In the heart of the ancient kingdom of Benin lies one of the most sophisticated studios in Nigeria. Equipped with some of the best equipment in the world, studio U and I provides a relief for musicians especially those living in the Niger Delta area of the country who cannot risk traveling to Lagos in the name of recording.
The studio has over the years played host to some of the great names in the music industry like Sir Victor Uwaifo and Dr. Osayomore Joseph.In this interview, the CEO of the studio, Itohan Agbonayinma, shares her dream and aspiration for the Nigerian musician.
How long have you been inÂ this business?
U and I stated since 1988 in the United States of America. After a while we relocated the studio down to Nigeria. We had to do this to give people the opportunity to have that which is available in America right her in Benin.
So we brought in the first complete digital studio to Nigeria. And today everybody had gone digital but then people were using analogue.
At the end of the day we were able to prove one thing, and that is letting people know that you can use digital and analogue to produce or you could even cross both of them. We also have some wonderful engineers who are with us and performing some magical feats here.
We were all happy working together to bring development to our people.
Was it out of passion that you went into it or wasit for the sake of money?
If you say money, Iâ€™ll disagree with you because, I donâ€™t earn my daily bread from it. I have passion for music thatâ€™s why the studio is still in existence. Everybody around me will certainly attest to that.
I lived in America and employed people to run the studio here in Benin and whenever there is a breakdown in any of the equipments, they call on me and I send it to them.
At a point I was getting pissed off but because of pressure from people like Victor Uwaifo who encouraged me to continue in my bid to support my people, I didnâ€™t backout.
Before the coming of the studio, people were traveling from Benin to Lagos and sometimes they have accident on their way and so on. Having a studio here in Benin is something they have treasured and given their support.
So I thank God for Sir Victor Uwaifo and especially Sir, Osayomore Joseph. In fact, Sir OsayomoreÂ has gone no where since 1991 when this recording studio sprang up and he was vowed to go no where because he loves what is happening here.
I know you must have faced some problems initially, how did you cope?
Of course, there is always a challenge in setting up anything because nothing good comes easy. Weâ€™ve had experiences of people stealing our equipment and so on. But I had to be courageous because this is something I have decided to do and I continued. In fact, the joy for me is hearing music play and getting peopleâ€™s comments on what we do. I feel satisfied that I have contributed to peopleâ€™s lives.
While contributing to the lives of others, have you been able to make any profit?
Let me quickly remind you that the life we live is temporary so we must do what we can to impact in the lives of others because it is the good name we left behind that we will be remembered for. And this name will equally sustain those you left behind.
So I have never thought of the profit because sometimes, I have to pay staff from my pocket. The reason has been my drive all the way. Today the studio has gone from zero point to a higher pedigree and everybody especially people from the Niger Delta areas have accepted U and I as a household name. and I can assure you there is no difference form what is produced in America and what we have here.
What is this special thing you have here which others donâ€™t have that has made you different?
Honestly, I have been to other studio in Lagos and Abuja and I can tell you there is no comparism to what we have. Seeing they say is believing and you are here today to see for yourself. What we have is something I call tomorrowâ€™s technology here today. We have the best equipments both digital and analogue.
Even in the Americans where entertainment is the in-thing is moving back to analogue because analogue gives it to you raw. I see digital music as a lazy manâ€™s way of making music. Those who have taken time to make music like Fela, Majek Fashek, Sir Victor Uwaifo will tell you that analogue is still the best if you are hard working.
When people come here, they are amazed that we have a studio like this in Nigeria. I want people to come and see for themselves and I must say that it is not all about money but what we can give to our people. Most young people in music today are talented and creative so they should be encouraged to come out of the street.
When you talk about encouragement, how much of that have you given?
There was this young man that came to me when I visited Anambra State and told me he can play instruments and I watched him perform wonderfully that night. What will stop me from supporting young talents who are creative and ready to go places. It shouldnâ€™t always be government, people who are opportune should also help.
My own way of helping is to sign them up to a record, label so that they can prove to the world they are good and can also earn a good living. I want to borrow the American way of management, so they can compete favourably well anywhere in the world.
Have you signed any artiste yet?
U and I records have so far signed four artiste because we are being careful to really see those we can manage and develop.
And whatâ€™s their genre of music?
Some of them are into hip hop, gospel and local music too. Thereâ€™s a particular one who is an Igbo boy that is very talented in highlife, so heâ€™s following the trend.
How do you intend to manage the marketing arm of these musicians?
Marketing is not as difficult as you look at it. Itâ€™s all about being creative and knowing what you want. Thatâ€™s not to say you wonâ€™t have problems but what matters is how you are able to forge ahead after that. Marketing is like a ministry that is dependent on the media because I believe they can move mountains where nobody can. And I know they can also bring you down when youâ€™re not doing well. I believe that with our strength, ideas and visions we can always get there.
How much support do you think you can get from America?
The good thing is that we know people in Hollywood and the entertainment industry generally. We have people in Hollywood whom we have partnered together for years ad they have never failed so we canâ€™t fail now. If we could excel in America then why our own fatherland?
I tell you Nigeria is a fertile land so we have come to explore and give the best to our people because they deserve it.
Letâ€™s talk about the equipments…
Those equipments came from America with America specification and theyâ€™re the best. These are the same equipments used by the LL Cool Js, the R. Kellys and many others.
If you have all these why not come over to Lagos?
Lagos is there and some other persons should be there. I chose to do this for my state which doesnâ€™t mean we donâ€™t accept people from all over the world. As a matter of fact, people call in for bookings because the news of our equipments is everywhere.
We have the best sound proofing and Iâ€™m yet to see any studio that can compete with us.