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What African artistes need to know about selling their music abroad — Femi Bello

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Femi Bello grew up loving music at a very tender age. Even though he perhaps never knew what the future holds for him at such an young age, he kept falling in love with cool music, which not only entertained him, but also relaxed his system. For someone who is very passionate about putting smiles on peoples’ faces, Bello decided to help people succeed in any music business they venture in.

But at 20, fate catapulted him to the United States of America, where he resided for the past 30 years, organising shows for top Nigerian music stars, a feat which he said has exposed him to different aspect of event promotion and given him a firm belief that any Nigerian artiste will thrive with any show in the US once a proper structure is emplaced.

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“In the US, I worked with Wande Coal, Wizkid, Psquare, Olamide, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi and even Sarkodie. These are top African artistes whose concerts I packaged in the US. They are big concerts in their own rights and there is always a different approach to every show, but I can tell you that Nigerian artistes will sell out any show in the US as long as we put proper structure in place ahead of the event,” he said.

But to succeed in his event-making business in the United States, Bello said he had to surmount some breathtaking challenges which wouldn’t have been possible without his solid upbringing backgrounds years back in Nigeria, despite having to part with his father at age four.

“I grew up in Lagos Island, but I was raised by my dad’s family because my dad relocated to the US when I was four years old. Growing up without my dad was not easy because I was raised by people, who instilled discipline in me; they taught me values and morals a man must imbibe. I was quite rascally when I was growing up but my family raised me well. And it is the value system that has helped me thrive in America,” he explained.

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For Bello to have made such a huge impact in event promotion in an advanced country like the US, one would have thought that he actually studied the act professionally, but his story was more of personal cultivation of in-built talent than classroom grooming.

“I have always been an event person. I have been involved in organising parties and making plans for people when they have events. In fact, I remember that I started throwing parties when I was 19 years-old. In Nigeria back then, just as we have now, there were different genres of music that people wanted to listen and groove to, but I have always been a fan of R&B music. Growing up with my uncle, I fell in love with slow music, holding ladies and dancing to soft tunes. That’s how it started for me; it started basically after I left college,” he said.
But like the beginning of every big dream will always be difficult, Bello never had it rosy when he started, but he ended up garnering huge experience throughout the first shots.

He said: “The beginning was not easy at all. To plan an event is one of the hardest jobs if you understand what it really means to bring an artiste down to a venue. You have to speak to his manager and talk to everybody that is around him that could make your job easy. The artiste aspect is just one leg of many steps you would take.

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“Another step that is crucial is getting a perfect location for the event. Moving around with your crew to get the best location does not come easy. You need a strong and trusted team that understands your vision.”

But of all shows he has organised for big artistes in the US, Bello said the one he did for Wande Coal in 2009 remains his biggest. “His show was the first event that I organised with top artistes. It was not easy, but my team and I worked hard and we had one of the most successful shows and were really proud to have Wande Coal on the show.”

According to him, dealing with Nigerian artistes can be very challenging, because most times they are always after the money they would make at the end of the show and not necessarily the fans base and more popularity the shows will fetch them.

“The truth is that most of these artistes don’t understand how things work here, especially when they bring their shows to the US. They have a wrong impression about the way we make the shows work. So I always tell them that their approach towards show promoters is bad. Some of them don’t open up to the show promoters; they try to be smarter. They don’t understand the business aspect of the job. What they always care about is the money they want to make at the end of the show. They make the job hard for you when they don’t speak up,” he further explained.

Speaking on his love for Afrobeat music, he said: “Everybody knows that when you mention Afrobeat music, the name Fela Anikulapo-Kuti comes to mind instantly but then, look at how technology has helped the genre to be more acceptable globally. Today, you hear how music stars across the world infuse Afrobeat into their songs. That tells you that the whole world has embraced the Afrobeat sound.”

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