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The Champagne Culture of Lagos

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It’s 3AM on a sweltering Thursday in Lagos and Crossroads at the Eko Hotels & Suites is packed to the rafters. Nigeria’s leading Tex-Mex restaurant and bar, it’s an edgy, happening hotspot on any given weeknight.

By the time we arrive, the live band’s set is over and the in-house DJ is pumping up the volume. The venue is teeming with pub-lovers from all nationalities and races clinking glasses and mixing together under the strobe lights. Suddenly, the music stops and a 70s rendition of ‘happy birthday to you’ fills the smoky night air, followed swiftly by a clutch of waiters appearing with a cake they then present to an unsuspecting roisterer and her noisy friends.

The manager instantly offers free tequila shots to the group and with that, the DJ is back at the deck and the party continues. Tonight, there seems to be a special launch event for premium champagne brand Veuve Cliquot Rosé and true to Lagosian form, bottles, lit with sparklers, are expertly maneuvered through the crowd to revelers just warming up for a long, unforgettable evening. Crossroads adds a new world-spin to the non-conforming millennial habits of dinner at midnight and dancing until dawn.

Elsewhere in the city, similar scenes of revelry unfold.

READ MORE: The Party Animal In The Lab

Whether it’s a slew of gorgeous rooftop hotel bars on Adetokunbo Ademola Street, rock bars near Oniru, dance clubs just off Adeola Odeku or trendy pubs in Lekki, there are multiple quality experiences awaiting party animals in Lagos.

The Nigerian city is one of the world’s greatest party capitals and the gentrified Victoria Island is the hedonistic heartland of Lagos’ nightlife scene. It’s the second fastest-growing city in Africa, with a population of about 21 million, and with Victoria Island home to the highest concentration of high-net-worth-individuals anywhere in the world.

According to a recent McKinsey report, Africa has the world’s youngest population. More than 50% of its people are under 20 years old, compared with 28% in China. The 16 to 34 age group now accounts for roughly 55% of income. And with that comes an insatiable appetite for alcohol. In 2017, champagne consumption in the West African country was estimated to reach 1.1 million liters, according to a Euromonitor report.

“Champagne consumption is part of the culture in Lagos. It is not a Lagos party if there are no champagne bottles being popped. It has actually turned into a competition where clubbers try to out-pop each other,” says local pub promoter Paul Yusuf.

The Euromonitor report also uncovered that Nigeria had the fastest-growing rate of new champagne consumption in the world, second only to France, and ahead of rapidly growing Brazil and China, as well as established markets such as the United States and Australia. That accounts for about $50 million spent on bubbly and still rising each year. A surprising feat for a country where about 65% live on less than $1 a day.

“With increasing wealth inequality, it is such a shame that we throw large sums of money away on frivolous activities instead of helping each other to come out of poverty,” says Adekunle Omaye, an economist in Abuja.

Nigerians’ love of big spending has also attracted attention worldwide. According to The Guardian, Nigerian tourists in the United Kingdom (UK) are the fourth biggest foreign spenders, with an average spend of four times as much as UK shoppers, amounting to about £500 ($710) in each shop.

“I have seen people spend anywhere from about $50,000 on bottles per night,” says Richards Nnadi, owner of Escape Nightclub in Lagos. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The impossibly trendy strip that is Adeola Odeku boasts a dazzling array of clubs. Escape was one of the first of many such upscale destinations offering music and food across three floors. And when you need to escape the dancing and music, head downstairs to EVE restaurant, operating from midnight until the crack of dawn.

Nnadi had been in the nightclub business for over 15 years managing and promoting several venues for clients before opening his own five years ago. Featuring an assortment of luxury vehicles, ranging from a Lamborghini Aventador to a Bentley Mulsanne, the parking lot of his club is akin to a luxury car showroom in London’s Hyde Park.

“I have been here long enough to see the transition that the nightlife scene has undergone. The nightclubs in Lagos previously consisted of people putting up small buildings. So Escape was the first operative nightclub on the island. We believed that there was so much growth coming in terms of expansion and people wanted to have bigger venues with more headroom to experience a proper nightclub scene,” says Nnadi.

After carving out a niche for years as a dominant player in Lagos’ pub world, there is now stiff competition from people who too share his vision for big spaces and unique experiences.

READ MORE: From Housekeeper To Life And Soul Of The Party

About 300 meters from Nnadi’s club, newly-opened Cubana is also vying for a piece of the action. The club is another upscale establishment attracting expatriates in the steamy metropolis. From the outside, unlike the shabbiness of most of the other buildings around, the club’s incandescent neon sign ‘The World is Yours’ illuminates the entire street, making it hard to miss in a market where customers are extremely fickle. The responsibility to grab the attention of these capricious customers lies with one of Nigeria’s leading communication companies, Robert Taylor.

“You must be very clear on your brand identity. What do you want your space to be known for? You should be able to tell the difference between your space and everywhere else. A majority of the Nigerian consumers have played in the nightlife space in different parts of the world, so you almost have to come in on an international scale in terms of quality,” says Bukky Karibi-Whyte, the founder of Robert Taylor.

Her firm has managed to position itself in the competitive lifestyle market representing some of the swankiest clubs in the city. Karibi-Whyte’s involvement in the Lagos nightclub scene was a natural evolution from managing luxury drink brands like Hennessy, Moët & Chandon, Belvedere, Veuve Cliquot and Dom Pérignon.

“With brands like these, you are always looking at activities where the brands are visible and that is usually in the night club or hotel space, and we kind of found ourselves in the night club space which gave us a lot of insight as to what our brands are doing and a lot of insight into what kind of consumers we have and what our competitors are doing. This has worked very well in managing those brands and managing other entities as well,” says Karibi-Whyte.

The after-work hours provide an important opportunity for networking.

“People are increasing their network and thereby increasing their net worth. There is something for everybody. I find that a lot of people are networking in the nightlife space and a lot of big deals are closed in this space too.”

And if you think opening a space with trendy furniture and music was all it took to gain access to this lucrative and unpredictable market, think again.

“People think nightlife is having people come and drink and go but there is so much more to it. There are a lot of emotions attached to nightlife between the business and consumers and that is what we put into consideration when we were building. So from the aesthetics and the feel and vibe and the energy are all things you need to consider,” says Nnadi.

Karibi-Whyte concurs.

“If you know Nigerians, we get extremely bored very easily. First of all the interior of the space is extremely important to me. How it looks, how it makes you feel, down to the colors they are playing on and how it affects the mood of the consumer.

“Customer service is extremely key and it has to be number one. Then you now have the content side of things, which is ‘do you have a great DJ?’ And what interesting thing is your space doing every month. Then you have things like the support of the drink brand the space is affiliated with.”

There is a constant reinvention of nightclub spaces, which is interesting for these drink brands. Brands are now finding new ways of reaching consumers in an increasingly fragmented market.

Festivals have become a key strategic consideration for these brands. Underpinning their success is the work of the DJ whose role is to provide the in-house content that turns a room into a melodic oasis.

The social media revolution spurred on largely by a mobile market of 142 million subscribers and a penetration rate of about 101% in Nigeria, has led to the perking up of Afrobeats, consequently leading to the proliferation of Nigerian artistes both locally and on a global scale. DJs play an important role in this movement due to their popularity in the nightclub scene and their ability to make stars overnight.

“If there is no DJ there is no night life and there is no music. You need a good DJ to have the right experience. DJs are the life of the party and that is really it. You can have a bar, waitresses and waiters, flashing lights and everything, but if there isn’t a DJ to control the mood of your customers and take them on a musical journey, it is not a party. You might as well sit at home and drink,” says Obinna Levi Ajuonuma Junior who goes by the moniker DJ Obi.

He has carved a niche as one of Lagos’ biggest and in-demand DJs. Recently, this reputation has earned him a Pepsi ambassadorship, amongst other accolades. DJ Obi however believes there is a lot more growth in the Nigerian pub scene in terms of creating an engaging user experience for clubbers.

“People don’t go out for the music, people go out because they may be bored at home and they do not want to use their generator or they just want to go out because everyone is going out. ‘Going out’ here is very pretentious and for a DJ, I am playing to create an experience for the people that are there, so there is a lot more that needs to be done,” says DJ Obi.

From rooftop venues such as the newly-refurbished Sky Lounge at Eko Hotels & Suites that have elevated the Lagos night to stratospheric heights, to the revelers who want to let off steam, one thing is for certain, Lagos never sleeps.

Entrepreneurs

The farrier who shoes horses for the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department

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About 81 kilometers from Africa’s richest square mile and the concrete jungle that is Sandton, we are on a gravel road that stretches as far as the eyes can see.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and around us, on this stretch in the tiny town of Meyerton in South Africa, is nothing but dry earth and rolling vistas, until we come upon a signpost that says Rooijakkals Street – it’s an indication we are not lost.

Up further on the rocky road, in the distance, we see a horse. It’s the first tell-tale sign of our destination.

Past an open gate and another electric wired-fence with a gate, we approach the single-storied home of Scott Borland, an entrepreneur and professional farrier, in other words, a smith who shoes horses.

At the door, a lady, his wife, dressed in black, emerges, followed by at least a dozen dogs.

But we are here for the horses.

READ MORE: The South African Horse Industry: A Potential Billion Rand Market

Borland welcomes us – as we gingerly sidestep the scary canines – and shows us to the four horses in his stable. He says he has been looking after them ever since his children went overseas leaving them in his care.

Borland has been working from home for the last 15 to 20 years, he tries to recall, as we share a bench outside the stable not far from his work truck on the farm.

The gentle afternoon breeze fans his memories.

In 1981, he started his apprenticeship at the Newmarket Farrier School in Alberton, south of Johannesburg. The school shut down 15 years ago because there was suddenly a glut of farriers in the market and not enough jobs.

“I have been around horses all my life,” says Borland, “when I left school, it was a natural progression to move on to the horse industry and that’s how I took up my apprenticeship.”

 

Borland demonstrates the process of shoeing a horse. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

Horseshoes are metal-fabricated products attached to horse hooves to prevent hoof wear and injuries to the foot. The shoes keep the horses balanced and their feet maintained.

Professional farriers need to be skilled, so Borland has also trained apprentices, been on the South African farrier team representing the country in Canada, and has also shoed horses in Scotland, Turkey and America.

“Horseshoes are probably one of the things that changed the history of the planet,” Borland says grandly, going back in time to when horses were the prime mode of transport.

“There was a man called Henry Burden. He was a Scotsman who moved to New York before the start of the American Civil War, he was an engineer and developed the first machine to mass produce horseshoes in 1835. That machine can produce a shoe per second,” says Borland, with an intent look in his eyes.

He then references the Boer War in South Africa from 1899 to 1902. The reason the Boers used to blow up trains or hijack them were to steal horseshoes from the British, he says.

READ MORE: Ready To Race

“The horse industry had about 300 registered farriers in South Africa and a number of unregistered ones as well,” says Borland.

Today, it’s a specialized skill.

Horseshoes are made of different metals: steel – for work, aluminium – for performance, and plastic – for negotiating slippery surfaces.

Borland’s customers are mainly private clients who own horses for both pleasure riding and competition. He also shoes the horses used by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) who have been his clients for the last 25 years.

Is it a lucrative profession to be in, I ask.

“A partner and I have recently started a horseshoe manufacturing plant on this very farm and it’s the only horseshoe manufacturing in the southern hemisphere; prior to that, all horseshoes were imported, so there isn’t really any revenue for the country out of it,” offers Borland; the only other countries producing horseshoes are India, China and Europe.

Borland and his partner started their business, Mustang Horse Shoes, in 2013, producing horseshoes locally and employing three people. They had to mostly learn by trial and error as there was no existing frame of reference for them in South Africa.

A fact they are proud of about the business is that they also sell their products in the coal yards based in the townships. This is where horses are used to pull carriages filled with coal, going street to street selling or delivering it.

In early times, Horseshoes were initially cast from iron and bronze, were synonymous with good fortune, and even used as talismans. Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

“Ninety percent of those shoes are our shoes. We make a very good shoe for their type of work. It’s a hard shoe and provides a lot of grip; most of these horses work on tar,” says Borland.

Mustang Horse Shoes uses rolled mild steel, produces its own plastic and will be using aluminium for its horseshoes.

The company services about 400 horses a month and makes a little over $8,000. The prices for shoeing horses range from $50 to $400 depending on the area and the type of horses they visit. Their business model is a mobile workshop, as they travel to the clients.

“We try to keep our traveling distance down to an 80km radius every day; we probably do 20 horses a day, depending on how far we are traveling,” says Borland.

I have never seen the process of shoeing a horse, except in the American cowboy movies I watched as a youngster, but Borland was surely able to throw more light on his unusual skill.

But now, each time I hear the clip-clop sounds of the JMPD horses, I know them to be of the horseshoes made by a humble farrier on a farm far from the sights and sounds of Johannesburg.

 

 

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