NATIVE Exclusive: Ayo Animashaun On Why The Industry’s Biggest Night Is Going To America

The Headies Is Going to America, here's why.

Last week, the Headies, Nigeria’s premiere awards show, announced that it will be hosting the 15th edition of its show in Atlanta, Georgia at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. This announcement attracted a mixed bag of reactions from Afropop lovers across the country and her diaspora, who were against the move due to fear that it might alienate many artists on the continent for financial and logistical reasons.


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These reactions are warranted given that the validity of awards shows has been called into question several times in the recent memory. For many, the sudden change called into question the very foundation and purpose of the Headies Awards. On the one hand, the move seemed to be isolating the artists, fans and listeners who had made Afropop what it is today and, while on the other hand, it seemed like a solid business decision, made after years of redundant logistical and production issues.

To assuage general doubts about the Headies going to America and understand a bit more about the fans collective anger, we organised a Twitter Spaces conversation with our friends over at 49th Street. During this engaging conversation, we were able to hear directly from Ayo Animashaun, the Headies Executive Producer who broke down the Headies recent announcement in great detail.

In Ayo Animashaun’s own words, he spent several years touring the globe and experiencing music award systems in other regions and continents to understand how a similar model could be adopted in Nigeria. From the myriad of production issues faced in Nigeria while running an award show to the greater need for attendance and accessibility to Afropop’s upperclass men, here’s what we learnt from our conversation with Ayo Animashaun.

Our conversation which follows below has been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: Why did you take this decision at this juncture, to take the award out of the country and to America?

AYO: If the move was a business decision, then we would not have made it to the 7th Headies. We have lost more money than we have made at the Headies so we make money and lose it the next day. It’s definitely not a business decision, there are too many other reasons. 

There are a lot of limitations that if we don’t get to talk about, you don’t know. Let me start with production. Before we started the Headies, I went 5 years straight and saw all the music award shows in the world and one of the best was the South African Music Awards (SAMA). I was checking the production quality and wondering how do we get this in Africa? So in 2015, I called my team and said we had to scale it up. We know beyond the glamour and what people like, we can do far better. So, I called my guys and went to the biggest production company in Africa like 7 months before the awards. They asked for a big deal and I told my staff that we should try and turn this around.

So we went to Eko Hotel again and requested for a quote, and it was very expensive. We signed a deal and they gave us a set, production and light quality that we had not seen in this part of the world and definitely not in Nigeria. We requested for a week to block Eko Hotel to pull off this production. However, a few weeks later, they came back and told us that they could not give us a week. So we got 4 days instead which did not work for our production partners. Then, we went to Landmark and we got a week there so we were going to ship 540-foot container and send a 21-man crew down to Lagos. Unfortunately, we couldn’t ship thhe containers as we ran into issues making international payments to them. By the time they had received the money, only 2 containers could be shipped and the cost we didn’t expect, we had to get a cargo plane to ship 340-foot container.

NATIVE: Would you say production is cheaper in America?

AYO: Production is cheaper in America and there is better quality, organisation and better venues. When we stepped out, we wanted the production company that produces the Grammy, the Oscar and the Superbowl so we could take the award to another level and let the world watch and sell our music, our culture, our style and fashion to the world. In the end, let me not get into the production in full but we could not ship a 340-foot container in a cargo plane and when it got to the airport, it was stuck due to custom clearing which was another issue. That level of production is not available here even if we want to do it.


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NATIVE: What other problems did you face in Nigeria?

AYO: Another problem faced was talent and export, and where we are today in the world and where we want to be. We can’t get everything we want in Nigeria, I mean why are artists doing tours. Yes, we understand the fact it is a local award and a Nigerian award. Take for instance, Eko Hotel can only accommodate 5000 people but whenever the Headies is happening, we get the highest number of engagement, trend internationally in the world. We have come to find, it’s not the number of people in the auditorium but the number of people that can see it and buy it in it.

This show, before we moved it to America, we also tried to get some of the biggest artists that have collaborated with Nigerian artists and perform on the same stage here with them but some won’t even come to Nigeria. We wanted big collaborations to happen in Nigeria and have people like Kevin Hart or Idris Elba presenting awards but they won’t even leave their country. Also, most of our Nigerian artists tour during the summer and are busy doing big shows around the time of the awards. Then, the artists that are here that need exposure, we have lined up press from everywhere to get their music out there. It’s just what we think would be good for the industry and would be bigger.

NATIVE: It doesn’t take away the fans sentiment. I think for a long time here, a lot of award shows here were about fans and the artists whereas abroad, it’s really about the industry. It seems perhaps that’s what this is moving towards.

KB: How do we the fans know that the awards still has the best interest of the music and the culture at heart?

AYO: You know the first set of people that know this? The artists themselves and I’ll tell you why. For example, if you remember the Olamide and Don Jazzy saga, they didn’t vote and I shared the log with him. I see a lot of people say this artist will be nominated and use their mouth to vote for them but are disappointed when these artists don’t win any awards. A lot of people try to lobby in the past to say what can we do to get nominated and people advise them before they get to me against it because what are you going to me. I have never collected anything and I trust people in my team.

Even if you want to do it, the process is impossible. Everybody knows the year in review then we explain the definition of each category. Beyond this, when you vote on our platform, you’re voting on the platform of our audit firm and the result can be verified. In the past, we have had to share results with people that had issues with credibility.


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NATIVE: What is the submission process for the awards?

AYO: Entry submission process. Once voting opens, a part of the website will show you what you need to submit. In less than a week, calls for entry starts and you will be able to see the process for submission on the website. Once that is done, the ones that are eligible will be nominated in the categories they are eligible for. Sometimes, 9 or 15 or 30 artists are eligible in a particular category. This is then reduced to 6 which makes it tough for the Academy members. The academy members include record label executives, DJs, producers and more. How does this work? So someone like Don Jazzy can’t vote for artists in his label. If I vote for an artist in my label, it will not count.

EMAN OWONIYI: Can you shed more light on the long term plan behind the move to the US? What’s the flexibility around your location as an award show?

AYO: I’ll be 100% honest with you. Yes, we do have plans to have the Headies abroad again. Are we clear how? No. Headies is largely dependent on sponsorship. There’s a reason why the other awards have not been consistent because it has to mean more than business for you to continue. You have to love the industry and you need to be passionate about it to build something that lasts. We are going to America this year to host the Headies and we’re not going to say we’re never going to come back here or it’s always going to be here. We have plans for this but I can’t say this has been planned yet.

EMAN: What fed into the decision to adjust the year in review timeline?

AYO: In Nigeria, one of the biggest problems is consistency. I am the biggest critic of the awards so I understand people’s sentiment. What we tried to do is to make sure we don’t miss any part of the month or year since we started out in 2003. What we tried to do is keep is consistent so in doing that, you’re dragging from one side of the curtain to bring to the middle. Sometimes, we don’t even want to continue the awards because there is no sponsorship. Back then, Hip TV wasn’t a channel on TV back then, before the awards, HIP Tv was on 8 channels but after the awards, that reduced to 3 because we lost a lot of money over the years running an award show. So being there for 14 years is a win enough for us knowing these fundamental problems.

Also, sometimes, we plan to do the awards and they are seized by customs because the award is 21-carat gold plated. These are internal challenges that many people don’t know. We had years when we had to send the awards to artists after because we have to be consistent and make good on our promise. There were also years when we have the award for Best Rated, the sponsor brings the car to the venue but after, they drove the car away yet we bought the car. We have sponsors in Nigeria but when the dream is too big, things don’t pan out.

Revisit our conversation with Ayo Animashaun below.

Featured image credits/Chibuzo