eLDee Tha Don: The Problem-solver

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Eldee speaking his mind, like all Nigerians should. ( Resource: I go yarn (eLDee)

Not only is Lanre Dabiri a.k.a eLDee Tha Don the founder of one of Nigeria’s most recognised record labels (Trybe Records),he has continually proven that, as a musician, he is a force to reckon with. The man who is a passionately creative music entrepreneur, discusses the importance of social media as a tool to bring about ‘change’ in the Nigerian polity and how he has managed to remain scandal-free.

You are an artiste, producer, music video director, record label-owner, social crusader and, according to Wikipedia, a “cutting edge interactive media consultant who has worked with Fortune 500 companies”.

Tell us, how do you combine all these sides of you? Also, are there any other sides of you Nigerians do not know of?

I like to think that I am a very passionate and creative person always on the look-out for opportunities to express myself. While studying architecture at the university, I developed a keen interest in problem-solving through creative expression. That’s what drives everything I do; from creating music to shooting videos and participating in the interactive media. Also, it is what inspires my passion for a better Nigeria. I do have a few other business interests –construction, health and beauty product development, a software solutions business and more.

As someone who is considered a Nigerian music legend, at what point in your life did you decide you wanted to do music?

I decided to do music professionally while I was at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) studying architecture. I realised that it was possible to build an industry out of pure passion and creativity. We did it!

In an industry which thrives on gossip about celebrities, you have remained scandal-free. How have you managed?

I wouldn’t use the word ‘scandal-free’. It has just been very difficult to stick ugly stories on me. People have attempted to tarnish my image with crazy stories, but anybody who is discerning can tell when a story is false. I live a pretty simple life, I love my family, I treat everyone the same, stay true to myself and stay away from the crazies. There is no smoke without fire.

Could you please share with us some of the challenges you have had to overcome to be where you are today?

The biggest challenge is being in a country that does nothing to help develop creative ideas, nor protect those ideas after creation. The music industry was built on the passion and resourcefulness of young Nigerians. At no step in the journey has any arm of the government reached out to provide an enabling structure or environment for creative people to thrive. Basic copyright and intellectual property laws are still not enforced – a challenge that deprives creative talent and the country of possible revenue that can further create jobs and development opportunities. I may seem successful today off music, but it is by God’s grace. If the true revenue potentials of what I have created in over a decade were realised, I could be 100 times more capable of job and opportunity creation for Nigerian youths than I am today.

You have become a rallying point for Nigerian youths who want to do something positive with their lives. How does this make you feel?

Thanks for the kind words, I am truly honoured. I believe in true equality and freedom and I hope that more young people would live by that.

Some people are of the opinion that social media sites such as Twitter do more harm than good. Do you agree with this? And what are your thoughts on the use of the social media as a tool to bring about ‘change’ in the Nigerian polity?

Nigeria has a unique culture that we have gotten used to over the past few decades. This is a culture where truth is frowned upon, lies are celebrated, and the people are constantly oppressed using ill-gotten wealth, subdued by a government that pretends that everything is okay. Social media has come to uncover those lies and allow expression in a way that truly shows how the people feel, from a collective stand-point. The power in the control of traditional print and broadcast media has been diminished by the social media. Public opinion could be easily steered by traditional media in the past, making it easier to manipulate truth, because all the information came from only a few sources. Social media breaks that monopoly, allowing anybody from anywhere to be heard by billions.

Social media shows you what the people are thinking, how they really feel. There is no better way to access the situation and address issues. Yes, it is not all positive that everybody can now express themselves online, regardless of whether they’re telling the truth or lying, however, I’d rather have freedom of speech and expression than what we had before now.

Speaking as a record label-owner, what do you think should be done to curtail the now popular incidences of ‘contract disagreement’ between artistes and their record labels?

Record labels are not as financially buoyant as they once were. That is the truth, simply put. The investment required to promote an artist these days is much more than what it was a decade ago. The earning potential of record labels has not increased. This means bad business for most record labels which becomes frustrating to most artistes and creates tension. From the artist’s perspective, the more you spend, the more revenue you are likely to generate, but that is not usually the case in any business, especially in the music business.

The record label is also worried about spending more than their artists have the potential to earn, so they tend to pace the spending and be on the look-out for cost-effective solutions which artists are never in support of. If the only way a record label makes money is through the stage performances of its artistes or through corporate endorsements, they will never generate enough revenue for the business to make sense, especially in the highly saturated industry that we currently have.

The solution, in my opinion, is the realistic enforcement of our intellectual property laws, so that all other streams of revenue can open up and the business of talent development can become easily profitable again. Otherwise, there shall be a lot of lawsuits in the coming years and it will hurt our industry. Any business or sector that is unable to attract investment and generate revenue for investors will eventually die. The industry loses billions of naira worth of revenue to non-payment of royalties and piracy. As a result, we are currently running a system that is not sustainable. The signs are beginning to manifest and if nothing is done… Hopefully, we won’t remember the last two decades as the ‘Nigerian music boom’ era.

What are some of the things you think the Nigerian music industry should learn from the American model, so as to lead to growth in more sectors?

Some of the issues I discussed earlier. The government has a major role to play in the sustainable development of our industry. Also, we need to appreciate the earning and job creation potential of the entertainment industry, as well as create infrastructure to support it. If more attention was paid to just enforcing intellectual property laws, more revenue can be generated that can sustain the industry. Without that, we would continue to cannibalise ourselves.

It’s well-known that if a man does not find that ‘balance’ between his family life and business, his chances of success are very slim. As a man who is successful, both in business and the home-front, would you say you have found that ‘balance’?

I am constantly struggling to maintain the balance. It is difficult to find the balance, because business life needs you to have a healthy family life. But the family life needs the business life to sustain itself.

What are the tools one must possess if he/she wants to make it in the Nigerian music industry?

True creativity, undeniable talent, properly honed skills and an undying desire to be successful are top of the list.

Shades or no shades?

Shades, because my future is so bright, that it is blinding (smiles).

Who is that person or persons you would do almost anything for?

My girls! For them, I’ll do anything! Everything I do is for and about their happiness. I recently made a conscious effort to spend more time with the family and, honestly, it’s been more rewarding than anything else I could possibly be doing with my time.

What three songs are on constant rotation in your car?

Drake’s Come thru, Kid Ink’s Murda and Wande Coal’s My Way. My music playlist is very diverse these days.

Which do you prefer; stage performance or performing in the studio?

I’m a producer, song-writer, and vocals’ arranger. The studio process is more about creation and I’m primarily a creator so, yes, I’ld rather be creating. The performance part of the art could be more interesting if it wasn’t so stifled by stage production inadequacies. At least, with creation, I can bring any ideas I have to fruition, so there is more satisfaction doing that.

What are your travel essentials?

My travel-sized toiletries, my MacBook and my chargers. I travel with more underwear than clothes too, because I typically toss used underwear when I’m on the road. Seriously, I know, I can’t deal with the idea of keeping clean and dirty clothes together in the same luggage.

What is your favourite food?

I used to love eating fried plantain and fried eggs, but since I started my go-back-to-the-old-me diet, I have since discovered boiled plantain and egg whites as a healthy alternative. Somewhere in my mind, it doesn’t feel like I gave up anything but the oil and high cholesterol egg yolks. I have since cut down drastically on all the not-so-healthy foods and started an intense work-out routine. I’m proud to say I lost over 10kg in five weeks.

Who is eLDee?

eLDee is a song-writer, music producer, and performing artist.

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