interviewBy Tosin Omoniyi & Amina Alhassan
In this interview, delectable actress cum presenter, June Christopher and UK based music producer and rapper, JJC (Abdul Rasheeed Bello) producer of Africa Shank speak of their new joint project to bring the nation's capital to global limelight through entertainment and tourism portals amongst other issues.
June, you have been off the radar for quite a while. What have you been up to?
I decided to leave the entertainment world for a while. For some time I have been engaged in other things. While there I did some thinking. I knew the experience I went through while I was in the movie industry especially the challenges and hustling. I was in the industry fully about thirteen or fourteen years ago. Today I see so many other artistes especially in the music industry and you find out that they are no where. They don't have the contacts or the 'connection' to make it. And then you find out that most of these artistes come to you with respect. They are like, 'June I have this song and I want you to help me promote it.' And I go to the radio stations to help them introduce the song. Eventually their song gets noticed and every other upcoming artiste wants to come to me. I particularly got interested in two of them and luckily for them they have been getting support from the Lagos based music producers. Then suddenly the Abuja based upcoming acts started accusing me of being biased, that is not helping in promoting Abuja based acts. So to avoid this I now work with all of them irrespective of where they come from.
How did the idea of TV production come in then?
Yes that was how the idea of a TV show came in. Looking at Abuja as a whole, we do not have an entertainment TV show apart from the one that comes out from the TV stations themselves. Of course we have some already established ones like Shakatawa and moments with MO. We have entertainment world by Tricia and many others like that but none has ever been generated from Abuja. And then another worry came in. How come the Abuja media industry as a whole or specific press men have never been honoured or been awarded for excellence. Does it mean the Lagos based ones excel better than the Abuja journalists? I said to myself we can do this. It is just for you to show off what you have and it will work for you. Nobody will do that for you. Generally I have interest in the city's entertainment life and with the experience I have gotten overseas maybe I can contribute my quota. That gives me a better picture of what should be and what shouldn't be.
So specifically what is the project all about?
In Nigeria it is rather difficult for anybody to believe in you until they see you with something very credible. I have been doing so many tours with the Lagos based artistes just so that I can mix the Abuja based ones with them. Many music producers have approached me about the possibility of doing tours in Abuja. The last one I was involved in was the one that brought JJC into town. At the end of the tour which spanned about 7 radio stations he told me that he was impressed with my tenacity and courage. That was how we started our partnership. He thereafter postponed his journey out of Abuja. It was then I introduced him to my pet project, the HAWT jams project. It was then that he suggested to me that why don't I make it an Abuja thing. Initially it was supposed to be an entertainment, fashion and media thing. He suggested that I should focus on Abuja entertainment industry as a whole. I saw then that he had the same spirit as me concerning promoting the city's potentials. He then suggested that we do one or two jingles as soon as he came back from the UK so we could show to people in order to publicise the project. JJC was particularly impressed by the city's sights and sounds. He told me that there was no difference in what he saw and what obtains in London. He then suggested that we do a jingle on these sights and sounds. We spent a few days shooting different parts of the city. There was even a time we were harassed at NCC's secretariat while filming.
Any oppostition so far?
Of course yes. Since the TV show is supposed to show Abuja as a 'hawt' city many have argued with us that are we saying that Abuja is the only hot city? So we have decided that we will focus on other cities in the not too distant future but for now we will do more to bring Abuja to limelight since it is the one that spawned the idea in the first place. So we may in the future have HAWT 36 states of HAWT Nigeria. The clip on Abuja is ready as I speak.
How do you intend to raise the capital for the project?
We do not have sponsors yet. Even JJC's stay in town is still being sponsored by me. His movement and accommodation is being borne by me even as he makes presentations on radio about the HAWT project. Most of the time because he is popular they just allow him do the radio presentations without having to pay. Others like NTDC have been very supportive too. We also have had support from the FCTA too. We are also making representations to the ministry of information due to the sensitivity of some information we would be giving out to people living outside Nigeria in the course of the project.
Are you carrying along major entertainment stakeholders such as the AGN, PMAN and others?
AGN is probably the strongest body in the industry maybe followed by PMAN. But they don't actually stop or influence your work as a producer. But when they see your work as meaningful then you can now start thinking of partnership. But there are people like D'banj and Tu face who believe in what I do and offer support when needed. But for the support establishment wise or individually based, we haven't gotten any major support for the project. But personally I have all the equipment I need to film. But we are open to any form of support. NUJ has equally extended their hand of fellowship but have added that we seek the cooperation of the NTDC first. And for now of course we are not focused on monetary gain. We shot the video clip of Abuja for free.
Let's talk about you a bit.
I am from Edo state. I virtually lived all my life in Abuja though. I had all my education in Abuja here. I lived with my parents till at certain age when I decided to move out. For now I am the only child living out of our family house because I am rather independent. I have done trainings at the TV College and also an industrial attachment with AIT. For AIT I was supposed to be handling Shakatawa when Tunde left. I started it principally with my equipment and money even though AIT was not aware. I also have done some trainings on creative communication in the UK.
Why the acronym, 'HAWT?'
It's actually a connotation of the word, 'hot.' I studied English as a first degree. English actually permits the creative use of words or creation of new words. If it doesn't actually contradict orthography or the rules of language or grammar then it is okay to do that. It still means something fascinating, outstanding and classy.
Why Abuja and what specific values of Abuja do you intend to project to your viewers?
I have lived all my life in Abuja and it has become a part of me. I saw Abuja growing from one lane to double lanes to four lane roads. I know practically every part of Abuja. I have been to other parts of the country and the world and I suddenly said to myself that Abuja is indeed fine. I have compared it to other places I have been before making this observation. Some people don't even know how beautiful the city is. Now what we intend to sell is the history behind the city, the people that actually stayed in Abuja all through the ages. We also want to project it as a city of light and power. Automatically everything happens here. We want to project the city's image to the outside world. We would also have a segment that will focus primarily on the youths of Abuja. We also have Abuja as a clean city.
Are you going to use your platform to address some social anomalies of the city?
Yes of course. Like for instance the clampdown on street traders by the authorities is a burning issue we want to look into.
Tell us a bit about yourself JJC.
I am known as JJC by my fans. In the UK though I am known as Skills. I am a musician by profession. On the flipside is that I am Skills the production person. I am a music producer and a mentor to many artistes, upcoming and established. I studied TV and music production while at the university. I left that to pursue an editing career at APL where we did adverts for Peperami, Rover and the likes. I did that for about two years before the burning desire to pursue my dream as a musician came in. About 4 years ago I went back into music and video production and TV shows in the UK. I have worked with Kentro world, Kamakazi, DJZ, Bobby FC, Bouqui, Weird MC, and numerous other artitses. When I came into the country to do my new single, African shank I met June who introduced me to Hot Jamz TV. We cross fertilised ideas and we came out with the concept of HAWT Abuja, while I was here I also shot a video with a guy called White Nigerian. So I had the privilege of working with June not as the JJC artiste she knew but Skills the music producer.