Fela Oke has been described as a multifaceted creative industry executive, deal maker and Africa’s most revered decision maker.
As a talent agent in music, film and sport, he has worked with some of Africa’s biggest names such as Afrobeats stars WizKid and Davido and actor John Boyega, connecting them to brands and creating events such as WizKid’s Wiz on the Beach as ways to increase their earning potential.
After two visits to Trinidad and Tobago, this Nigerian music, entertainment and sports powerhouse wants to work his magic in the Caribbean.
Oke was recently in T&T as a special guest at MusicTT’s RVRB X Music Conference, his second trip after his first in May as a presenter for the Africa Film Festival.
“One thing that’s clear is that there is an extreme amount of talent here, it is a vibrant place for young talent. I love Trinidad, something pulls me to come here, it’s my second time and we are coming back to try to put some strong pillars in the ground and hopefully be in a position to help build an industry and do some great work,” he told Loop News.
The work, he explained, includes helping to establish a structure for the industry, and providing a go-to place for talent to perform, produce music and put it out to the global community.
“Right now Afrobeats is huge and we think that there is potential connectivity to the black diaspora. We are going to put our Caribbean hub in Trinidad and we are trying to have footprints all over the Caribbean but at the same time I am very conscious about output. On the film side, it is the same, actors need to have work, there needs to be local production and an opportunity to get your talents seen. We are just trying to be part of that,” said Oke.
Throughout his presentations at RVRB X, Oke spoke a lot about the need to build bridges and connect the black Caribbean diaspora to Africa.
Fela Oke. Photo courtesy MusicTT
He said he felt it is important to dispel the notion that opportunities only exist in certain places such as Hollywood or the United Kingdom where he lives.
“Because of my Nigerian roots, I really wanted to connect the Caribbean to Africa. I lived in Nigeria for a few years and I have worked there extensively, I have built a reputation but now I want to use that template to come to the Caribbean, work with Film TT, Music TT and help start that process,” he explained.
He said that his contributions, through a new Caribbean agency he is setting up, would include connecting artistes to labels, co-productions on the film side and connections with African cinema, and on the sport side, finding early talent and connecting them to opportunities globally.
He made it clear, however, that contrary to rumours about his intentions, he is not coming to use or take anything from T&T.
“I want it to be known that there is a false narrative spread by certain individuals in the community and I want to show everybody and my collective that we are who we say we are. We don’t name-drop, I don’t need to show my Rolodex to be validated,” he said.
“There is no truth behind the idea that we are coming to take from Trinidad and we don’t have to have a relationship with anyone who feels that they don’t want to be a part of what we are doing. We aren’t forcing anyone to have relationships with us.”
Having seen the Nigerian music industry grow from nothing to a global force, Oke wants to apply lessons learned from that experience to the Caribbean.
He said a key factor in Afrobeats’ success was the embracing of their authentic culture.
Oke said for years Nigerian artistes tried to do other genres such as Hip Hop but the minute they embraced themselves and their culture, they found success.
“They went back and looked at the likes of Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Victor Olaiya with Highlife and Highlife in Ghana and connected to modern day young talent, they started having their own street parlance, they found an identity that worked for them,” he said.
Fela Oke at MusicTT’s RVRB X Conference
Turning his attention to the music scene in T&T, he said while he believes soca will have its day, Trinibad might be the genre to go global.
Noting that a lot of music and creativity is born out of angst, he said the challenge with that genre is finding a way to make the lyrics and subject matter palatable to the powers that be.
“We need to celebrate their youth angst and these kids putting their time into something creative. We want to be part of that through our networks from music labels to talent management to enable these kids to channel that in the most appropriate way and then to find a way to sit with the OGs and say hey, there is a way to turn this into a revenue making situation without lives being lost,” he said.
For those artistes not in the mainstream, doing alternative music, Oke said it all comes down to personality, infusing your Trinidadian-ness into whatever you are creating.
“What the Afrobeats guys did was find a sound that was theirs, it was ours, it was our Pidgin English, they were our stories. You can sing R&B but you can sing about your stories in Trinidad, what’s specific to the culture here. I think that is quite important,” he said.
Fela Oke with Al Mclean, Head of Global Music, Empire (left), Nigerian/British actor and filmmaker Femi Oyeniran and Solomon Sonaiya, Founder, Shrine Music
Oke’s advice to young artistes is to release music consistently and stay true to who they are.
He advised that in order to attract partnerships with global brands, the Caribbean has to unite to get the numbers that are attractive to businesses.
“If you now add the African element to it, if we start telling African-infused Caribbean stories or having Trinidad/Nollywood collaborations, there are platforms that I believe would take it,” he said, revealing that he is working on a Nollywood collaboration for T&T.
He said the important thing is to ensure that local talent is enabled to create.