As early as 1965, my father Faisal Helwani identified a huge gap in Ghana’s music and entertainment industry so he tried to fill it. He started out as a music promoter – the guy who puts on the shows. His love and passion for music led him around Ghana; encouraging, supporting, and promoting artists and bands. He broke out into mainstream Africa and landed a promotion deal with Fela Anikulapo Kuti of Nigeria. The two became very close friends and worked on some major projects like ‘The Black President’ film which was tragically cut short by the burning of the entire soundtrack at Fela’s shrine. Some scenes from the original film are currently being used, and I hope, after all the court proceedings and ‘sorting out’.. that the film sees the light of day. My father set up his own record label and opened the famous Napoleon Club and Casino in the early 70’s. ‘Napoleon Club’ became the name of the large house/complex in which we lived. It was right in the heart of Osu, the buzzing heart of Accra. Our home occupied the top floors, the Club/Restaurant/Casino had it’s own entrance from the side street, sound proofing and all; and just next to the club was Studio One which later became Bibini Music. Studio One (Faisal Helwani Productions) – the first professional recording studio in Accra produced records by E.T. Mensah, Agya Koo Nimo, Kobina Okai, Onipa Nua, Kofi Sammy, Guy Warren (Ghanaba), the list goes on and on. My father was fearless. Nothing was too big for him. Everything was too small! Yet he stood at a not-so-high 5ft 4inches. I later realized this might have been his motivation for calling it the Napoleon club 🙂
Within 10 years, Faisal Helwani had not only become THE Ghanaian music industry, he had also created his own Entertainment Empire hosting superstars like Fleetwood Mac, Fela, and even getting an album endorsement by the legendary Brian Eno for the album ‘Pace Setters’ by Edikanfo. Brian Eno’s endorsement led to big show opportunities in the United States where Faisal travelled with the band for shows in top venues like Beverly Hills and New York. He even had time to involve himself in all the latest industry politics that arose with the inception of his brainchild – MUSIGA (Musicians Union of Ghana) and later COSGA (Copyright Owners Society of Ghana). He had arrived. He was on top. But he was not sustainable. The producer was Faisal Helwani. The agent was Faisal Helwani. The promoter was Faisal Helwani. The politician was Faisal Helwani and the spokesperson was also Faisal Helwani. Do you get where this is going? He was great, he was celebrated, but he had also become anxious, stressed and exhausted in more ways than one. At some point in his 5o year long career, he would become outdated, out-smarted, and eventually, out-numbered.
My father’s story is a lesson for every prospective Entertainment Mogul. Make it sustainable! At some point in our music industry we must create industry jobs to ensure healthy growth in the music industry. We have progressed considerably over the last 10 years with a rise in the ‘manager count’ thanks to the emergence of new acts and trends. Still, most of the time, you find Artists multi-tasking and doubling up as their own promoters/agents which inevitably drags down their value. Many artists are creative but not necessarily the best negotiators or business people. they end up striking bad deals, not doing enough fore-planning, and next thing you know, they are flopping at one show or the other.
It’s time we take our music industry a little more seriously than just putting it off as ‘this playful thing called music’. We are not even properly represented in the Ghanaian constitution. If it weren’t for my father’s parliamentary wars we probably would still be operating under replica clauses from the PNDC rule! We need to create jobs and we the artists need to help sustain these jobs by growing creatively, dedicating ourselves to our music, and working hard on our Art. That is what an artist is supposed to do not run around radio stations trying to lobby to get their song on air! Don’t even get me started.
In my next post I will talk more about the individual job descriptions, and how to go about starting a career in the music industry. One love.