BY TONY OGAGA ERHARIEFE
HE is the biggest promoter of jazz music in Nigeria. However, it has not been a tea party for Ayoola Sadare, the CEO of Inspire Productions, growing the Lagos International Jazz Festival (LIJF) brand.
In 2008, armed with only his dream and a shoe-string budget, he had organised the maiden edition of the LIJF. Though a success, the event returned in 2013 and ever since, the vision has continued to grow from strength to strength and this year, plans have been wrapped up for the fourth edition which kicks-off on April 30, at Freedom Park, Lagos.
It was a cloudy evening as I drove into Medina Estate, Gbagada, Lagos, for a rendezvous with Sadare recently. As I parked my car I couldn’t wait to ‘pounce’ on him because I had many questions bugging me including how he has kept the LIJF dream alive despite a myriad of challenges.
A short while later I’m sited before him. He regards me from across his mahogany desk on which are strewn newspaper clippings and magazines as a welcoming smile creases his visage. Despite the air-conditioner, a fan hummed away in the corner giving you that office cosy feeling. One thing you can’t take from Ayoola is his love for paintings. On the walls are hung paintings depicting picturesque and exciting scenes from the Centre of Excellence. And to my right in one corner on a shelf are neatly arranged awards Sadare and his platform, Inspiro Productions have garnered over the years.
“Lagos International Jazz Festival is a good public relations tool for Lagos State,” Inspiro begins, his voice bouncing of the walls as the interview kicks-off. “Lagos International Jazz Festival will establish Lagos on the global jazz tourism map as a tourist destination in the nearest future. It will attract jazz tourists across the globe,” Sadare’s voice rang with enthusiasm as he spoke.
Founded in 2008, LIJF has featured stars like Asa, Courtney Pine, Freshly Ground, Victor Masondo, Beat Kaestli and Nigeria’s Grammy award winner, Lekan Babalola among a host of others. Ayoola discloses that he got the inspiration over 12 years ago after an encounter with Nse Obong Okon, a journalist from ThisDay Newspapers who had also been to the Cape Town International Jazz Festival a couple of times.
“Back then we used to design packages for tour operators,” Sadare recalls, “this was in 2005 and then I was running an integrated marketing communication agency and I was like ‘why can’t we replicate it here?’ I discussed it with Nse Obong and Benson Idonije who had the details of the organisers of the Cape Town Jazz Festival.
“One thing led to another and that was how we started. In fact, it was like an epiphany because the idea suddenly struck me. I had been involved in music so it presented new frontiers to me; it was like the next level in my career so I just grabbed the opportunity.”
Recounting the aftermath of the maiden edition which was a success, Ayoola continues: “There were mixed reactions. While some gave me thumbs up, others said I was flying by the seats of my pants! There were challenges with finances. Some people were like, ‘what gave you the audacity to want to have something of this magnitude. What gave you the audacity to dream that big?’
“Yes, I would be honest with you, it was a passion driven event and it almost caused a quarrel. A friend said it was just foolish passion and that really hurt me and I was like ‘can’t you see what I am seeing? This thing has the potential to transform the Nigerian economy because the benefits are beyond entertainment; they are awesome! This platform has potential to provide jobs for millions of Nigerians.’”
A case for institutional sponsorship
One problem plaguing the platform is that of sponsorship. This musch Sadare revealed to Entertainer.
Commenting on how he has been funding the platform, Sadare reveals that that LIJF has been self funding: “It’s been self funded. We have some sponsors like Sovereign Trust Insurance. They stood by us at the first edition and also, some people have supported us in cash and in kind. But for the vision to move forward, we need institutional support and not just a few private organisations throwing their weight behind us. Though the private sector is important, the public sector has a big role to play.
“We are currently speaking to the Lagos State Honourable Commissioner for Tourism, Arts & Culture in Lagos State, Honourable Folarin Coker, whom we know is doing quite a lot of nice stuff.”
Justifying the need for government backing he continued: “If we have the backing of government, LIJF will create jobs and attract foreign exchange. When the Cape Town International Jazz Festival held its 10th edition, they had some problems financially because sponsors were not forthcoming because of the economy.
“The government took over but allowed the owners of the dream to power it. You may ask yourself, ‘why government intervention?’ The government did it because it had become a signature arts and culture event on the global tourism calendar, it had grossed about a billion Rand (N15-20b) for the South African economy.
“Today, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is so dynamic that months before the event, tickets are sold out. In fact, getting a flight ticket to SA months before the festival is a big challenge because airlines are booked up. Flight tickets to Cape Town are almost non-existent because people are coming from all over the world to witness the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
“That is the kind of impact that the event has and that is what we want to replicate here in Lagos,” Sadare reveals with the confidence of one who knows his onions.
According to Sadare, the benefits of LIJF for the Lagos economy and by extension, the Nigerian economy are awesome! He beams with smiles as he continues: “Right now the price of oil is down and the economy is in a mess. But then, truth is, ‘entertainment can be used to turn the Nigerian economy around?’
“Check out statistics and you will find out that the entertainment industry is on the rise. The creative industry in the UK in 2014/2015 contributed £84bn to the economy. When earnings from other sectors of the economy where dwindling, earnings from entertainment doubled and that goes for entertainment in Africa especially Nigeria.”
Among others, Sadare says LIJF will establish Lagos in particular and Nigeria as a jazz tourism destination placing the Centre of Excellence firmly in the global jazz tourism circuit side by side with festivals like Montreux, Montreal, Umbra, London, New York and Cape Town International Jazz Festivals to mention a few.
Speaking on his vision for LIJF, Sadare continues with emphasis: “Our target is for Lagos to be the number one jazz destination in Africa in five years and the world in 10years and we can achieve this with institutional support.”
Among others, Sadare argues that LIJF will strongly reinforce the image branding project of Lagos State and serve as an excellent PR tool for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode while also acting as a platform to discover new indigenous musicians.
Nigeria, next frontier for growth
“Our market is the next frontier for growth. There is a global shift from recording to live performance and festivals like LIJF are targeted by global music companies to get their acts on,” Sadare, reveals, arguing that LIJF will deepen the tourism, arts and culture realities of Lagos State by promoting sustainable and responsible tourism as it will give Lagos State the opportunity to yearly host an international event which will have an economic impact on big and small businesses as thousands are attracted and the hospitality industry and other businesses benefit.
“Revenue will be generated for the state and employment opportunities created,” Ayoola says with emphasis, “this will ultimately help to contribute to the GDP of the state by stimulating the local economy through job creation and revenue generation.
“LIJF will be positioned as an annual signature event on the global arts, culture and tourism calendar showcasing not only the finest jazz and jazz related musicians in the country and abroad but other aspects of our rich visual, performing and literary arts components among a host of others.”
To drive home his point, Sadare adds: “The creative industry can revive the dwindling fortunes of the Nigerian economy. We are almost four times or three times the size of South Africa. The city of Lagos has a population of give or take, 15 to 20 million people and all the trappings of making it an international festival destination.”
Are you a musican playing jazz or jazz related music? Have you been looking for a break? There is good news in the air. Sadare is looking for you. The jazz promoter opens up on plans for young artistes at LIJF 2016.
“What makes LIJF unique is our content and our programming. We want authentic jazz musicians. We are also looking inwards at our indigenous guys who don’t really play jazz but jazz related music. We are already getting calls and also we’re looking out for the Next Rated jazz artiste so most of the music schools are coming out.
“Those expected include The Span Academy of Jazz and Contemporary Music and 10 Strings Music Institute. We are also going to the Peter King School of Music School too. Asides, when I go round I always put my eyes and ears to the ground for new and fresh talent,” concludes Sadare.