Quite often, when Nigerians try to describe how much growth has happened within the country’s music industry, they often point to parties, events and club nights where disc jockeys now comfortably play strictly Nigerian tunes for the length of the gathering without losing their audience.
Some others just speak about the international recognition that Nigerian music artistes across genres continue to receive, from sold-out concerts to awards and collaborations with their colleagues in different countries, as evidence of a cultural boom.
For years, the Nigerian music scene has remained a source of glory for Africa’s most populous nation and the rest of the continent, and like fine wine, it has become better, in terms of quality, export volume and value.
According to a 2017 PwC report, the 2016 music revenue in Nigeria grew by 9 per cent yielding US$39 million for the country and was estimated to yield US$73 million by 2021. In this report, PwC highlighted the key factors driving this opportunity for revenue increase as better distribution, improved production quality and of course discovery of more talents among the country’s large population.
Before this report, telecoms giant, MTN had already staked its place as the largest distributor of music in Nigeria mostly through its ‘caller tunes’ project, which was launched in 2008, distributing thousands of songs from top and upcoming artists to its subscribers who are currently estimated at 64million. On one hand, this solved the music piracy issues that many Nigerian artists were faced with, and on the other hand, it became a music discovery channel for the many artists.
Seeing the potential this held, the company made more investments into its distribution assets by; hosting the MTN Y’ello Top 10 Countdown, a weekend music chart show across 18 radio stations, taking the MTN Yello Festival, which brought music, dance and other forms of entertainment to MTN subscribers and music fans, to more cities around the country and establishing MTN MusicTime, the world’s first pay-as-you-go music streaming service, giving its wide audience full access to local music content.
When music billionaire, Jay Z launched his music streaming service, Tidal, MTN Nigeria struck a partnership that saw them bring access to the streaming platform to the Nigerian audience, making it possible for them to give their streaming dollars to homegrown artists whose music they enjoy, while exploring music from other parts of the world.
As the brand strived to develop the supply of Nigerian music in-country and across the world, it also widened its music development plan to include the increase of demand. Along with the launch of the caller tunes program in 2008, MTN secured the rights to host popular music talent show Project Fame, which ran for nine seasons and produced stars such as Iyanya, Praiz, Chidinma and much more. This platform helped the telecomunication company discover and nurture new voices that the world were eager to listen to, up until 2016 when the show ended.
After a three-year hiatus from talent discovery, MTN Nigeria in February 2020, made a comeback, announcing its biggest investment in developing Nigerian entertainment till date. During the official unveiling, it clearly stated that its mission was now beyond discovering and nurturing young talents, but that the brand planned to also expose and launch the music talents it discovers in a manner that leaves them globally competitive.
As expected, the initative received a warm welcome with 11,898 contestants submitting entries to be part of the initial 13 finalists to make it to the reality TV stage of the show. First they all had to scale the audition hurdle which happened virtually. For the first time ever, MTN gave each contestant a chance to audition from the comfort of their home, in partnership with Afrinolly Creative Hub who created a first of its kind virtual audition platform for the show.
While this format was necessitated by the pandemic, it became a huge blessing as it gave MTN Nigeria the opportunity to truly fulfil its mission of finding talents against all odds. In the course of the auditions and final selections, both judges and home audience were thrilled by the dexterity of Katsina State-born Jesse Drumz, a visually impaired singer and multi-instrumentalist, whose talent gave rise to the first surprise of the Y’ello Star debut season when the judges named him the 14th finalist for the show as against the initial 13 finalist slots.
All 14 finalists were welcomed into the Y’ello Star Hub in November, where in addition to competing for the prizes of an apartment with an in-house studio, a recording deal, a car and ₦5million allocated to the first position, and cash rewards of ₦3million and ₦1.5million for the 1st and 2nd runner-up positions respectively, they received business training from faculty members at the Henley Business School, music training from tutors of the Berklee College of Music and other important coaching from renowned people across adjacent industries that ensure for a successful music career.
These partnerships set up by MTN Nigeria with AfriNolly, Berklee College of Music and the Henley Business School were the brand’s way of ensuring that MTN Y’ello Star wasn’t business as usual with the winner-takes-all format which most music talent shows in the country follow.
The show’s richness extended to the quality of judges on the show, who provided guidance for each contestant in addition to the learning from the Online Music Training Program from the prestigious Berklee College of Music. The judges crew had superstar and music record label executive, Banky W, award-winning singer, Omawunmi, who herself is a product of a music talent show, renowned OAP, Olisa Adibua and 6-time Grammy winner, Malik Yesuf, who along with his coaching duties having worked with the likes of Kanye West, Beyonce, John Legend, Jay Z, Drake, and Rihanna, will be composing a song with the show’s winner.
For six weeks, the 14 finalists showed why they beat the other ten thousand plus contestants, utilizing feedback from the judges to improve their vocal performances, stage management, delivery and other aspects of their performances. After evictions saw Rael, David Garland, Jesse Drumz, Melody, Uzezi, G-Isaac, Dave Willz, Oiza and Meyi leave the hub, the top 6 did their best to clinch the top spot and had their fate decided by the show’s home audience.
At last, 26-year old songwriter, Okeowo Oladotun Alani, aka Dotti who had channeled his music talent for the last couple of years into jingle production, emerged winner of the debut season of the show, having received the most votes from fans, and was followed by Storm, an Anatomy graduate from the University of Ilorin who worked as a data analyst before the show. Other finalists who made it to the top 6, Gideon, Caesar, FayFay Diamonds and Freeborn clinched 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th position respectively.
True to the show’s mission of empowerment for Nigeria’s talented youth, the evicted finalists got the chance to complete their online training with the Henley Business School and Berklee College of Music despite their eviction, while all top 6 finalists were awarded slots to attend the Berklee 2021 Summer Music Program at the Berklee College of Music, USA.
Dotti, who garnered 64 per cent of all votes cast by the show’s fans also got a special prize which will see him record & produce a song at the prestigious Berklee World-class Studio in New York, USA during the summer program. He will also be inducted into the Henley Business School alumni body along with the other 13 finalists for completing the Creative Entrepreneurship Training Program.
In all, the story of 6th placed finalist sums up what MTN has achieved with this new talent show. At 33, Precious Freeborn, a mother of two and a soulful singer who dazzled all the judges week-in, week-out would not only be getting an international platform to exhibit her talents, but will be receiving her first-ever certificate of high learning, having dropped out of the formal education setup in primary school.
For MTN Nigeria who has funded the development of classical music talent through the MUSON Music Scholars Programme for years, Y’ello Star represents a 360 journey in ensuring their commitment to harnessing Nigeria’s youthful population leaves no one behind. In a country where access still remains a major issue, MTN Nigeria is proving that everyone has a chance.