Ayo Animashaun: The Man Behind The Music Powerhouse

Driving at the Hip TV office on possibly their busiest week in the year, I visibly notice the hustle and bustle as staff and non-staff pace around trying to get things in place for The Headies Awards Show.

Mr. Animashaun is in his third meeting for the day and he’s far from finished. We meet briefly and exchange pleasantries as he urges me to be patient while he rounds up his current engagement. While waiting, I see an influx of hot new artistes like Bad Boy Timz and Alpha P to mention a few and their presence is just another day in the office for most. It was all just a subtle reminder that Ayo Animashaun runs a powerhouse.

Arguably a pioneer of the music award shows in Nigeria, Ayo Animashaun is an entertainment entrepreneur and television executive, the brains behind Hip Tv and The Headies as well as CEO of Smooth Promotions. Many might not know this but Mr. Animashaun is a core family man and regardless of his various obligations, always puts family first.

After an 18 hour wait that housed a couple of false starts and a carryover into the next day, Downtown’s Chisom Njoku (special thanks to Oye Akideinde) finally caught up with him for a conversation on reflection, appreciation [of the journey so far], and exchange of thoughts on Nigeria’s music and entertainment industry.

Ayo Anumashaun

Ayo Anumashaun

Give us some insight into who Ayo Animashaun is?

I’m a media entrepreneur. I started my media career with my first  project – a songbook [booklet with song lyrics] when I was  19 and everything took  off from there.

Where did you grow up?

I was  born in Ilorin, Kwara State. I spent my first

17 years there before moving to Kaduna to study Business Administration and Management at Kaduna Polytechnic. From there I moved to Katsina to serve and finally arrived in Lagos to start Hip Hop World Magazine in 1994.

What was it like growing up there [Ilorin] as a youth who was fascinated by music and pop culture?

I grew up listening to largely foreign music apart from the  music my dad  would play  like  King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, etc.  When I entered my teenage years, I developed my own musical interests in RnB, pop,  and hip  hop  and spent a lot of time listening at a record store not  far

from my home. The music they played there shaped my taste and interest.

It’s not  always about where you grow up,  it’s about who you meet, who you are, and what influences you.

Some of your earliest work was the Hip Hop World page in Fame Magazine, how did it feel driving the music culture in a pre-social media era?

I went to Fame Magazine because I wanted to publish Hip Hop World Magazine not  because I wanted to write for Fame Magazine but  then I thought I could do a better job with those pages so I requested and got my opportunity.

It was  a different time then and I looked forward to my articles being published every week.

As a music lover, you went on to turn the Hip Hop World page into a music magazine but the question is how did that passion translate into a sustainable business?

I didn’t think this  was  going to be my bread and butter, as it was  just  an  interest I developed when I was  a boy. When I started writing

the  songbooks, it was  just  for my pleasure. I realized I could hear almost everything the  artistes were saying clearly so I started

putting it on paper and I would spend hours writing. I would compile and photocopy

this  makeshift songbook and sell  them like handouts. There was  this  progression at every stage and I was  just  doing it and having fun

but  everything changed when I decided to stay on my own because I had to provide food  and transportation for myself.

I wasn’t born poor, in fact,  the  street I lived  in Ilorin was  named after my dad  but  he  died and though we were still  good, it wasn’t business

as usual. I chose the  hardship I put  on myself because I wanted to step out  and do something.

What was the inspiration behind The Headies Awards?

Many years before The Headies, we toyed with the  concept of running a music award show

for Africa. The Headies started when Hip Hop World Magazine hit the  ten  year mark and we wondered what next. I had been fortunate to travel and see  the  beauty of different award shows around the  world. I believed we could do this  in Nigeria and set standards, but  we didn’t have a dime, however one or two  clients saw

the  vision and passion I had and that’s how it all began.

What has been the most difficult part of hosting the yearly award show and at any point in time, did you consider calling it quits?

Yes, the  2015 Headies with the  Olamide and Don  Jazzy incident. I felt like  I shouldn’t do it anymore because it seemed the  industry was not  appreciative because even when we do get sponsors, a lot of my money still  goes into  it that doesn’t come back.

The Headies has been accused of bias on numerous occasions; What is the truth  behind  the selection and awarding process that people  don’t understand?

We continue to educate people but  it’s [the selection process] clear, the  year in review is within a specified period and the  definition

of each category is spelt out  but  people will still  pick  from outside the  year in review. The fact  that an  artist has a song or album from that year does not  automatically qualify them for nomination and the  fact  that they’re not nominated does not  mean they didn’t do well. We start shortlisting from two  hundred and something entries and we have to narrow it down to four  or five. Awards are never going to stop  being controversial because you can’t please everyone. There’s a reason why  some award shows don’t  say ‘The  winner is’, they say

‘The  award goes to..’ because all the  nominees are good  but  the  award has to go to someone. Also sometimes artistes don’t  vote  [or canvas for votes], they just  assume they’ll win.  When

Awards are never going to stop being controversial because you can’t please everyone…The fact that an artist has a song or album from that year does not automatically qualify them for nomination and the fact that they’re not nominated does not mean they didn’t do well people see  a nominees list they already assume the  winner in their head but  there’s a voting process and it’s the  guys  that put  in the  effort [with voting] that eventually win.

Its been 8 years since you successfully set up the inclusion of Hip Tv on Multichoice (DSTV). How does it feel operating a major TV station?  Is it everything you hoped it would be?

No, far from it. What we are doing presently is just  a small fraction of what we plan to do but, of course, there are challenges so we   take it a day at a time. Hip Tv has massive growth potential, not  just  in Nigeria or across Africa. Our  music

[Urban Contemporary Nigerian Music or Afropop] is a worldwide phenomenon now, you can go anywhere in the  world and we’re there. So why

do we only  promote on platforms within the continent? Why can’t  we have representation outside Africa?  We[Hip TV] have our growth strategy that is being deployed.

You turned  50 last year, based on your wealth of experience in the industry, what gaps in the Nigerian entertainment industry do you feel still needs attention?

That’s difficult to answer because everywhere you look  there are gaps and so to narrow it down to one, is to look  at the  entire music and entertainment spectrum from a myopic point of view.

A major one is managing the  rights of artistes to collect their royalties because there are always issues. There are so many artistes, producers and writers making good  music who would be paid anywhere else in the  world but  they make no money in Nigeria.

The way the  Nigerian music industry is structured, if you’re not  performing you’re not making money. Although we’ve  made progress, there’s still  so much more to do.

In your opinion, what is the future of the Nigerian music and entertainment industry?

Since the  late 90s, our artistes have been taking over the  continent and now they’re taking on the world. I remember in 1999,  when Femi Kuti won “African Artiste Of The Year” in South Africa. We’ve shown dominance through our music, our style, videos, and the  quality of our productions. Nigerian artistes win  the  African artiste titles at award shows like  MTV and BET above all other African countries put  together.

Now they amass big streaming numbers from platforms like  Spotify,  Apple  Music, and Youtube, sometimes they even outshine other artistes around the  world indicating they’re doing well. At the  moment Burna Boy has a chart-topper with SIA and that’s huge so things are definitely looking good.

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