Businessman and jazz aficionado Oti Bazunu lives life on his own terms; and when in 2010 he decided to begin the November annual music festival that has come to be known as the Lagos Jazz Series, the terms of engagement, apparently, were designed to be as lofty as his lifestyle.
While previously, Nigerian jazz connoisseurs have had to travel to Paris, London and New York to enjoy live jazz performances, the Jazz Series now affords the opportunity to enjoy in the commercial hub of Lagos, music of artistes such as two-time Grammy Award winner Marcus Miller, Hugh Masekela and Bob James; alongside locals Bez, Cobhams and Seun Kuti. In this interview Bazunu talks about the philosophy behind the festival and the upcoming Media Series.
By MORENIKE TAIRE
There are a few jazz festivals springing up in the wake of yours now. Why, all of a sudden?
We are glad that Jazz is coming back alive in Nigeria. When we first started in 2010 the country was completely silent as far as jazz is concerned. The folks at Calabar, Bayelsa, Lagos Jazz. For us it keeps the music alive.
I’ve heard about you talking about raising the standard of living of Lagosians; I did wonder, how does jazz do that?
Music first of all tends to waken people up. There are all kinds of sayings about music taking the blues away from you and what not. Our aim was to cool Lagosians down a little bit. We thought that outdoor music as we had at Muri Okunola park, as we also did at Federal Palace- it tends to cool the tempo. That is the idea- that once we are relaxed a bit from the stress we are back to being highly productive as we should be.
What makes Lagos Jazz series different from the rest?
We are an outdoor music festival, primarily. We fuse international artistes and home grown artistes together in one harmonious music festival. We do these things just a tad different from what this town has known before.
What could have prepared you for all of this?
Exposure, travel, civilization. I’ve been halfway around the world and seen what civilized people do. when you have come to see things differently from what you know before you hold on to what is of core value to you and therefore you are a much better person so you want to give back- to people who do not know any better or who haven’t had the opportunity to be as exposed as you are. You can’t really arrive- if there is any such thing as arrive, because I don’t want to arrive-without giving back.
Tell us a bit more about this August event
It’s our way of keeping Lagos Jazz series, the annual festival, in the minds of the people before the main festival in November. We call it the Media Series. This one is cosier. Interestingly so because the artiste we are bringing in is coming in from Harlem. when the Abyssinian Baptist folks in New York said they would put an all star band together for us I thought was a good thing and that quintet that they put together for us has Grammy award winners, drummers, Alicia Miles Olatuja, an American vocalist married to a Nigerian bassist. She was performing at Obama’s inauguration. When you have this kind of talent put together for you to perform in a cozy environment- that is magic.
Ola Onabule is not very well known here, as opposed to people like Hugh Masekela… There’s a whole lot of range of artistes that we haven’t touched yet but there are those that I call gems. Ola Onabule has not been here before but he’s a very, very accomplished musician, a master of his own art. I think he’s going to be a surprise. In fact he was interviewed by CNN who said of him as being one of “music’s best kept secrets”.
What are your own criteria?
Accomplishment. Their contribution to the art of music. Over this number of years that’s what our criterion is.
You once spoke of bringing Victor Olaiya.
We are very much embedded in the local home-grown music scene. There are some prolific musicians. We have introduced highlife. Last year we had Orlando Julius. In continuing with that tradition, we have done interaction with folks like Burma Boy, Nice, MI, even the likes of Tiwa Savage. We’ve fused them in. let’s see where it takes us to?
How do you pay for all of this?
A lot of my own personal monies have gone into it, many sponsors over the years but we are treading a path that is not usual to them but however, we appreciate them. We’re happy, we’re glad. We are hanging in there. Last year cost over a million dollars! It’s not about that, it’s about giving back to Lagos in the way we see it, which is music.
Have you had infrastructural challenges?
It’s a bit shameful that we don’t have proper musical entertainment venues in this town so we all end up in convention centres. They are not acoustically correct. With the rebasing and what not as the world is looking to Nigeria we need to begin to step up to the plate as they say. in my mind’s eye I see a full scale entertainment centre with proper musical hall where international artistes can come or we can get to hear our own artistes the way we have never heard them before in a hall that holds 10,000 people.