Alhumphery Onyanabo has seen it all in the Nigerian media space.
An ex-Claimax Magazine society reporter, Al, as he is fondly called, said that he was the first person/journalist to bring King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal , KWAMI1 into the mainstream media back in the 1990s.
In this chat, he told Charles Okogene , how it all happened successfully but that it was not financially rewarding.
How did the idea of re-branding KWAM1 came then?
I met him sometime in 1991 I believe. Before then I had heard of him as a fuji musician who was called Talazo fuji messiah or something of sort. I did not like Fuji so I was really not interested. Also the stories peddled about him were not really palatable. People could relate with Sir Shina Peters, King Sunny Ade, Chief Ebenezer Obey, Y. K . Ajao, Adewale Ayuba, who were traditional musicians, but he seemed a bit not in their circle. Back then the only guy who wrote about him and his circle of friends was Halim Mohammed who anchored the entertainment pages for Coker Onita’s Today’s Choice Magazine edited by Niyi Akinsiju. Halim was then a heady dude who will stroll into KWAMI’s residence, have a drink on the guys, return to his work and describe them as ‘back street’; guy who saw themselves as lords of Surulere is what a mere reporter is describing as back street. This infuriated them and when next Halim comes calling, they will harass him but that did come in the way of his relationship with KWAM1 neither did it deter Halim from writing more negative stories about them. That was Halim for you.
I also know that Mayor Akinpelu of the then Prime People, later Vintage People and much later Fame Magazine and Today’s Choice was also close to him. Mayor as you know is a party man and so hung around the boys who made the city rock both from the juju music circle and the fuji music side as well.
Pretty much the same thing happened with all the core entertainment reporters and editors of that era. They just could not be bothered to relate with him. Fine! they will run a story brought by his PR foot soldier at that time but that was all.
So back to my first meeting.
One afternoon in August 1991, my publisher at Climax Magazine, the late Sunny Obazu Ojeagbase, God bless his soul, called me into his office and told me he had heard rumours that I was leaving to start a magazine of my own while he was banking on me to spearhead and lead the new improved Climax Magazine. This was after Moji Danisa and later Femi Akintunde Johnson , FAJ, had left as editors. Truth be told, I and S.O . as we all called him then, were very close. During production, we would both sleep on the floor in his office and he will fix me coffee, he taught me page planning , oh! he was a master.
Anyway, I denied the accusation, but he insisted he was sure of his facts. He now said for that reason, he was closing Climax Magazine. Two hours later, he called a staff meeting and sacked everybody without pay, asking us to pack our stuff and leave in one hour. It was devastating. My fiance was pregnant with our first son and I just was not prepared for the wahala. That was how I started scouting for investors to start a magazine of my own.
Before then, I had met a gentleman called Wale Spin through my senior friend and brother, Godwin Mekwuye owner of the high flying fashion house, Vivid imaginations.
Wale Spin’s house at Ekololu back then was the meeting point for a bunch of young rich Yoruba boys with lots of free money to spend. It was always a jolly time. I figured I could find investors in that crowd for my publication. Wale Spin introduced me to a great guy who is now late, Prince Tunde Ojurongbe , aka Tunde Tulampa . We hit it off at first sight and he promised to introduce me and my partner then Akin Ibishagba , who is also late to a few of his friends. Wasiu lived close by and also visited Wale Spins’ abode, which later became known as the headquarters of a social club called Buckingham Connection.
Anyway, while we traversed Lagos looking for funds that was slow in coming Tunde Tula took me to Wasiu’s house and sold him to me. He said he is a very good musician who needed to break into the mainstream media and it will be a good opportunity for me to earn some money and also help Wasiu with his image. Later I met Wasiu and we spoke and I said I will put together a media relations proposal, which I did. At this time, he was working on his album Fuji Collections. Great piece of music with back to back hit tracks. I followed them to the studio and listened to their rehearsals a couple of times and I loved what I heard.
In the interim, I put together my proposal and contract. He loved the proposal and said I should start working but he was not forthcoming in signing my contract. I was not too bothered about that because I just wanted to prove I can do it and earn something on the side while I was planning my publication.
My first strategy was to introduce him to the media. And I beat my chest to say I broke Wasiu Ayinde Anifowoshe, Kwam 1 , as he was called then into mainstream Nigerian media. We started with a massive press conference and launch on Allen Avenue.
When I started sending out the invites to the press parley people were shocked that a non Yoruba with all the wild stories they had heard about him could work with him. I invited the top editors based on my personal relationship; FAJ of Fame Magazine, Kayode Ajala of Hints, Halim Mohammed of Today’s Choice, Charles Okogene and Kazie Ukoh then of Evening Times, the late Amadi Ogbonna of Vanguard Newspapers and the top entertainment editors. They all were curious to see what we were cooking.
Sadly, Kwam 1 came late to the event, at the tail end when a lot of reporters had gone. But what saved the day was that all had launch while we waited and I issued a press release from the speech I had written for him so they all went back to work with their stories to continued with their work. He came in much late with *Tunde Tulampa*. He apologised to the few reporters/editors that waited but there was not really much damage done. The following week was a blast. Every paper and Magazine had a positive story on *Wasiu* , which had never happened before then, it was always negative stories about him, which also created a very negative image of him hence nobody wanted to come close despite the fact that he made very good music.
While all this was going on, the album was ready. I told him we needed a change from the norm of picking a photo and giving to his music label, Omo Aje records to produce an album sleeve. I told him we have to do a photoshoot. I booked studio time with the famous photo studio owned by Phillip Trimnell and we did a wonderful session with pictures that totally rebranded him. Initially he was reluctant to go, but I insisted and eventually he agreed. And you can understand, he had never gone to the studio before for a photoshoot so he could have felt that who was I to tell him what to do, but thank God, he listened to me. With the pictures, I contacted my friend, an artist and brand consultant, Chino Obasi to design the album sleeve for Fuji Collections, which was an instant hit. That album sleeve design changed the way fuji musicians designed their albums from then on.
Was working with him a success?
Yes, working with him was a success, though, not financially rewarding for me, but I achieved my objectives, which were to break him into mainstream media, which has continued till today.
I left him amicably in 1992 to pursue my dream of publishing and that’s when Lanre Ijaola who was my junior colleague on the society beat of Climax Magazine ( he later followed Moji Danisa to Whispers Magazine) joined him as personal assistant while Dayo Olumo ( formerly A.R. manager of Premier Records) who used to come around to the house while I was repackaging Wasiu at the time also joined as PR manager. All in all, it was a wonderful experience. Despite the language limitations I was able to re-brand Wasiu Ayinde Anifowoshe in a way that I believe still shocks him. Tulampa till he died held me in high esteemed for the great work I did for his bossom friend.
Tell us more about Fuji Collections?
It was a super album with run away hit tracks, well co-ordinated PR. He was also lucky to have good pals like Tulampa and Bolaji Bassia that helped in selling the album to yuppies. They organised different parties attended by UNILAG girls that further popularised the album coupled with what I did. Bassia organised one in Peak Niteclub while Tula held his in *KWAM1’s residence. It was a bomb and since, KI* has not looked back