that high or even higher because we are bringing in international artistes.”

The scope of the Jazz series has been expanded and an additional name of Lagos Jazz Festival has been given to it. “It is still the Lagos Jazz Series,” he explains to me, “but we have decided to include The Lagos Jazz Festival. If you look at it, it is actually a festival because we have different shows at different venues.”

Some of the world renowned artistes who have graced the stage at the Lagos Jazz Series include Bob James and Roy Hargrove, Hugh Masakela, and Fourplay, with local talents like 9ice, Omawumi, Waje, including the famous music producer, Cobhams Asuquo, who have added glamour to the array of performance at the LJS.

This year, Bazunu says more international artistes are expected to perform at the festival. Yet the cost of putting the yearly musical show together has not been easy as most of the finance has been placed on his shoulders since it began in 2010.

“For most international artistes, when they want to come to Nigeria, they quickly tag Nigeria with a bit of a higher price because of the security issues here and the long distance of flying,” he explains. “They calculate their charges based on the fact that coming to Nigeria is like two days of flying for them. They are also prone to jetlag. They want to put some kind of premium price when coming to Nigeria. Their fees are slightly higher, hence we will like to engage them for two shows at least to buffer the fee we pay them.”  

He says that each artiste does not come with a fixed price, saying the fees are often around a hundred thousand dollars even for Jazz artistes. “It gets that high, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then the airline charges are quite high. Some artistes fly First Class ticket while their touring group will take another class. The hotel bills too are there,” he adds.

The sponsorship for Lagos Jazz Series is tough and he is sincere enough to tell me. According to him, the way the entertainment industry in the country is structured makes it tougher to get good sponsorship for the quality of show he puts together every year. “Most sponsors do not understand the concept of a festival,” he says, “as against one event that will take place at a venue. By the time sponsors have the understanding, we will get the right sponsorship and funding. I think we need to come with the right message to let them understand the longevity of the project. This kind of project, if you are known with it as a sponsor, you speak more to your target audience than a one-off event. Since we started this festival in 2010, people are beginning to look forward every year to the Lagos Jazz Series.”

For him, lack of sponsorship will not in any way discourage him from continuing with the festival, neither will it reduce the quality of artistes expected this year. Hence year-on-year, it has been a blend of local and international artistes. Since the LJS won’t come up until November, Bazunu is not willing to let the cat out of the bag yet regarding the names of artistes billed to perform at the festival. He, however, admits he has a wish list.

“What we do with the artistes is we bring unto the LJS stage world renowned artistes in the category of John Legend, Alicia Keys, and Stevie Wonder. We take those and fuse them with an array of Nigerian artistes, some traditional Jazz. We do have names of those we hope will perform at this year’s edition, but we don’t want to give out the names yet,” he tells me.

“We don’t want to be accused of not bringing the artistes we say we will bring. There are many factors that can make an artiste change his mind at the last minute. Security, contractual, or last minute change of mind are some of the factors. Some have said in the past that we have used the names of artistes to sell tickets when they didn’t come. For us it isn’t about tickets sale. We can’t sell enough tickets to meet the kind of expenses we incur on the show. We have a wish list of artistes we will like to bring for the 2014 edition. I underscore that wish list; we have John Legend, Alicia Keys (she wants to come to Nigeria badly), Ola Onabule, a Nigerian entertainer in the UK who is coming to perform for us in August. We want to continue to make LJS interesting. If it is not, then I quit. We infused highlife into it last year. While we had Marcus Miller perform for us last year, we fused him with Orlando Julius,” he adds.

And this year, a mid-year event will precede the main festival. The LJS mid-year event is scheduled to hold at the Lascala Restaurant, MUSON Centre, on the August 1 and 2 in Lagos. 

“We have an interesting band coming to play for us,” Oti says with excitement. “The Baptist Church choir in New York has put together an all-star band. It is a group of all the superstars attending the church, e.g., Queen Latifah, amongst others, who honed their skills of singing from the church. As their schedule permits, they will put them together in an all-star band. They will perform for the two days at Lascala. Then we will also have Ola Onabule, who is also making a homecoming.”

He adds that they intend to redesign Lascala since it seats about a hundred people. “It is upscale but we are also not saying it is too upscale and you can’t come there. More than anything else, it is for LJS to still be in people’s mind before the main event later in the year. We want them to know we are still here. LJS is a legacy project for me. We have a bit of interesting people coming to the event,” he says.

With LJS’ quality, one would have thought Oti is smiling to the banks in terms of profit, but he is quick to say he has not made profit since he started.

“It is my personal money we have been using. The LJS isn’t a profit-making venture for me at this time. It is the passion that is driving me. I love the project, it is designed to get Lagos to become a bit more upscale by way of entertainment. The essence is to redefine the way we entertain ourselves,” Otis says.

“We have the event at Muri Okunola Park, Federal Palace. We want to continue with what people love. By the time people get familiar with this, they will understand the importance of freeing themselves from the tension of the city. Most cities in the world have this kind of music festival, e.g., Montreal, New York. They have this mode of entertainment for citizens to release themselves in order to become more productive. That is what we want to achieve with the Jazz festival,” he says.


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