UNKNOWN SIDE OF TEE MAC
Known mostly as an accomplished musician, Tee Mac has deep interest in business, especially solid minerals. Born in Lagos, as Omatshola Iseli and made famous in Switzerland as Tee Mac, the tall, fair, flutist has over the years lived a life of a class apart from the rest.
Over lunch at a top five star restaurant overlooking the waterfront in Lagos Island, this writer tried to explore the puzzle in the life and work of the man who though blessed with a Swiss citizenship, remains very proud to be identified as a Nigerian. The popular entertainer who became a successful businessman - a man whose contemporaries hallucinate to be like – enjoys work of art.
For the several young Nigerians hoping to take music as their major career, a peep into Tee Mac's life must definitely inspire and instruct them that a future without sound educational background is nothing but a bleak one. He is not jus an internationally rated musician; he has a sound educational background.
Asked to elaborate on it, he delved into his bio detail. Hear him: 'I was born on 17th of May in Lagos, by a Nigerian mother, Suzanne Gray Fregene-an Itsekiri and a Swiss father, Theo Manfred Iseli, who had come to Nigeria as a diplomat in 1946. 'Five years later, my dad who became a successful business man in Nigeria was assassinated on 21st of January 1951 in his office on Martin Street, Lagos. My mother got so disillusioned and had no alternative but to send me and my two sisters, Herta and Rita to Switzerland where my uncle J.J. Direndirger welcomed us with both arms. He gave us the best money could buy in the world.
'Growing up in Switzerland, I had attended Rudolf Steiner Schule, Primary and Secondary, passed my Matura (A level) at the Burgholf School in St. Gallen and went to study Economics at the prestigious University of St. Gallen (Hendels Hoch Schule). At the same time I studied classical music having started to play the flute at the age of seven and mastered the flute in 1969'.
Tee Mac also told Sunday Sun he has degrees in Concert Music and Philharmonic Composition. To this, he paid homage to J.J. Derendirger, his uncle and benefactor whom he said: 'spared nothing to give us the best education money can buy. He always say to me, you can lose all your millions, you can lose your wife or husband, home and properties, but you cannot lose your education, which is your defense and weapon. When I look back, I am grateful to God at Derendirger that I have not just one, but three degrees. If I stop music today, I can easily take up another vocation with a wave of the hand'.
For Tee Mac, home is home no matter where he goes or what he does. After his studies, he returned for good in 1970.
'Oh, there is no place like home. But it was a different home I saw. In the meantime, my mother, Suzanne had remarried and blessed with three daughters with her husband, Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony, who never saw me as a stepson but as real biological son. He insisted that I take a proper job, advising against a career in music.
Sir Mobolaji offered me a break to work under him but I refused the offer. Instead, I opted for another job - manager of the Nigerian Hardware Industries Limited .It was owned by UTC which was then a Swiss Corporation,' he said.
Tee Mac informed that he and his father, Mobolaji Bank Anthony got along very well in all fronts, except musically. 'I never bought his point that music has no future in Africa, So, while still with UTC group, I formed my first African band- Tee Mac and Afro Collection with notable artists like Laolu Akins on drums, Tunde Kuboye on bass guitar, Berkley Jones on lead guitar, Johnny Haastrup on keyboards, Friday Puzzo on congas, Steve Black on vocals and Lijadu Sisters on vocals. I recall when the world famous drummer Ginger Baker came to Nigeria and started to jam with Afro Collection in 1972 at their base on Broad Street, the Batakokoto. Ginger Baker took over all the musicians and I left for London where I played for a short while as stage band leader for Ginger Johnson and his African Drummers', he recalled.
Down and out in London
He later went to London. While there, he saw the logic in his dad's stand that there is no much money to be made from music. The city held no promise for him in his drive to make a lot of money .A year after, he headed back to Zurich, Switzerland to make real big money and his first strategy was to take up a plum job with the Bank UBS in Zurich and play music by the side and run a new band, Tee Mac United. Hamburg, Germany was to be his next destination to record his first LP, United with Polydor International.
He and his producer, Kunze recorded a couple of singles under the name Silver Convention .The name was derived from his silver flute .Two of his songs became hits: Fly Robin fly and Get up and Boogie.
Blessing in disguise
After touring the country extensively with his band, Silver Convention, he opted to be an arranger and conductor for Shirley Bassey, a notable female performer with Nigerian roots who he has always admired.
As he puts it 'After touring extensively under the name, Silver Convention with his musicians and after having serious problems with my producer, manger, I quit and opted to work as arranger-conductor for a woman I have always admired, the great Shirley Bassey, who had just released her world hit songs, Gold Finger and Diamonds are Forever.' With Bassey, he got exposed to big money and fame.
Mixing music and business
So wealthy was Tee Mac when he returned to Nigeria that he was labeled moneybag by friends and associates, for sure the moneybag, Tee Mac did not let them down when he pumped his money into record investments.
After a while , Tee Mac headed home , formed a new band, Tee Mac Collection, bought over and renovated Surulere Club, opened another club in Yaba , Black Pussycat, toured the whole of Nigeria and recorded his first TV Series with NTA, The Tee Mac Show. But the military coup in 1983 in Nigeria got him angry and made him to relocate to Hollywood, Los Angeles, where he worked as a composer for Cidi Croft Enterprise, The Mopet Show and so on.
Foray into big business
Unknown to many Nigerians, Tee Mac has always been fascinated by big business. He is a man that has always mixed music and business. With a business name, Allied Minerals Limited registered in 1993, Tee Mac concentrated on mining of solid minerals and took up leases of zinc, lead, tin and copper since the year 2001. Being a well known personality in Nigeria helped him to meet with the people in government and was introduced to emirs who are the custodians of mineral rich lands. This enabled him to sign on large tracts of land for his company.
Tee Mac enjoys the challenge of business and spends a lot of time between his Allied Minerals Limited office in Apapa, Lagos, and his factory in Jos. Asked what his life in business has done to him, he was emphatic :'I am grateful to God that has always giving me insight to delve in big business deal, my late father, Sir Mobalaji has always preached on the need to have business sense and eyes, and am grateful to him that I have always had the two senses. Today, I see myself as fulfilled man,' he emphasized.
In early 2009,Tee Mac was appointed Nigeria Director of the Motherland Group, which includes Marlon Jackson of the Jackson 5. The Motherland Group was allocated 250 hectares of land in Badagry by the Lagos State Government to build the Slave Historical Museum, a golf course and Five -star accommodations. ' We have just successfully completed a memorandum of understanding with Lagos State government, and in no time we will b building state of the art structures in the bustling city of Lagos- from museums, to cinemas to the golf courses, I think at the end of the day, Motherland will make Lagos the pride of Africa,' he boasted.
Apart from Motherland, Tee Mac also has his hands in the Fame Corp projects where 70 super artistes, Nollywood stars and world's celebrities are coming together, and buying shares between 50, 000 naira and a million in Fame Corp in a bid to rebuild and re-brand Nigeria's show business .On December 15th,last year, Tee Mac was elected the first chairman of Fame Corp Limited. Tee Mac is looking forward to a successful public offering in 2010 of Fame Corp to raise the needed 10 billion Naira to enable the corporation to build Cinema houses and events places in all the local government areas of the country.
Asked the secret of his youthful look, he said: 'I don't eat red meat and drink .I live a life of daily exercises-a life of moderation. I am a strong member of the Eckankar society. I studied most religion to realize that they all have some truth. But it's only in only in studying all of them that one can realize where the truth is. ECK gave me the exercises, the literature to understand my relationship with the creator. I also read wildly, and follow Nigerian politics a lot as in our music', he explained.