“Entertainment industry beyond oil money” ---Sam Kargbo
Sam Kargbo is a lawyer and one with a passion for the entertainment industry. Starting off with the very successful movie, Blood Diamond followed by another creditable work, No Place to Hide, his interest in the entertainment industry has been one with a cause rather than profit. In this interview with ABOSEDE MUSARI, this moviemaker turned music promoter speaks on his interest in helping artistes to grow, the industry and the way forward.
Interest and starting off
I got the inspiration in 2000 as a result of some film promoters living with me. With them around, we talked about movies and the messages they could be used to pass across to the people. These gentlemen encouraged me to go into movies. As a public commentator, I wrote a lot about Charles Taylor and his involvement in the Sierra Leonean war. Because of the write-ups I decided to do a movie titled Blood Diamond on him. I wrote the script, but with the help of Teco Benson, we took off to Sierra Leone with about 23 actors to shoot the film.
Blood Diamond was one of the most expensive movies that have come out of Nollywood. We spent about $200,000 to produce it. It would have been more, but we got some other things for free. We met with the President of Sierra Leone and others that supported us. The movie was a success, which made Kanye West to do a song titled Diamonds are Forever from it.
Some producers also did their own version of it, using the same plot and people I had on my production. Though people wanted me to sue Nollywood for this, but I didn't.
I didn't do Blood Diamond to get money, but for the purpose of exposing Charles Taylor and to bring the world's attention to his atrocities. We wanted the world to know that without getting him out of that place there would be no end to the war. We did another movie, No Place to Hide. It was to tell Sierra Leoneans to shun corruption, so that their country wouldn't experience what other that have gone that way pass through. The movie made a tremendous impact that the Sierra Leonean anti-corruption agency decided to sponsor it. I pioneered the partnership between Nigeria and other countries.
And the X Project
I met them at the refugee camp at Oru, Ogun State. One of them, a Nigerian, while the other two were from Sierra Leone. They were kids when the war started and they couldn't go to school. A friend encouraged me to take them up and help them. I sold the idea to my wife and they were able to come into our home. We asked if they would go to school, but they chose to go into music. In the beginning, we couldn't get a record company for them because nobody wanted to sign them on.
I really didn't know what it took to sign on somebody, but now, I know why those record companies were reluctant to do it. After a while, some of my friends urged me to produce them myself. But with their second or third album, they were able to make a hit that kept them on.
Other artistes promoted
I have Azadus. He's coming back to take his place in the industry. I also have Styl Plus. They are also coming back. I'm saying this not because I'm their producer, but because I have listened to their works and I'm committed to their works. I challenge them to aspire to be the best in Nigeria and internationally.
They have the voice and the talent. What I think is lacking here is the commitment, professionalism and the belief that artistes can go from here to win Grammies. But artistes in Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire and South Africa are doing that. So, why not Nigeria with all the talents? Whenever we have any sort of competition or award on the continent, 90 per cent comes to Nigeria.
There is no reason an artiste in Nigeria should not have a private jet. They have the talent and whatever it takes, but the structures are not there. Maybe those of us who are record labels are not looking beyond Nigeria. They don't look at how we can package these artistes for foreign markets.
When would the works of Azadus and others be out?
They are in the studio working and the output is going to be worth the while.
How do you cope with piracy?
It's even easier for the artiste than for the record label. If the artiste has a successful song, he'll have shows to make his money, but for the record label, getting money depends on record sales. If I go to town with a record made by X-Project for instance, to get a very good producer in Nigeria would be at least N150, 000 per song. Some collect N300, 000 or even N500, 000. You now have to mix and master. That means you have to spend about N500, 000 on a song. And for a good video, you need some good amount, too. Some of these videos you see cost as much as N4 million or more for a song. Assuming that is the only song you have, for you to take it to the right place to market will cost a fortune.
If the marketer gives you say N10 per CD, from there the record label pays royalty to the artiste. For you to get N1 million you have to sell 100,000 copies. To get N10m you have to sell 1,000,000 copies. How many of our artistes can sell up to one million copies of CD in Nigeria with the pirates around? The more popular your song, the less money you get because it's going to go into the hands of pirates.
With that scenario, you will need as many as eight songs to excel. Some artistes even make up to 15 songs.
How can the war on piracy be won?
If an artiste sells 100,000 copies and gets a royalty of 60 per cent. If he gets $2 per album and sells 100,000, that's money! And I know a thousand and one artistes that are capable of doing this. But because the foundation of the industry has been ruined by pirates and lack investors. With the inability to bring new structures into it, the industry continues to suffer some deprivations.
If a company puts in $500 million to put in the structures in place, and connect it into the international market, we will make money.
Why don't we have such companies with such structures?
The pirates have formidable structures. Their industry is massive. They don't put in money, all they do is wait for you to do the work and then jump to China and pirate it. People sell loads of CDs on the streets and nobody stops them. And once you allow them with that kind of effrontery, you embolden them.
How can you fight them?
The copyright council has tried, but what can they do? But I tell you, if our government is willing to stop piracy, it will stop. The day we have a government whose mind is made up to start making money from entertainment, the fortunes of the industry will change.
Today nobody taxes artistes because they don't believe it's a source of income. In the White House, there is a month and time dedicated to din with artistes because they have checked how much tax they pay. The artistes are fuelling the economy. Here they don't believe in it. They don't care. So, if an artiste makes N200 million from a show, he puts it in his pocket and goes home. Nobody asks, because they don't believe in the industry. But how can you dare to make them pay tax when you've not done your part? However you look at it, let the government believe that the entertainment industry is part of the commonwealth and natural resources for the country. The industry does not fuel any crisis, creates no pollution, but solves so many problems.
Talking about it sometimes my heart bleeds because there is so much to get out there. There is so much we can do.