P-Square, the Nigerian, R&B music duo, knows that singing well is no longer enough to maintain the number one spot in the high stakes game of the music industry; but having Akon by your side makes things a lot easier.
When the twin brothers, Paul and Peter Okoye, left Jos they knew that the music industry was tough but they had the drive to make a name for themselves. After 20 years in the entertainment industry their determination has paid off. A few years ago their career could have taken a nosedive had it not been for this determination. In October 2011 the jet-setting artists told FORBES AFRICA that their worst business decision.
“We did a concert in which we invited an international artist. However, the artist did not show up. We wanted to carry on with the show but we were concerned about the negative impression this could create. At this point people were coming through the gates. We did not know how to explain this problem to our audience. We came on stage and performed three songs and immediately announced that everybody with the tag should go to the bank where they bought it and collect their money back.”
The artists admit that this incident was a good business lesson about how the entertainment industry sometimes works— it is a high stake game in which a good reputation is key to winning.
Five years after the failed concert, P-Square is a household name even beyond Africa. Since their interview with FORBES AFRICA they have released their fifth album, The Invasion, which has mesmerized fans at home and abroad. The successful album, which features the popular hit song “Chop My Money” and “Beautiful Onyinye”, did not go unnoticed in the international arena. It has also earned recognition from Senegalese-born superstar Akon. When the celebrity star met the duo during their tour in Africa, he immediately proposed a partnership agreement.
“Basically, this is what we have been praying for. We met Akon on one of our tours and he proposed that we work together. We went to the US to finalize the partnership and agreed that he will do work for us in the US while we do the same for him in Africa” says Paul Okoye.
The business partnership with Konvict Muzik, Akon’s record label, was announced with the release of the remix version of the up-tempo hit song “Chop My Money”, which featured Akon. Fans were pleasantly surprised with the release of a remix of “Beautiful Onyinye”, which featured hip-hop heavyweight Rick Ross. This was only to be the start of P-Square’s ‘invasion’ of the international music scene.
Despite all the success, the duo admit that they still encounter challenges in the industry. Piracy remains a major risk in their line of business, despite the progress in minimizing piracy risks in the digital platform.
“From last year to now, the only thing that must have changed is the digital aspect of our music since the establishment of IROKO, which, I think, is paying off now,” says Peter.
The London-based head of IROKO, Jason Njoku, is playing a critical part in changing how Nigerian entertainment is paid for and distributed. Recently, Tiger Global, a $9 billion private equity fund, injected $8 million into IROKO to support the distribution of Nigerian entertainment in the digital platform. Industry players such as Obi Asika believe that with such resources the Nigerian entertainment industry will dominate the entertainment scene.
P-Square’s music could also be buttressed by the recent developments in the distribution of Nigerian entertainment. The establishment of COSON—Copyright Society of Nigeria—is perhaps the first step government has taken to protect intellectual property rights. The brothers believe that the body alone will not succeed in moving the industry forward, for COSON to succeed, the government should put in place enforcement policies for infringements.
“Government should have penalties. People pirating our work should go to jail or pay damages and things will change” says Peter.
The twins believe that the success of the body also depends on the collaboration amongst artists. However, collaborative efforts in the past have failed because such efforts are often viewed with suspicion.
“If P-Square decides to call everyone to make things happen, people will think that we have a particular interest. We tried and people got the wrong impression. There was a time when we wanted to organize a body to engage government but the young guys decided not to be part of the body. They thought that there was money that government had put up and we are creating the body to collect it. We had to step out,” says Paul.
In the absence of collaboration within the industry, the duo is taking matters into their own hands; rather than relying on others to solve their intellectual property infringements they continue to up the ante in the high stakes game. Previously, they relied on the ready-made sales system in which distributors paid royalties upfront. This model won’t work as they continue to spread their wings outside Nigeria, where there is infrastructure to monitor royalties.
P-Square have signed a deal with Universal Music South Africa. According Jude Okoye, P-Square’s brother-cum-manager, the distribution deal with Universal Music covers previous, current and future albums both on the digital platform as well as hardcopies. Lindelani Mkhize of Universal Music and the mastermind behind Joyous Celebration, the successful gospel group in South Africa, was enthusiastic about the deal describing it as Universal Music’s first mark of its “…commitment to the African continent ”. Peter’s statement at the signing of the deal sums-up what this deal holds in store for the future: “P-Square have managed to sell millions of albums, especially in Africa, through their individual efforts. By teaming up with Universal Music, we are now ready to take our music and our brand to the next level”.
The deal is certainly the culmination of a musical journey that has taken the twin brothers from the dusty street of Jos to the world.