It only takes a few minutes with Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola to tell she wants to dominate the global entertainment stage. Badly. Luckily for her, talent is on her side. Oozing effortless elegance and charm, her conversation is characterized by infectious laughter and remarkable erudition. Otedola is clearly not your average beauty with brains.
The Nigerian-born DJ, otherwise known as Cuppy (her love for cupcakes as a child earned her the nickname, which stuck), wants to make sure Africa gets a fair share of the billion-dollar global entertainment industry. She is creating a raw new sound in Lagos, and its echoes are now being heard in the rest of the world.
The 22-year-old recently launched Red Velvet Music Group, a music management service and content production platform, which also currently manages her. She sees the brand gaining recognition in the entertainment sphere, through managing other artistes, and music distribution and publishing. For Cuppy, all this has been the culmination of a drive she has had from childhood.
“From a young age, I believe I have always wanted to prove myself in my own right. At that point, I never thought it would be music. I always had that ambition to conquer something though. Growing up with a very hardworking father [Nigerian business mogul Femi Otedola, who was featured on the cover of FORBES AFRICA last year] and a mother who told me ‘you could be whatever you want to be’, helped my drive from the beginning. Over time, I fell in love with music. Being a creative, I had always sought ways to express myself in ways that made sense to me. Music was it for me,” says Cuppy.
DJing is the style of mixing two beat-oriented records into a seamless, foot-tapping listening experience. Over the past few decades, it has acquired pop cultural status, and for some like Cuppy, has become a viable career path.
From spinning the tunes at weddings and toddler parties to representing her country at platforms like the MTV Africa Awards in South Africa and the Financial Times Luxury Summit in Mexico last year, Cuppy’s key differentiator is her fusion of urban contemporary African music with western tunes, increasing the popularity of African music.
It is little wonder she was appointed tourism ambassador for her country’s ‘Fascinating Nigeria’ campaign.
She also represents the continent as the Africa intern at Roc Nation, a renowned entertainment company in New York and home to acclaimed artists such as Rihanna, Shakira and Rita Ora.
“Being born and bred in Lagos, a very culturally-rich city and having a western influence when I moved to the UK for my studies, opened my mind to a fusion of experiences. I started to find ways to express myself so that it was a good reflection of my two influential cultures in a way that was unique. I have memories of listening to Fela Kuti [famous Nigerian musician] in the car with my dad from the age of six. While I didn’t really appreciate it then; I was definitely moved.
“Being the resident DJ for the MTV Africa Awards was particularly special for me too because not only did I represent my home, Nigeria, I got to represent Africa. As a female DJ, it was so exciting for me to have been placed on that platform to send such a great message across for African women. At Roc Nation, I find myself soaking in lots of information, learning how it is all done and wanting to come home and make the changes or be part of it in my own way.”
And how did she get into DJing? Cuppy’s eureka moment happened as a teenager.
“I always wondered why the DJ was a man and what stood in the way of female DJs. I didn’t understand the sexism behind this and knew it must be possible for ladies to give the guys a run for their money.”
Driven by a strong desire, she dug into educational material and information on DJing, purchased second-hand equipment to practice with, spent time at DJ booths and with determination, began to tutor herself and hone her skills. By the summer of 2012, she knew she was ready to take on the industry.
“It is a personal journey I have been through but it is also really about finding something I wanted to focus on and be really great at too. I remember telling my parents when I was 16 that I wanted to be a DJ. My father said ‘go for it but if you will do it, be the best at it’. The positive pressure, push and moral support I received from then has been invaluable in my career. I love my job and I always say that when you find a job you love, you will never have to work a day again in your life,” says Cuppy.
As a voice of the new generation, Cuppy’s message to young people is derived from her experiences.
“I grew up in a time where I believe young people didn’t have as much a say as they do now. I’m almost like a young woman trying to be heard. For me, this comes from growing up in times where young people were told what they should do, how they should live and act. The word support shouldn’t translate to financial. It is also moral and that goes a lot further.”
“I grew up with education being non-negotiable. Being very competitive and seeing the importance that was attached to it, I was compelled to excel at it.”
Through her art, Cuppy hopes to inspire young African women to pursue their dreams regardless of societal constraints.
“Being a female coming into a male-dominated industry, first of all, you have to be comfortable, be a fighter and definitely be great at what you are doing. In my mum’s times, she would never have been allowed to become a female DJ for instance. It was simply unheard of. This is what it represents for me. The wheels are turning, times are changing and the voice of the new generation is being heard.”
Thankfully for her, DJing has become more widely acknowledged as a profession. On an international level, DJs have had to fight to remove the perception that they were second to artistes.
Cuppy is also exploring song-writing and producing.
“I’m constantly trying to push the envelope and be a better version of DJ Cuppy but I’m also careful not to spread myself thin. There is a growing pressure on African creatives to do a bit of everything but I believe helping each other out is a much easier approach…I don’t want to be like every other DJ. I want people to think ‘wow, she is a risk taker’.”
She has also been deeply influenced by fashion, African literature and art.
“For a long time, fashion has been a strong mode of expression for Africans. It is refreshing to see young designers bursting into the scene as well. There is a massive fusion between fashion and music presently which is really great. It is also a very lucrative field and capitalizing on this will be great for the continent.”
Cuppy describes her style as bouncy and chic with her favorite brands being Stella Jean or Mary Katrantzou.
On other career prospects, she highlights her entrepreneurial flair.
“I have always known I wanted to start my own company and really dominate in my own right…I would love to see African women as fearless and unique…We shouldn’t use the West as the benchmark. We need to start creating and setting our own platforms and be recognized on a global stage”.
In the male-dominated industry that she finds herself, Cuppy has her own experiences of prejudice.
“Being young, I am sometimes underestimated and my skills questioned before I play. I sometimes go into a meeting with my male manager who is always expected to be the DJ and addressed instead of me,” she notes.
As she readies for another busy year, Cuppy plans to tour the continent, lending her voice and urging young African women to follow suit. For now, Africa is dancing to her beats at the console.