Tosin Ajirire and Oke Oshevire
Show promoter, human rights advocate and CEO of El’Carnaval, Matthew Ohio, is in celebration mood. Reason: This year marks the 10th anniversary of his entertainment platform, Industry Nite, created not only to give up and coming acts an opportunity to showcase their talent, but also an avenue for them to meet and network with brand managers, record label owners, producers, and media personalities among others.
This year also marks the launch of his Foundation, MAAHT (Music Assembly Against Human Trafficking), which he’s doing in collaboration with NAPTIP, with a concert parading Afropop star, Falz the Bahd Guy, in Abuja.
READ ALSO: The human trafficking challenge
In this interview, Ohio, who aside from Industry Nite has created events for brands like MTN, Remy Martin, Glenfiddich, Diageo, Hennessy, and MTV Base, opens up on how it all started and the journey so far. Enjoy it.
What actually inspired Industry Nite?
In 2006/2007, we did a big show across the country with 2Face Idibia and MTN; it was the first of its kind. While conducting that tour, we noticed that (talented) young people were looking for an outlet to showcase themselves; they weren’t necessarily in it for the money, rather they just wanted a stage and an audience. On that tour, we went round the country and noticed that there were so many vibrant young people that believed in an African contemporary identity. So, we decided to do something not so expensive, but regular and accessible; something that people could access and perform without having connections. So, we started Industry Nite, and we decided to use a small club venue on the (Lagos) Island. We chose the Island because that’s where the prominent people work. It was an after work experience, we got all the brand managers, the important people in the music industry together to talk about how we could bring the industry forward while listening to new talents. That’s how it all started.
Do you think you’ve fulfilled your dream after 10 years of Industry Nite?
This year marks 10 years that we founded the Industry Nite platform. It is noteworthy that there’s no Nigerian artiste in the last decade or more that hasn’t used the Industry Nite platform to boost his
or her career. The Industry Nite in the last 10 years has toured the African continent and the United States, exporting African music to a larger audience, thereby throwing the spotlight on Nigeria and the continent at large.
However, I wouldn’t say we have fulfilled our dream but I would say we’ve contributed a lot to the success that the music industry is having now. There is a feeling of fulfillment but we are not there yet.
What has been your greatest moment in the last 10 years?
We’ve had lots of landmark events and achievements like the first 2Face’s album launch. MI also launched his album at the Industry Nite, while the whole of Mavin Records launched their album at Industry Nite. All these are monumental events, and there are so many of them, but these are the ones I can recall right now.
Have you had any low moment?
Sponsorship and funding has always been a problem because Industry Nite is a regular show, so when sponsors come, they stay for a year or two and their mission statements or strategies change. It’s been difficult keeping sponsors for a long period of time. We’ve had a lot of support from the telecoms industry, alcohol and beverage industry, including digital distribution industry but we keep going forward because we are passionate about what we do.
Aside sponsorship, what other challenges have you had?
We don’t have proper concert venues or live show venues in Nigeria; we only have clubs and event halls. So, locations and venues have always been a major problem.
Have you taken Industry Nite beyond the shores of Nigeria?
Yes, we’re doing a lot in Dubai; we did Wizkid (show) in Dubai. We did Wizkid (show) in Houston, as part of our yearly shows in the United States. We also did Davido (show) in Houston, including 2Face and Ice Prince (shows). We’ve done shows in New York, London, South Africa, Ghana and so on. We try to do shows in Nigeria at least two or three times a year.
READ ALSO: Wizkid becomes Ciroc ambassador
In all the shows what have been your experiences?
We discovered that Nigerian music is widely acceptable and there is a demand for Nigerian content all over the world; it is a very lucrative business if we can develop it properly. We have an advantage
in numbers, so we need to use that advantage to develop our industry and economy. There’s a market for Nigerian music everywhere, so we need to take advantage of that.
You are also involved in Music Assembly Against Human Trafficking (MAAHT), what inspired the idea?
MAAHT is an assembly of musicians and entertainment industry professionals committed to ending human trafficking in Nigeria. I am from Edo State and while touring the world, I always see Nigerians in very desperate and embarrassing situations, and Edo people are always part of it. So, I decided to show the young people that there are opportunities in the music industry, not just as a musician. They can be music promoters, video directors, producers and so on. You don’t always have to go out of the country to look for a better life. We know it’s hard
in Nigeria but even if you want to migrate, do it the right way. Music is the best way to connect with the young people.
You must have encountered some victims of human trafficking in the course of your tours, could you tell us some of your experiences?
A few years ago, I was in Amsterdam where they have this red light district, a tourist’s attraction but basically an area for prostitution. In the red light district, they have a rough part of it where the Africans are, that part is not really a tourist’s attraction. I’m not really good at speaking my (Edo) language but
I was passing there and I heard a girl speaking my language, so I walked up to them and asked them some questions. I found out that most of them don’t have papers, they can’t walk around during the day but only at night and I felt sad. When you see these girls, you’ll know that they are suffering, my wife is Italian and Italy is where you’ll see most prostitutes and touts on the street. These people (illegal immigrants) are giving us a bad reputation and the life they’re living there is not better than here. A lot of them, if given the chance, would come back home.
How are you going to drive MAAHT?
We are raising awareness through social media, concerts and all that. We’re going to do shows in the rural areas because that’s where most victims of human trafficking can be found. We are launching in Abuja and inviting all the stakeholders. We’ve partnered with NAPTIP, the immigration service, and police.
How did you meet your Italian wife?
We met during my tours around the world. She’s actually half Italian and half Beninese, her mother is from Benin Republic. We met at one of our shows in Benin Republic and we traveled together. In the course of my tours, we got married. I got a lot of backlash from my Nigerian girlfriends for marrying her (laughter).
What actually attracted her to you?
She’s beautiful, intelligent and keeps me on my toes. In the (entertainment) business, there are lots of distractions and if you’re not grounded, you can easilyget carried away. So, you need a spouse that can keep you grounded. Once you’re in entertainment, you are vulnerable and exposed and you’ll need someone that can restrain you.
How do you handle your female admirers?
I manage them well because I need them. You don’t want to totally scare them off and you don’t want to give them high expectations. So, you just develop cordial relationships with them and keep expectations low.
What are the activities lined up to mark the 10th anniversary of Industry Nite?
We started this year with a tour; we went to Enugu, Calabar, Benin, Ibadan, and Abuja. We are going to do an award dinner to appreciate people that have helped us during the last ten years; artistes, record label owners, media and even private individuals. There are a lot of private individuals that supported us, that saw our vision and made contributions without expecting anything in return. We are going to release a 10-year documentary and we are going to show it across the country, towards the last quarter of the year. That is a project I’m really excited about because I have lots of interesting footage.
The last 10 years have really made a difference, it has brought Nigerian music to the forefront and we have influenced pop culture internationally.
I think the best public relation Nigeria has right now is the music and they can’t take that away from us. Outside the country, we hear a lot of negative things about Nigeria, but music is what people love about Nigeria right now. Everyone wants to come to Nigeria because of our music.
Have you chosen a date for the anniversary?
We haven’t chosen a date for the dinner but it’s coming up soon. We are launching the human trafficking programme at Transcorp Hilton in Abuja, after that we’ll do the dinner. Falz the Bahd Guy will headline the launch. We are doing it in collaboration with NAPTIP. We’re going to reach out to some victims that have come back home and see how we can help and mentor them.