Dr.Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli (MFR) is a music icon. He is a multi-talented maestro flutist with cross-cultural Itsekiri and Swiss roots. Tee Mac combined his first degree in Economics from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, with a specialisation in classical music concert performance and philharmonic composition University of Lausanne.
During a rich career spanning over 40 years, Tee Mac formed numerous bands including Tee Mac & Afro Collection in the 1970s with notable Nigerian artists. He recorded his first LP United with Polydor International in Germany with his European band Tee Mac United, in the late seventies.
Tee Mac hit the global music charts with two songs Fly Robin Fly, and Get Up & Boogie (owes 50% of the copy right) and toured extensively with his third band Silver Convention in the mid seventies. He worked with celebrated Nigerian singer Shirley Bassey as her musical arranger & conductor and also worked as a composer for Cidi Croft Enterprise and later for Universal Films in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Even though Tee Mac spent a lot of time touring across the globe (Far East, Latin America, Europe, North America and South Africa), he always invested in local Nigerian initiatives, becoming one of the pioneers of the Classical Music Society of Nigeria which eventually founded the Muson Center, Nigeria’s leading music school.
In 2007 Tee Mac was elected President of the Musician Union of Nigeria PMAN, investing time and energy in to helping develop the Nigerian entertainment industry. In 2009 he was appointed the Nigerian director of the Motherland Group, (initiated by Michal Jackson’s brother, Marlon, of the world famous Jackson 5), which is getting support from the Lagos State Government to build a Historical Slave Museum in Badagry. In 2000 he was elected Chairman of FAMECorp, owned by top Nigerian Musicians and Nollywood stars, to build Cinema houses and concert halls all over Nigeria. Tee Mac was awarded the member of the Federal Republic (MFR) national honor by Nigeria’s President Yar’Adua in 2009 for his vital role in brokering peace with the Niger Delta militants and fighting for their rehabilitation. In 2011 he received an honorary doctorate degree in Arts from Bradley University in Illinois, where he serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and teaches philharmonic composition as visiting Associate Professor.
Tee Mac is blessed with two sons a daughter and three grandchildren. Tee Mac invested into Solid Minerals (he is the Chairman of Allied Minerals Ltd., Cass-Cotan Mining and Processing Ltd. Director in Hemla-Ogoni Resources Ltd. Director in D&H Energy Nig. Ltd. and the West African representative of Daewoo & Hemla (Norway) Gas and Oil solutions.
Tee Mac remains till date one of Nigeria’s celebrated Classic music legends. A few weeks back, he spoke to AJIKE our music columnist. Below are excerpts of the interview.
Tee Mac Omatshola Iseli is a household name in Nigeria. Can you please tell us about your background, childhood, school, family?
I was born 17th of May 1948 in Lagos Nigeria at the Colonial Hospital, Awolowo Road Ikoyi. My father Theo Manfred Iseli (SWISS) Ambassador was assassinated in 1951 after he left the Swiss government service and started the ‘’Swiss Watch Shops’’ all over Nigeria. My mother Suzanna (from the Fregen Omateye (Itsekiri) Royal Family sent me and my two sisters, Herta and Rita to our Swiss Family in Zurich and I had my whole education in Switzerland. I was blessed to go to the best Swiss Schools and studied Music (Flute guitar and voice), plus Economics with a major in High Finance. Returned to Nigeria in 1972 to pick up a job as hard ware manager in the Swiss Company UTC.
Your contribution to Nigerian music cannot be forgotten in a hurry. After watching you for several years I have always wanted to ask “What genre of Music do you play?
As a classical trained musician, of course my first love is Classical, Philharmonic Music. But coming back home I learned to adapt and became a POP artists. When I left Nigeria in 1972 and returned to Europe I became part of the musicians who created Disco music. I have my own style which demands good lyrics, solid and well placed harmonies to carry the lead melodies. As an African musician of course I use apart of the drums Congas, Bongos, and Talking Drums etc. my composition follow the polyphonetic system. Melody, harmony and percussion.
You were among the early founding pioneers of Muson Centre, Nigeria’s leading classical music school which has become today an abode for classical music training. What was the story behind the erection of such heritage structure in the earth of Lagos years ago?
I was one of the founders 1977 of the Classical Music Society of Nigeria with Sir Mervin Brown (British High Commissioner), my god father Chief Akintola Williams, later joined by Sir Louis Mbanefo and the Minister of Transport, Rosiji (Bolaji’s father). President Babangida gave the society the “Love Garden’’ land, where we erected the MUSON Centre. I was one of the first donors with 500,000 USD. We lobbied and got the London School of Music to approve their curriculum for the Muson Centre.
In Lagos, we were very familiar with the school band in the 60’s/70’s. ie Kings College, Igbobi College, Saint Gregs, Methodist Boys, etc all had School bands what can we say led to the decline of this band culture?
When I returned in 1970 to Nigeria I performed a concert around August at the Kings College with an American Concert Pianist. The Mozart Flute Concertos and many of the students present told me years later on how it influenced their life to love classical music. I also trained a band at the Saint Gregs and my friend Majekudumi worked with the boys who became Ofege. In those days teenagers had a different mentality.
To be part of a good band, to perform for student events and be admired by co-students was good enough. Most schools had a music room with all the instruments needed for a life band to perform and this helped the youngsters to form bands and to compete against each other. Now only schools of the children of the rich like the French School, the Lekky British School, Hill Crest school can afford instruments and speakers, because with the crazy exchange rate even professional musicians can hardly afford to purchase the needed instruments. Even simple recorders, flutes and guitars are not easily available.
Tee Mac was a onetime President of PMAN, from your own general assessment of PMAN today can you say much progress has been made by the association?
PMAN is the largest black musician union in the world. I did not realize the complexity of the job as the PMAN President. It was very challenging and unfortunately I inherited a very unfriendly fraction who made my life very difficult. Instead working together to achieve positive results, the fractional leader was a destroyer and finally ended up in Ikoyi prison for fraud. I handed over January 2016 to a properly elected PMAN Presient Hon Keston Okoro who resigned early this year to hand over to Dr. Gbenga who is doing a great job.
When I attended the world body (FIM, Federation of International Musician Unions 160 of them) meetings in South Africa, I realized that the world respects PMAN much more than Nigeria do. Estimated 150,000 professional and 2.4 million church and armature musicians are under the umbrella of PMAN. It doesn’t matter is some upcoming musician snob PMAN. According to the regulations every Nigerian musician must and is part of the Union. It’s like the Medical Association or the Bar Association. In those associations you are not allowed to practice without being a member this will soon apply to the Musician Union too.
What happened to your project as Chairman of Famecorp to build cinema’s and concert hall across Nigeria.
FAMECorp was created by investors to start a new Cinema and Concert hall culture in Nigeria and most members paid naira 50,000 for the minimum shares. Our CEO (forgot his name) used the money for his own expenses and had great ideas on how to raise billions, but they never came. So when the paid down money was finished he was fired and the project went on hold. We are quietly working on the revival with a PPP (through a Medium Term Note trading program where the profits must be used for humanitarian and development projects). Details to be announced soon.
You have a very close relationship with The Jackson’s Brothers . How did it all start?
I was lucky to have one of the best managers in the 70-80s. His name was Jimi Bishop, a part owner of Philly Sound Philadelphia USA. He had notable bands like the Ojey’s, Temptations, Teddy Pendergrass, Betty LaBelle, The Jacksons and Silver Convention. I met Papa Joe Jackson in 1974 at the offices of Jimi Bishop, on Beverly Boulevard Hollywood. We shared quite a lot of concerts and then in 2008 Marlon Jackson came with a couple of Majors to Nigeria and we renewed our friendship.
There is an ongoing project with the Jackson Brother called “ The Motherland Project”. Give us a better insight into this.
I took Marlon Jackson to Badagry and in the museum he was allowed to wear the original slave chains. This was very emotional for Marlon and he started to cry. We visited the slave route, the point of no return and Marlon stated that every African Americans should come to Nigeria, Badagry and Calabar to experience this. We had a great support by Governor Fashola who stated that he will give us a lease on 420 Hectares of land, including the slave route and the point of no return is we have proof of funds. That was not too difficult, we presented to him a Standard Chartered Bank Guarantee of 1.2 Billion US Dollars. This guarantee was conditional of us getting the lease on the land. When the lease documents were signed one the directors of the Mother Land Project withdrew 7 million US Dollars without board approval and me counter signing (I was the Managing Director) stating that was for his architectural designs. I had to report this to the investors who immediately cancelled the guarantee and prosecuted the guilty director. We stopped the project and are planning to continue when funding is back on.
How many albums has Tee Mac recorded till date?
I have a couple of Disco, Pop, and classical records to my credit.
What is the name of your musical instrument and why the choice of this instrument?
I studied the C Concert Flute, it is the most difficult instrument to master but to me it is the most beautiful because you can play any genre of music on it.
Judging from your kind of music you must be very deep in thought. Please how do you get inspiration for such compositions?
I love to sit in a quiet place and listen inside my head and I hear the music going on nonstop. I will use the keyboard of my computer C D E F G A B C (the musical alphabet) to write the music down with a sophisticate software called SIBELIUS. This enables me now to play back immediately what I have composed, not like the last 30 years of my life where I hand scored the music and I could only hear my philharmonic music when a big orchestra played it. I have many hard discs full of completed and half completed philharmonic works and flute concertos.
As a music icon who has seen it all. What is your last word of encouragement for the next generation of musicians?
First I have not seen it all yet, I am still working hard on my flute, my voice, my composition but you could say, one who has tried so far his best.
I would like to advise all upcoming, young or so called A listed artists in Nigeria that the BAR internationally is high and only countless hours of rehearsals can but you onto the level to be able to compete internationally. There is no short cut, or I would tell you. Some are borne more blessed and talented, some have to work hard but everybody must work thousands of hours on his or her voice or the instrument chosen. After one has written a hundred songs, the hit song will come. Important is to be unique and recognisable.
Not to copy somebody else. A bit of luck plays a roll too, but most important is to be good, so one can go out into the world to be discovered, to be able to stand on the stage with other stars. Only then one can say: I have achieved something. It is not the money, the houses or cars which matters. Important is that every CD is so good that it can stand the tide of time. Bad songs and records die and on has wasted precious time. Good songs and concertos become evergreens.