“U“sually, when Obodoechina “Obi” Asika is interviewed by mainstream media, there is an overwhelming focus on his accomplishments in Africa’s music industry. This makes sense. Afterall, his contributions to the industry is precisely why he was inducted at the 2008 Hip-Hop World Awards into Nigeria’s Music Hall of Fame. However, there is more to the Asika than his music. Asika is an all around Tower of Power and Ladybrille Magazine’s January 2011 Man of the Month. In this exclusive with Ladybrille, the media and entertainment mogul reveals his lighter side and facets of his persona usually seen only by those in his inner circle. He dishes on married life, personal influences, his sources of inspiration and motivation, and what he believes the future holds for him.
Empowering a Country & Continent With the Business of Music
Obi Asika is obviously highly intelligent and business-savvy, but as we began to peel back his complex layers, he exposes a chatty, affable wit and magnetism that have undeniably aided in paving the way for his success. Asika began his creative odyssey through the world of entertainment in his teens. From an early age, he embraced his Black heritage and found a home in the music of artists such as New Beginnings and Public Enemy. His love for the music led to a bigger vision: to lead the world on a guided tour straight to the heart of modern African music and eventually the arts at large, sharing Africa’s beauty and strength with the world. From his humble beginnings in the industry promoting parties and gigging as a DJ in his teens, he has indeed achieved a large part of his vision, establishing himself and his company Storm 360 Entertainment Agency as a power player in West Africa.
Today, the self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and CEO of Storm 360 has his eyes on the big prize: “unlocking and legitimizing the urban Nigerian entertainment space.” And just how does he intend to do this??? The answer is not yet clear, but the ultimate goal is linked to monetizing show business in Nigeria while embracing new technology and media. “[Russell] was able to create something out of nothing. It’s the same thing I am trying to do here,” explained Asika to Ladybrille as he noted the accomplishments of America’s Russell Simmons and cites him as a source of inspiration and guidance.
With no blue print to follow in Africa and far less infrastructure with which to build an entertainment empire, Asika has taken the road less traveled. “I could have stayed in Europe or gone to New York but I chose to come home and pursue my career goals . . .[The truth is] I didn’t want to be an agent or a broker. I wanted to own the business of entertainment in all fields,” he explained to us. Flashing a quick smile, he notes, “we set trends, so we want to make ends,” delivering a dose of hip-hop in its rawest and simplistic form. “That was my attempt to be a rapper just now,” joked the media mogul revealing an unexpectedly funny layer to his very business focused exterior.
Returning to his serious business persona, Asika discusses efforts by some Nigerian heavy hitters to foster a creative industries council. “Focusing on rights protection, distribution, access to capital, and human capacity is the key to launch Nigeria [and thereby Storm 360] to the next level and garner [them] even broader international respect,” he stressed. Asika continues describing this changing time as an exciting opportunity for people to re-embrace and understand who Nigerians really are.
Why does it matter that people understand who Nigerians are? For Asika, it comes from parents who instilled in him a love for his homeland and its people, making the promotion of Nigeria the utmost importance to him. The son of a statesman, Asika indicates that he has no political aspirations at this point, but in his father’s image, he has maintained very strong ties to his community, his culture, and his country. “Nigerians need to understand and communicate our excellence and our legacy,” stresses Asika who holds this belief close to heart.
He is especially proud of Nigeria’s pop culture reach and the role he played in its widespread popularity. “You can’t go anywhere in Africa without hearing Nigerian music, seeing a Nigerian movie.” Asika should know firsthand the power of good public relations for the country and ultimately Africa. “People abroad connect [to Nigeria] that way. For some, it’s their only view into being African. It has changed the perception of the Nigerian abroad. I want Nigerians to be proud to be Nigerian. I refuse to let people denigrate me for where I come from. I represent with integrity and honor.” And represent he does.
Aside from his parents, Asika names among his personal influences the world-renowned author, Chinua Achebe. “I remember seeing him on television with his red cap and caftan analyzing Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’” Never having seen a Black man captivate an audience of all races with his words and intellect, it had a major impact on the young Asika. “[Achebe] gave voice to those human stories and that moment was a turning point in my life,” added Asika. In addition to his parents (father now deceased), who Asika says instilled in him “a permanent love affair with Nigeria,” Asika explained that having a close personal relationship to General Yakubu Gowon also shaped him as a young man. “He had such a high level of humility. After being President of the country, he went back to undergraduate school [to better himself]. I always admired that.”
In his own life, Asika’s friends and family have been instrumental in his keeping a level head. “[They] won’t even let me think I’ve done something,” he quips. “I have a number of family and friends who are significantly wealthy and successful. They look at me [as if to say] what’s going on with you?” When asked if that is that what drives him, he shrugs and replies, “[There are] many things.” Asika’s permanent intellectual curiosity and his drive to try new things or make existing ones work better keep him going. “I work very hard and refuse to lose because there are so many more things I need to do. People treat me as if I have done so much. I haven’t even started! I still have the hunger of an eighteen year-old kid who never made a dollar.”
Strength in Numbers
While the “hunger of an eighteen year old kid who never made a dollar,” is admirable, Asika admits it has come with some personal sacrifices. Nearly a year prior to this interview, Asika was honored to marry his longtime mate, the beautiful Yetunde Bakare, a practicing attorney who has achieved quite a measure of success in her own right representing high-profile figures in international courts of law. Maintaining a balance with his work and home life has been no easy task. Indeed, on the topic of marriage, Asika pulls no punches. He admits that it is difficult to prioritize the responsibilities he has at work and those he now has at home. “It’s a real challenge because I know I need to spend more time with [my wife]. I need to cut off home from the workplace. With technology, it’s increasingly difficult because you’re publicly connected,” he laments revealing a softer and sensitive side.
With his many successes, the responsibilities that accompany them, and with the eyes of the world ever watching, Asika finds it difficult to just cut the cord. He is the maestro in an orchestra of chaos. To create harmony out of the cacophony, it seems multitasking is the key. As we talk, he briefly reviews and responds to a steady stream of emails, text messages, instant messages, and in-person solicitations for a moment of his time. Impressively, he manages this all while remaining engaged and attentive to our interview. “I’m used to being at it all the time. I try to make sure in many different ways that I am accessible. [I don’t like that] young Nigerians feel like they do not have access to people they look up to,” he continues. Being that accessible, however, has its drawbacks and has affected the quality time he spends with his wife. “I know it’s about balance. I am not yet a world champion in that respect. . . but [I] continue to try.”
For Asika, marriage has changed his outlook on life and has given him greater perspective on his work. “I’m forty-two now. I don’t want to be working like this when I’m fifty,” reflects Asika. “In Nigeria, most illnesses are stress-related. Having high blood pressure is almost a lifestyle. I do my best to stay calm and not get too excited over things whether they are good or bad.” While he confesses that he could do more to encourage health in his daily life, he is especially proud that in 2010 he (began) getting fit. “(In 2010) I lost more [weight] than ever before. I am going to try to top that (in 2011),” he happily boasted to Ladybrille. What inspires Asika to get in shape? Yetunde Bakare-Asika, his wife. “My wife is ten years younger than me. I have to make sure I stay around [for her].”
In addition to shaping up to increase his time on earth with Yetunde, Asika explains he also keeps his mind healthy, almost on a daily basis. To blow off steam, he enjoys good-natured ribbing with his pals as well as stand-up comedy. “I am a huge fan of Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Ali Baba and Basket Mouth. I think Bob Hope was a comedic genius. Some of the sweetest things to me are things that make me laugh.”
That being said, with a devilish grin, Asika returns to the topic of marriage likening it to a corporate merger of sorts. “When you get married you are no longer in control. You are sort of have a personal C.E.O. I married relatively later [in life] and was used to doing things a certain way. Now, I have to remember that I have a boss in the house,” he says. Asika is, however, not complaining. Sweetly, he takes several moments to brag on his bride’s intelligence, worldly appeal, and good looks. “I was attracted to obvious things about her. She is beautiful but what connected me to her is that she is smart and her perspective is entirely global,” beamed Asika to Ladybrille.
His wife, Bakare-Asika, the child of a diplomat, was born in Holland and raised in Australia, Russia, and England. This worldliness coupled with her intelligence ignited the spark between the pair that is far more than skin deep. “I certainly have a lot of respect for her as an individual and knowing that she can hold her own anywhere in the world. [T]his was always really important to me as well. We have real conversations all the time and are very good friends. I mean, I get her.” So, what does this mean? Any Obi and Yetunde juniors anytime soon? Asika didn’t tip his hand as to whether we will soon see any little (ones) running around in the near future. “I am one of those guys surrounded by women, my mother, my sisters. I have known since day one that women are the stronger sex,” he says. According to Asika, when or if the time is right for children, it will be for his wife to determine.
What next for Asika given his successful career and beautiful marriage? For his future with Storm 360, Asika would like to retire in the next five years and aspires to leave behind a business that lives on beyond the foundation he has built. With such aspiration, we could not help but ask him what he considered was his greatest attribute as a leader so far, “sometimes I need others to say those sorts of things [for me],” responded Asika coyly. “I think my strongest suit is that I can be quite good at motivating people. . . I just sort of inspire them and motivate them to do more and be better, so they don’t have to be satisfied with a particular level,” he responded after our little prodding.
With many of the emerging leaders in the Nigerian entertainment field, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes, having (received) their start with Storm, it is apparent Asika is on to something. He is using his talents to empower the next generation of creative greats. Confident and reflective, humble yet incredibly motivated, Asika, a cultural ambassador for the hip-hop generation, continues to forge ahead on a path to elevate Nigeria and Africa to new heights. Though it is hard to imagine that he is anywhere near the end of his journey, his impact, as Nigeria and Africa’s Tower of Power, has been undeniable and he will leave the industry in a better place than he found it. And, at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. . .
Ladybrille Magazine commends Obi Asika for his excellent contributions to Nigeria and Africa and wish him the best in 2011, personally and professionally!
The Power of Laughter
Before signing off, Asika agreed to indulge us in a quick game of word association. After all, he is an attorney. Though the intent was to elicit one-word answers, it was nearly impossible for two loquacious lawyers. The abridged version follows:
Natural or Fake? Natural.
Tall or Short? (Laughing) I’m just 5’9” so better to be short, I guess.
Slim or Curvy? Curvy, I’m African.
Coke or Pepsi? Coke. It’s the real thing.
Jazz or Hip-hop? Hip-hop, even though jazz is part of its foundation.
Conventional or Reality TV? Reality. It’s very clever and has given a new energy to television.
London or Jo-burg? London, though Jo-burg is a new frontier
Lagos or NYC? Lagos, I have more family here.
Gym or Dancing? Dancing over the gym EVERY day.
Cook or Eat Out? Eat out. I don’t cook.
Monaco or Calabar? Mon-a-co!!! (Laughing) You have got to look for the money on that one. It’s the playground for billionaires. On a Friday night, it’s a good place to be.
~by Shana Peete
SAMPLE STORM 360 ARTISTS ON ASIKA’S 360 ENTERTAINMENT AGENCY
GENERAL PYPE, NAETO C, SASHA P.