Stretched out on one end of an L-shaped couch, in a t-shirt and shorts, Sadiq Abdullai Abu points the remote control at the large TV on the wall of his living room. An Afropop music video replaces Leonardo DiCaprio’s frightened face.
Sadiq coughs, and then yawns. He clearly hasn’t fully recovered and could use some rest.
It doesn’t mean he harbours zero thoughts on the preponderance of Nigerian material on pan-African channels like Trace—which we’re currently watching, and how Ghana can realistically compete.
“Strengthening our structures,” is a good place to start, Sadiq believes; improving our mechanisms. Ghana is already the repository of premium African melodies anyway, he holds. “Even the Nigerians admit it.” The Buhari-led West African country dominates in terms of numbers, but there’s a case to be made for the Ghanaian sound, and its effect on neighbouring countries.
On paper, Sadiq has today off, but he’s still answering work calls and will hold business meetings here later on. The 2019 3Music Awards may be over, but there’s still some mopping up to do.
Also, with the awards over, he’s already “bored,” and is grappling with an ever-recurrent question: “what next?” He proceeds to divulge two new ideas which excite his eyes. I’m impressed by both, but am concerned at the same time.
When last did Sadiq truly take time off, I ask?
As I suspected, he doesn’t have a ready answer, but reassures me that he is not unaware of the components of a vacation; a Takoradi getaway with “boys boys,” trips to SA or Dubai—stuff like that.
He admits to always being a “busy body.” “I’m not one to sit still,” he says, grimacing at the mere thought of idleness. As far back as when he was a primary school pupil, he’s always been adventurous and precocious—you can ask any of his nine siblings. Somehow, entertainment and music always stuck out to him. In his mum’s bedroom, he got introduced to the melodies of Alpha Blondy, UB40, Dolly Parton et al. This, coupled with the fact that his household was also big on radio, ensured that his appetite was duly nurtured.
Being mentored by veteran broadcaster, Jon Germain at Metro TV many years ago, highlighted his organisational skills; his knack for envisioning things and seeing them through. Rudy Kwakye, also a longtime confidant and guru, helped to hone that talent of his. More names emerge as the conversation progresses.
“It’s fulfilling to see that the things people consider ‘nothing,’ you’re able to go through certain processes to make it worth the attention of others,” says Sadiq. “Satisfaction, not the money” he reiterates, recounting goose bump-inducing moments, such as his efforts toward of birth of R2Bees and Wande Coal’s continental hit, “Kiss Your Hand,” seeing Stonebwoy on the Coke Studio Africa stage after massive behind-the-scenes machinations by his team, or even visualizing a TV show and seeing it come to fruition.
First held in 2018, the 3Music Awards initially sought to drive top-of-mind for the 3Music block (airing on Accra-based TV3, and which producers intended to expand into a full music channel) to thrive commercially. Events were among the ventures which would harness a particular audience and be well-known.
Secondly, the event looked to inspire “a certain level of competitiveness in the industry—to create an alternative entertainment property to give entertainment value to event patrons, as well,” Sadiq nods.
It is clear, from happenings that have followed the 2019 edition (which saw dancehall act, Shatta Wale sweep eight awards, including the coveted “Music Man of the Year,” laurel, that competitiveness is truly being achieved. It can be witnessed in how artists nominated for the forthcoming Ghana Music Awards have amplified their campaigns to ensure that they win the golden plaques.
Of all the messages that the 3Music Awards exhibits, audacity is what is most striking—in how far organisers have gone to curate what is on its way to becoming literally music’s biggest stage in these parts. This year, among props organisers opted for was a contraption on which Shatta Wale descended to open the show, motorcycles and batmobiles among others to accessorise performances. It is interesting to note that what audiences witnessed March 30 at the Fantasy Dome was not the entirety of what organisers planned, as technical hitches botched a number of other ideas, and they had to resort to being “functional over being creative.” For event patrons who have constantly bemoaned the monotony of performances and stage designs, the 3Music stage is pushing the envelope; providing sets of true world-class quality—with little or no sponsorship too.
Responding to the above remark, a passionate Sadiq reechoes the sentiments of author, filmmaker, and professor M.K Asante—that observation begets obligation; that sitting about and pining never achieved anything. “You’re right in your observation of our audacity; to that level where you want to change the status-quo—to that extent where everybody will pay attention and take notice.
“I’ve always been talking about things that should happen. Almost always, it was as if people were not listening, or were simply not interested. So I thought that the only way to make it happen is to step into it and really show and prove that it is possible. Then, perhaps, it would gain the attention of people to say ‘alright, can we now join in and make it happen?’”
Producing awards is very expensive, and to Sadiq, if you really want to “go to that extent that we went to” –because there have been others in the system; mainly the VGMAs [Ghana Music Awards] which has received acceptance and have a certain organized system—“for you to be able to play at that level, there’s so much you need to put into it.”
It’s one thing to conceive an event of such nerve. But how does one go about executing it?
“A lot of insight, experience and knowledge” for sure, Sadiq opines, clearing his throat. “We are always engaging and talking to people that have the knowledge.” At this juncture, he begins to namedrop contemporaries who have achieved first-name popularity for their contribution to Ghanaian showbiz: “Rudy, Obed, Halifax, STIP”—even if he “may have experience that places me in good stead to gauge it and see my way clear—in terms of the destination we are heading to.” At that last statement, he aims an invisible rifle with both hands at the wall, primed to shoot at something.
Sadiq lowers his hands and carries on his elaborate anatomization of the 3Music Awards stencil. His next point relates to a clean artistic brand. 3Music aims at being “refreshingly different.” It is why so much time went into the entire imagery of the brand he says. Here too, insight is what will drive you.
There’s also brand positioning and knowledge about the space and ecosystem, something which would reveal to you that it is most likely in your interest to not fall too much on partner brands in the first couple of years, as they’re very likely to “dilute your brand.”
The goal must be to establish your brand position and experience strongly, before resorting to them—by which time they’d have decided if using your brand as a vehicle is strategically beneficial or not.
Again, one cannot undermine the value of solid research. Sadiq observes, that in how this year’s VGMAs reflected 3Music’s nominations, for instance, there’s some form of validation. 3Music wasn’t founded to challenge the VGMAs though, he stresses. “We are not here to compete!”
Of course, “in terms of a public perspective, they would think that—but we [3Music] are here to chart our own path. And that’s why you see certain differences. Ultimately, “we believe that we can co-exist,” he adds, before rising to turn off the air conditioner, which has been humming above the window to our right; yawning the entire trip. He must have noticed my arms tremble under the cold. Perhaps, he too has had enough of the cold breeze the apparatus has been spewing for a while. He returns to his spot on the couch and rubs a slightly bulging belly under his shirt. He sighs and coughs again, covering his mouth with a fist.
Sadiq may be the poster boy for 3Music, but there’s an entire contingent of bright brains behind the enterprise. The Year 2 project, he acknowledges, rested on the shoulders of experienced hands as much as it relied on the vision, spirit, and drive of younger folk. This balance has evidently culminated into something special.
Also, his team’s “penchant, resolve, and disposition, in terms of being progressive enough to listen and gather feedback” has also drawn experts and “closet consultants” from even competing brands to offer direction where necessary.
3Music Vs. Fantasy Dome
On both occasions, the awards have come off at the Fantasy Dome, Trade Fair Centre—Accra. Virgin territory, it is an option the 3Music organisation settled on as a consequence of its “audacious target” and “quest to be totally different.”
To Sadiq, the intent to be different must be reflected in the scheme’s various touchpoints; communication, how visuals are represented, how nominees are announced, voting mechanisms and how the whole experience is physically activated.
Until the Fantasy Dome, the only other options were the Accra International Conference Centre or the National Theatre, which inadvertently would “invoke memories of what we wanted to be different for.”
Sadiq likens the Fantasy Dome to a canvas; a plain sheet to curate whatever experience producers can imagine: tables, VVIP settings, infinite props. “The Fantasy Dome gives us the opportunity to think and dream as much as we want.
“Edey like bare land—it gets you thinking […] if you have a house, you’re limited to that house and whatever space has been created. Regardless of whatever challenges they [Fantasy Dome] have, for all creative event producers, that’s the place to go.”
He goes on; a big dreamy smile lining his face: “it’s big, it’s spacious, and it has depth—you can do everything you want to do.”
But what about the financial muscle it requires to achieve that level of radical creativity?
The response is that of a typical creative: money has never been an obstacle. “We think of ideas before we even think about money. We are better off thinking about an idea first, and then coming back to consider how feasible it is.
“You’ll be surprised that some of the things you’ll do may not even require money; just a combination of ideas and willingness by others to make it happen.”
That’s how his team has prevailed. “We’ve thrived on being crazily optimistic than to solely focus on the resources we have; because we do realise that we can go up and above ourselves.
This year, the awards was supposed to have included a whole gala, an elaborate Obrafour throw-back set which was going to generate massive talkability; a “purple room,” to cater to artists backstage, a customized staircase for the Adina/ Akwaboah set, even an entirely different intention for the Shatta Wale opening set. All these had been fleshed out elaborately, and multiple dry runs had been held to tighten all loose ends.
A Red Bull commercial pops on the television, invoking uncomfortable chuckling between us; chilling memory too. In the buildup to the event, when there was so much to do in so little time, the energy drink was a trusted companion –all he wanted in terms of nutriment.
It would also turn out to be the death of him.
“The world sometimes rewards luck instead of hard work, but it always rewards out-of-the-world thinking,” opines Sadiq.
The day had arrived. Finally, their ingenuity and dedication to the 3Music Awards vision was going to be rewarded.
They were set to go.
A convoy of vehicles conveying Shatta Wale zoomed through the main entrance of the Trade Fair Centre. Patrons loitering about the auditorium scrambled into the hall. They wouldn’t want to miss even a second of Shatta’s unprecedented performance, which would effectively mark the commencement of proceedings.
Yet, at that very moment, a car carrying a sinking Sadiq sped out of the venue, heading to a hospital nearby. Reason: a few minutes to show time, he had been found sprawled on a pile of boxes—unconscious.
Curating music’s biggest stage
Sadiq was gone, with key creative acumen required for the ongoing event—but “the show must go on.”
It did—even if it meant that the rest of the team traded creativity for functionality.
As doctors worked on Sadiq (who couldn’t return to the event grounds to oversee the show, and could only monitor proceedings from his sick bed), Shatta Wale descended from the heavens, flamboyant in a yellow hoodie, and armed with an eruptive playlist set to light up any party. At the prime of a historic career, Shatta Wale dispatched his performance with flair and charisma, tucking away another iconic 3Music Awards opening set.
Last year, the event was opened by Wale’s musical rival, Stonebwoy, who exploded onto the stage with deafening motorcycles and a dire warning to whom the cap fits. Witnessing the “Kpoo Keke” singer’s performance last year, I observed that the set portrayed him as a warrior fighting to secure the realms—a calm lion whose tail had been stepped on by elements who mistook his humility for timidity. His song choices consisted of prophetic scenarios he composed himself. “Be very afraid, for we come ready. If the need be, we are the danger.”
Like Stonebwoy, Shatta Wale’s set was his response to trying times that had befallen him; in addition to perennial turf wars that characterized GH dancehall, Wale was dealing with family conflicts and irreconcilable difference with his backroom staff that meant a complete overhaul of his machinery.
Both opening acts demonstrated that the 3Music stage not only represented a refreshing alternative but also stood as a tremendously expressive platform that allowed talents to pour out their specific emotions and get out a significant personal message. This is consistent with the overall vision of Sadiq’s establishment; to steadily become music’s biggest stage around here. It is what he reiterates to artists billed to perform at the ceremony: “this is the only opportunity you have within the year to show and prove, and speak your mind.”
Sadiq notes that his team worked closely with artists on scripts for their sets; even prescribing on a number of occasions, the best way to tackle a performance, in order to arrive at a memorable experience. It worked. The artists especially were highly impressed. To achieve this, “you need to be able to get into a very comfortable space in an artist’s mind—you have to appeal to them in that way,” he says. This all harks back to 3Music’s intention to be the difference, and to never lose sight of the fact that “people come out for the experience.”
He plays me a 1997 MTV Video Music Awards performance of “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy, Sting, Faith Evans, and 112 from his iPhone. Even though that performance is over 2 decades old, the video allows for fresh chills alongside the nostalgia it invokes. I get the point. It is experiences like this that 3Music aims for –to prove an event’s ability to activate music in a way that truly engages the emotions.
Citing Kofi Mole, who was “Next Rated” at the ceremony, and whose performance (which referenced Kanye West’s 2015 BRIT Awards set) swiftly became a never-ending talking point after the event, Sadiq is certain that in coming years, 3Music will be seen by artists and fans alike, as the platform that enabled the careers of so-and-so musician. Cina Soul, Adina, Akwaboah, Tulenkey, Eddie Khae, Quamina MP, Wendy Shay, the Bethel Revival Choir among others all rendered noteworthy sets.
Another thing that the 3Music Awards stage has done, is that it has vindicated artists who have constantly been subjected to public bashing for “one-way” performances. The effort and logistics invested into the 3Music stage communicate that the only limitation to an artist’s set is the range of his own imagination—because the possibilities that the stage presents are virtually endless. A vast and dynamic design, it enabled a lot of creativity by performers, who descended on captivating contraptions hanging from the roof, performed in the company of roaring motorcycles, or zoomed off in batmobiles.
In fact, prior to the main event, the stage had stirred up massive public reaction. 3D impressions of the stage, when they popped up on social media days earlier, ensured this–generating praise and scepticism about organisers’ audacity.
Sadiq concedes that the 2019 3Music Awards didn’t go exactly as planned, even if the ceremony passed off to generally positive reviews. At 3Music, they go hard. “Haaaaaard,” Sadiq thunders via a vigorous Fadama-nurtured voice, and so, when something goes wrong, it’s especially difficult to swallow. Why? They’re creatives at heart; very passionate—giving the project their all. However, Sadiq says that it is also important to “develop the thick skin and mental fortitude to overcome these challenges.” Again, to safeguard its integrity, 3Music operates a policy of “full disclosure.”
And what’s the benefit of this?
It “generates trust,” intimates Sadiq, and “keeps your image intact—than having to lie.” For example, some of the award winners, most prominently, underdogs Bethel Revival Choir, would set them up for public bashing, but the truth remains paramount.
Next question: is this “full disclosure” approach of crisis management suitable for the Ghanaian environment?
“You need to be able to educate and carry a particular market along in the direction of your dreams. Hence, even if Ghanaian event producers almost pride themselves in secrecy, especially during crises, the philosophy of full disclosure is a company’s best bet, and posterity would always vindicate this.
Are there lessons to be picked up from 3Music 2019?
Of course, submits Sadiq. “If we don’t learn our lessons, we will not thrive. If we want to live our lives through the lessons of others, then we’ve not really thrived. You need to get yourself dirty and burnt.
“What do you have to lose anyway? You’ve created something out of nothing—which means that you can always create something out of nothing, given the right conditions and time. What’s the fear, really?”
Yes, Sadiq and his team are already thinking 3Music Awards 2020. “We recognize the expectation on us at every stage […] we can always go up and above ourselves,” he shrugs.
Yes, the stage will be bigger, and the team will work twice as hard. Why? “We don’t want to be known for what we attempted to do, rather than what we actually did!”
More images from 3Music Awards 2019: