Wednesday, 7th June 2023

DJ Obi…From Guinness World Records To Building Afrobeats’ Nightlife

By Chinonso Ihekire
08 April 2023   |   4:20 am
The air was hung with a heavy silence. It was 6:30 pm in the bustling Victoria Island axis of Lagos. Seated across the patio in the popular Hard Rock cafe was Obi Ajuonama, the bright-eyed, thick-bearded and soft-spoken disc jockey taking over Lagos’ nightlife.

The air was hung with a heavy silence. It was 6:30 pm in the bustling Victoria Island axis of Lagos. Seated across the patio in the popular Hard Rock cafe was Obi Ajuonama, the bright-eyed, thick-bearded and soft-spoken disc jockey taking over Lagos’ nightlife. “I would always be here every Monday night,” he declared as he sat with me right after setting up his turntables. A few other team members sat across our table, giggling as they reviewed their plans for the night. Somewhere far back, a few other patrons sat – the early birds who kept soaking in the serenity as they sipped their drinks, which were mostly cognacs. This was the calm before the storm. 

Mondays in Lagos are notorious for their upsetting traffic jams, tense ambience and pensive moods. However, Ajuonuma, professionally known as DJ Obi, is one of the few creative minds that have found a unique way to dilute the dreariness with an enigmatic nightlife experience dubbed, ‘Obi’s House on a Monday’. The open-air lounge party melds different experiences like live DJ sets from Obi and other visiting contemporaries, open-mic talent discovery, celebrity appearances and price-friendly cuisine. And by the stroke of midnight, it morphs fully into a safe space for an average of 1,000 fun-seekers basking in the frenetic energies of the arena. 

Within Nigeria’s music circle, DJ Obi is on a steady ascent to dominating the nightlife experience in Lagos. What started as a mixture of heartbreak and boredom, in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when he played virtual sets from his house would later transition into one of the biggest party experiences every Monday night in the megacity. Stretching his legacy from breaking the Guinness World Records for the longest DJ set in 2016, after playing for 200 hours non-stop, at a cafe in Lagos, to building an entertainment experience that has now even crossed over to other climes like the United States, Canada, Trinidad, among others, DJ Obi is redefining nightlife culture – and showbiz culture, ultimately – with his team, his vision and his enigmatic sets. 

On today’s edition of Guardian Music, we delve into the corridors of  ‘Obi’s House,’ navigating the rationale behind Monday nights; the ingredients behind its success, as well as his journey becoming one of the most exciting hands behind the hot wheels in Nigeria’s showbiz scene, among others. 

What led to the emergence of Obi’s house?
There is a number of things that led to Obi’s House. You know, I was in a very dark place in my life and I was trying to restructure my brand. I didn’t want to be everywhere anymore. So I needed to create my own residency, and Obi’s House was easy to translate because I started doing it during COVID-19 pandemic on IG live. And because I was doing it in my house, I called it Obi’s House. It was just me vibing with everybody. Everybody will check in. We try to create a club atmosphere online, to just say oh, shout out to this person, we never know who is going to pop in today. It’s kind of like the same thing that we do at live events; we use to do it on Instagram live. So when I was going through that moment in my life, when I was trying to figure out what to do, when I decided that I wanted to have my own residency, it was easy to locate the name or think of the name as something like that. And obviously when it started at Bolivar. Bolivar was the first venue. So a lot of things fell into place because I had already started it.

How were you able to be consistent in it?
That was the ultimate test. When I said I was in a dark place in my life, I was going through a lot of inconsistencies to the point where it caught up with me. So I was rediscovering honesty, and part of being honest is being consistent. If you say that this is “why”, it has to consistently be “why” for your word to be your word. My sacrifice in that time and praying to God is that I will remain consistent in whatever it is that I am doing; and since this DJ work is something that I want to do by doing it and doing it positively to help people, bring them to a happy place where they can be themselves. That’s why Obi’s House is show up as you are. You don’t need to get a table; you can come as you are, enjoy yourself and all those things. But what I am promising is that I will always be here every Monday night.

Why did you always want to DJ?
I grew up in a media household. My father lived as a gentleman who gave the Sunday show, open house party at Ray Power. He was on TV for 13 years so it came naturally to me. I saw DJ Jimmy Jatt at a very young age, DJ Shino, DJ Aisher, a bunch of them, FX2- those were the guys I looked up to. I started paying attention to Jazzy Jeff and all of them. So when I was in the university, I needed some extra cash, it was a no brainer. But at some point, I wanted to become a party promoter but that one, you have to spend too much money but I decided to honour my love for music and turned it to DJ, because I had always been curious about DJs. So I’m a self-taught, self-trained DJ.

You broke the Guinness World Record in 2016. At that moment, how was it for you? What changed in your vision?
The vision has always been to be a trendsetter, to be able to change the nightlife scene and change how people experience artistes. So at every point it almost feels like every four years, there is this new burning sensation to evolve and do something different. With the world record, I was always trying to keep my name in people’s mouths. I was trying to keep my name in certain rooms as if they are speaking about DJs; they have to speak about Obi because this guy did something incredible by playing for 10 days. It has to be a ridiculous thing that I will wait for 10 days but to prove myself as a DJ. This was one of those things, to be able to create something that is going to stick for a long time. And doing that one a Monday night is very specific because it’s an off day. It’s not when people want to be out partying, but who says you can’t party on a Monday.

What was the inspiration behind choosing Monday nights?
The concept of the Mondays came about from Richard from Escape actually – the guy that owns Escape, the club. The name of the guy that was running Escape then was Richard Nnadi and he wanted to do something at Bolivar and on a Monday night. He was going to call it “Monday is not that serious” and he wanted me to DJ for him. But the logistics of starting that didn’t permit it to happen because he was going back and forth with the owner on terms and conditions. They couldn’t come to an agreement between Rashida, who owns Bolivar and Richard. But I wanted a night. I was also talking to Bolivar that I needed a night and she was like well if you can handle Monday nights, why not. And I was like you know what, the point is to be consistent. So whether it is Sunday evening, Monday morning, whatever night it is; I just want to know that I have somewhere that I can go every day to DJ.

Do you feel the brand is more of a community now?
The brand had always started out as a community and that’s why we are able to now take it on tour. The plan for this year is to take it on tour and do very big things in Obi’s House, you know. So we did a little tester. We went to Canada; we did Toronto for two nights; we did Chicago; we did DC; we went to Trinidad. So that community is expanding. People that came in in December or the “I just got backs (IJGBs)” and everybody would still go back to where they came from and take the good news of Obi’s House to say that yo, this party we experienced back home was a lot. Imagine if we can do it in our city, and that’s literally what we are cashing in on to say that anybody that wants Obi’s House in the city here, let’s talk and we’ll come out here in your city. So we did a quick test.

I have a friend out there; Femi Masha owns Event Noire. So he put together a quick tester for us so that we can see the possibilities of doing a much bigger tour this summer. Obi’s House is not your typical party. We are here to turn up; there is love; there is positivity. It is a community because there are people that check in on themselves, who have met themselves here and have kept in touch from coming to Obi’s House every Monday.

People have made business connections here; people have met their next deal here; people have met people they’ve been looking for, people we have never met before but we have emailed and we’ve done things.

It is a great place for new artistes to launch their music. So we accept a lot of brand new music because we want people to feel comfortable to play their music. Even if they don’t get the opportunity in the mainstream clubs, you can do it at Obi’s House.

How can they get that opportunity?
They just hit me up. Just hit me up, and I’ll pull up; it’s as simple as that. Come to Obi’s House with the music, we listen to it, it makes sense and we play it. We play it. We don’t discriminate against any new artiste like a proud judge. So, we play your music and if the crowd is feeling it, you will be there to see it for yourself and feel it. If the crowd is feeling it, we would play it again according to the vibe of the place.

Are there any plans you have, like a concert at some point?
We are going to allow the crowd to dictate that. We are feeling out the vibe to say okay we feel like they will like this, we feel like they will like that. We just started introducing, every now and then, performances from artistes. We’ve had The Loud Choir, and tonight we are doing Oiza and Meyi, the twin sisters, they will do a quick set. So we are hoping from there it can progress to just doing, you know; once in a while we have someone that can come and so like a quick 10 minutes. It’s not necessarily taking anything else from our party vibe, but it’s just an add on to say come and bless us with your talents with your quick 10-minute performance, 15-minute performance and we get back to the party.

Finally, tell us some interesting facts about you  
I don’t know; people think because I am a DJ, I don’t have a strong Christian background. I believe in God very seriously. I don’t play with God. People believe that because I’m in a mundane industry, like the entertainment industry is based on vanity, but your God-given talent, you can use it very positively in the entertainment industry and that’s what I am trying to do with Obi’s House. So people are usually shocked when I start talking about God.

Fun fact about me, I am a home buddy, actually. I really don’t enjoy going out. I am an indoor person. I actually just prefer chilling at home but we have to make this money, so I have to be outside. I’m also a foodie, low key.