•Founder/Band Leader, AKIN SHUGA, Tells City People
Many call him Akin Shuga. But his real name isAkinloye Tofowomo, Akin Shuga is a versatile Live performer, and the leader of one of Nigeria’s top music bands – The Shuga Band. He came into social scene and changed the game in the music industry. And he has stayed up there ever since.
Akin Shuga, despite his rising profile in the industry sees Unity rather than Competition among live band artistes, and has pushed for a formidable system that will protect the interest of everyone.
He was our Guest on City People Instagram Live Chat and spoke on how the COVID-19 has hit band but survived the last 4 months with no shows and how it affected Owambe gatherings and by extension, music artistes… Enjoy the excerpts.
How has the last 4 months been?
It’s been an experience. And it’s been a very welcomed experience, where only very few things mattered. And one of the key things that mattered was health, staying safe. Surviving has been the major focus. Let’s get through this first and understanding the fact that the things we do Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays everything was frozen. So, for two months, it’s like we’re not here and we’re not there. We’re not hospitalised, but here we were. You can’t party, you can’t visit people. There were so many things we just couldn’t do anymore. So it’s a relearning process. And it’s also a time to rethink, in terms of a reset for everyone all over the world for every sphere. Whatever you do in life if you say you are not affected you must be joking.
What are the lessons you have learned amid the lockdown?
The most important lesson is that life matters. Because these days we just hear figures, unlike when you just heard that someone dies and you say oh, Wow! But today you just hear that 133 active cases, 47 people dead and I will be wondering, are we talking about flies? That’s the significance of life. Even in a plane crash, they give names, but not with COVID-19, we just hear figures. But significantly we learned that life is precious. So, our thoughts must change on the things we give a hoot about, things we care about. But predominantly, it’s about survival, health security and, of course, Ona kan o woja (one need more streams of income)
As an artiste with a big band, how did you survive?
Yes, but some of us have also prepared for scenarios like this. Some of us have considered the possibility of an emergency, encourage people to do this and do that because it’s no joke that you have about 14 or 15 people in a band, you have a technical team of about 6 or 7. You have staff of maybe about 7, so you are talking about almost 40 people or thereabout, who are relying on this source of income and then something freezes. We just sit everybody and say look, this is where we are. The job of a CEO mostly that I have got to know is that he must ensure that the company does not run out of cash, and this is where we are. So, it’s important for all of us to understand that this is where we are. It’s going to be tough. Everyone used to collect, 20, 30, 40 thousand weekly; its frozen o..so whatever change you have, whilst you are managing, we will provide succour somewhere along the line in these phases, just to help, so that you can stabilise and be on your feet till hopefully, we are able to play again. So, in the past, we have done a few things. Some of the things we did in the past were that from the money that used to be sprayed at parties, we usually take 10 % of it into a savings account. So, the first money we went for was the money as palliative. So, we took the job of what the government would have done because we are now the government in the lives of our staff and all the people who are our dependant.
I always tell people that care to listen that our job is not very secure. Our job is reliant on other people’s lifestyle and their lifestyles could change. Someone who drinks a lot of champagne could say because of diabetes I have decided to be drinking water. So, it means that if I was selling champagne I would be in trouble. So our service are lifestyle of entrepreneurs, which is what we are because we service a particular lifestyle. We have to be ready for changes like this because they would come. So, there won’t be a setback, there won’t be issues, but you must put your small plans in place that are able to give you the cushioning effects when those things come into being. So for us, let’s say we were 50% prepared somewhat. We didn’t know it would be this long.
Let’s talk about Shugaband, you’ve been playing for how long?
Ehm..for about 23 years.
How did you manage to sustain a band of that magnitude for 23 years?
Well, one, it’s about focused ambition, and focused innovations and a fantastic team. It’s not easy to put people together, but I always say you cannot peg anybody’s ambition. So, people will come to the platform, people will see what they can take from the platform, so they will keep coming. So one of the key questions I always ask meeting with anybody who wants to join the band is what is your focus musically? If you think it’s gonna be easy, it’s not
It has been tough to say the least, we are holding it in there, innovating, but as I said, we are very focused about what we wanted to do, and what we always chase. So, we don’t chase shadows, we don’t chase the wrong things. so we have a very focused board and a very focused team and, of course, when we went corporated, you know bringing in the corporate world, corporate hands, and corporate look, a lot of things changed. The more they were running the much more expensive model, but we were also able to understand that when making money and so we could put the money into good use in terms of having a very functional team. A functional office and also planning for the future and in-between also diversifying into other areas of entertainment like a record label so we moved from just being a one-man band to an entertainment company and then will start spreading out, understanding that ok so now we know this was when I went to the Harvard of music business, I went to Berkeley and my understanding about it all changed. I was basically starting from a one-man band and then evolving, so, as at the time I met professor John Kellogg, who mentored me, he used to be a member of Cameo and the first thing he told me was that the music never plays forever. He said the show will start and the Show will not last forever and so in music business music is the only business you do, that you must have an exit plan it says musicians are like fraudsters because they think the glitz, the starry nights, the light will not be all forever. He said there’s no light that stays on forever. So don’t stuck. And I passed it on and I started the band and groomed them on the thing you need to do when you start working like if they’re so…., basically, we have evolved, and we are still evolving, but this is where we are now. You’ve always carved a different picture of yourself away from the regular artist
Because I’m I’ve gone through a lot of setbacks and I’ve gone through a lot of disappointments as well and I’ve had a very tough time, but one thing is sure and one thing that I know is that I’m a nurturer I am somebody who nurtures. The same attention I’ll pay to take care of a puppy is the same attention I’ll pay to a business. It’s a lot of hard work and perseverance,
So, I’ve been able to realise there are guarantee that they’ll be setbacks and hardship and there have been. I can go on and on, but no that’s not the point. For anyone who is going to be successful, it’s the same thing like you Egbon, you have a story, so there’s always the story there. But it is about focus. A time, I’m trying to be an entrepreneur or a musician. At the same time, I wanted to start learning how to be a pilot. So, I was focused on where was going to, so, I am a focused innovator and God blesses me with executors in my team. So, while the ideas come, I have fantastic people who make the execution of these ideas very easy, So, it’s like a breeze so it’s been a lot of work but first is that I identified what I really wanted and I went for it and had some time I was trying to please my parents of trying to please people, but I don’t please people anymore, I just do what I’m focused on what I need to achieve what I need to do and there’s a business phase to everything that I do,
In a relationship, it is just like you… I told my team I said everything that sustains these businesses is people-based, so don’t deny me of that interaction as much as we’re growing and will filtering we still need to understand that we have survived I’ve got to this point from goodwill and from networking and from affiliations and from partnerships. So, of all these things, have put us together.. we always have questions. We are never satisfied I am never satisfied, my team is never satisfied.
So, there’s nothing that is perfect and nothing can be picture-perfect but what I’ve always tried to do is that, if we can’t get 100, let’s try to achieve 80. So, we’ve imbibed that, and that’s what has kept us.
How do you create time to keep yourself abreast of all the old tunes?
Yeah..just like you have said, they say practice makes perfect.
You constantly need to re-energise and listen to the song again and keep it up with the menu, so the menu is like all the songs that I mentioned. When I started out, I could not sing one line of Yoruba song because of my background I wasn’t exposed to it. I could hear the music, but I couldn’t relate with that kind of music, so the music I was exposed to. was what I took to the platform.
For other ones came too, like for instance, when we start hearing, Oh Suga, we would have given you the show, but you don’t sing Tungba, you don’t sing this or that, you don’t hail people,…Now, I’m like okay, what do we do? So we got people to come to play that part,
And then, of course, having problems with those people because they came and then they have this thing sense of self-importance, that because of us you made money. We are the ones who are keeping you, like seriously?
What are you doing? Isn’t this what you do? And I remember travelling with my wife to Ibadan, and we were going to buy amala and then we saw these old records all these Yoruba records and all that and we bought them and I started listening to them and I didn’t expose myself because I let the guys do let them come with all their ego.
And one day, while one of them was there, I just picked up the mic and I started doing what we have called him to do. You know at the end of the day he called me and said, Egbon, you too can hail people in your song now, how did you do it? So, it was necessary I mean ‘necessity’ is the mother of invention, it was necessary that I get all those things, you know, I understand my niche. Honestly, I’m not an Octopus, I cannot be everything, but I try to be as much as into my menu as much as possible. So this is the menu I am providing.
So, it means that I must know how to cook 75% of my menu and understand the nitty-gritty of it. Every other thing that is required maybe then remaining 20% ok guys the 20%, have it. 30%, have it. It is what you know it is what you’re trained to do, do it. This is the platform. So it’s a platform that’s been created for who wanted to grow beyond just Akin Sugar, Akin Sugar can go on to be an artiste or going to be whatever he is to be, and then the sugar band will forever just keep on evolving like that so that’s the work. It’s everyday work. And the way I listen to music is different so I have my music groups into different playlists and I listen to them over and over and over and over. So, while I’m reading and listening to music while I’m in the car listening to music. So I’m listening to music from different areas it’s the same way I read books. I have a book in the car, I have a book in my bag. I have a book by the side of my bed I have books on my table and have books on my iPad so at every point in time I’m abreast of so many things and I’m keying in because I have a focus…