Coming of age: Aly Allibhai has been in Uganda for 11 years and in those years, he has been involved in bar business, artiste bookings as well as the family security business, finding his niche in talent management, writes ISAAC SSEJJOMBWE.
Tell us about your family background?
My parents and grandparents were born in Uganda and they moved to Canada in 1974 during the Idi Amin era. I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. I have four sisters and a brother. Most of my family is still in Vancouver and I have another family in Abu Dhabi, Miami, Los Angeles and Toronto.
How did you come to Uganda?
My father moved back to Uganda in 1992 and I used to visit him during summer holidays. I really liked it here so I decided that when I finished university, I would move here and join the family business – Tight Security. After that, I started some of my ventures such as Club Rouge and later Talent Africa.
What do you like most about Uganda and would you ever return to settle in Canada?
I like the weather and the friendly people. I also like the business environment here. I still have my family and home in Canada and make sure I go home at least thrice a year.
How did it all begin with artiste management and which artistes did you start with?
My first job was managing Blu 3. This was shortly after Steve Jean and I had partnered on promoting and managing their Burn album launch, which was very successful. Steve wanted to get out of artiste management and he asked if I wanted to take over the group. After Blu 3, I started working with other artistes such as Navio, Michael Ross, Toniks, Peter Miles, HB Toxic, Richy, Airportaxi and others under my Talent 256 label, which I later changed to Talent Africa.
What inspired the ‘Talent 256’ name and why the change?
We were Uganda’s first professional talent agency and the “256” was Uganda’s country dialing code. I later changed the name to Talent Africa as we were now doing work all over Africa and have clients and artistes from all over the continent. The name Talent Africa has a wider scope and is an international brand.
You mentioned something about artiste bookings. How did it begin?
I realised there was a gap in this area of the entertainment market and yet there was no reliable booking agent in East Africa. I travelled to USA, Europe and Jamaica and started connecting myself to artistes, labels, managers and other agents. Then I got to know that international acts also wanted to start doing shows in Africa but did not know where to start. So I started by booking small artistes to gain experience and a reputation and now I am able to book A-list artistes. Today, international artistes and labels look for Talent Africa to book shows and tours for them because we have created our own brand as a trusted and reliable booking agent.
Who are some of the artistes you are talking of?
I have worked with Ne-Yo, Sean Paul, Sean Kingston, Beenie Man, Elephant Man, Brick & Lace, R Kelly, Akon, P Square, Wiz Kid, Tiwa Savage, Flavour, Mafikizolo, Mr. Vegas, D Banj, Montell Jordan, Konshens, KC and Jojo, Joe, Fally Ipupa, Fuse ODG, Cabo Snoop, Sauti Sol, Wyclef, RDX, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Collie Buddz, Konshens, Benny D, DJ BabeyDrew, DJ Drama and many more.
How much is your commission on artiste bookings?
Between 10 to 15 per cent, depending on the deal.
Congratulations on your engagement. How did it all start with you and Sylvia?
Sylvia and I met in 2011 at a mutual friend’s party, this was before she became Miss Uganda. We remained friends for a few years and started dating early 2014. We have a lot of things in common, share a very special relationship and look forward to spending the rest of our lives together.
What is so special about her that you could not find in other Ugandan ladies?
Sylvia is very beautiful, but it was her charm, sense of humour and intelligence that attracted me to her and made her special. Also, she can deal with my lifestyle.
What is your lifestyle?
I work a lot and for long hours. I always have to be at events, make appearances and I am always in the limelight but she does not mind because she has been there before as Miss Uganda.
The engagement took everyone by surprise. Why did you do everything so quickly?
It was not that quick, it just took the media a while to learn that we were a couple. We had known each other for quite a while and had been dating for a year and half before we got engaged. We both knew we wanted to spend our lives together so we got engaged and we will get married this year.
How many children do you want to have?
We are not really sure at this point. We are going to start with our first one and see what happens.
Talking of… from the baby shower you threw Sylvia, we have a hint it’s a boy. Any names yet?
We have options but we will name the baby when it comes.
How different is Sylvia from the other women you have dated?
She is quite different. She is the only beauty queen I have dated, but besides that she is very strong willed, opinionated and determined to succeed.
Back to the limelight, you have been behind so many international artistes performing in Uganda. How do you benefit from them?
In some cases Talent Africa promotes and manages the whole event; so in this case we benefit from corporate sponsorship and ticket sales. In other cases Talent Africa is the booking agency where we earn a booking agent fee.
What does it take to bring those artistes down here?
After making a connection with the artiste, you need to sign a contract and abide by the payment terms. The purchaser needs to take care of all the expenses, including performance fees, flights, accommodation, ground logistics and event related costs.
Let’s talk bar business. Why did you give up on Rouge yet it was one of the hotspot centres around Kampala?
Rouge was a great venture for me as it opened a lot of doors for me in the world of entertainment. To be honest, I sold the bar because I was tired of the late nights and was a little bored of the work as I had been running it for more than years. I needed a new challenge and wanted to focus on Talent Africa.
Where did you get the experience to run a bar?
I had no experience in bar business before Rouge. But I studied business at university and had work experience in Uganda from being a director at Tight Security. I hired two experienced bar managers and we created systems that worked successfully. I used my experience in marketing, public relations and events to develop a clientele base and kept fresh ideas running to keep the crowds coming in.
We heard that you are involved in another bar called Sky Lounge. Is this true?
I am not the owner of Sky Lounge but Talent Africa has a joint partnership to promote, market and run events from the bar.
We have seen the Cypher style getting into Uganda. Why did you take up that initiative?
(Cyphers is a rap style where different artistes rap in turns on one beat, with a DJ)
Cyphers have been around in the hip hop genre for a long time. I just brought the Cypher concept to Uganda. The original idea came from the BET Hip Hop Awards Cyphers which feature top American rappers. Similar to that I wanted to create a cypher for Uganda that promotes Ugandan hip hop. The reason for the UG Cypher’s existence is just to give back to the hip hop community and promote our local rappers to the rest of Africa and world. It also promotes our Talent Africa studio and brand.
Why concentrate on the same artistes for the Cypher tracks?
Well, those are the top commercial hip hop artistes in the game at the moment. We keep adding more artistes to make it more interesting.
Are you still managing artistes?
Yes. Although it is not the core business anymore as the company has grown and we do many other things. These days, the focus has shifted to corporate brands, events, music labels, international bookings, music projects, shooting TV content, TV commercials and experiential marketing. Before, I used to manage artistes personally but now I do not have the time to do that anymore.
Who are some of the artistes signed to Talent Africa?
Locally we manage Cindy, Swahili Nation and AirporTaxi, and still work closely with studio artistes such as Navio, Klear Kut and others. Our other focus is managing international artistes, brands and bookings for the entire East African region, for example P Square, Wiz Kid, Tiwa Savage and Nyanda.
What is your most memorable experience in the industry?
A few years ago, I organised a tour for P Square in East Africa, this was around the time Do Me and No One Like You were massive hits. We moved went to three countries, did three shows in three nights, they were all in stadiums and they all sold out. We entertained more than 100,000 people. This tour opened my eyes to the industry and everything I wanted to achieve.
Besides the music business, what else does Talent Africa do?
We do a lot of events, including concerts, theme parties, private parties, etc. We also do a lot in the film and TV space. We shoot high-end TV commercials, music videos and also TV content for Africa Magic and Channel O on DSTV. We also do experiential marketing for corporate brands as well as an entertainment magazine called Heat UG.
Where do you see the African music industry in the next five years?
Well, the African music industry is very strong within the continent and it is great that we have our own independent industry. The music is now also starting to cross over into the US and other western markets. We have seen numerous collaborations with African artistes and international stars which is a positive sign of this movement. I also feel in the next five years Afrobeat will become an international sound and get more and more love outside of Africa. The future is bright for African music.
With your experience, what do you think Ugandan artistes need to do crossover into the larger African and international market?
They need to create an original style or sound. They need to shoot quality videos and work on developing their brands. They need to have a good appearance and fashion sense. But most importantly, they need the support of the fans and the media to push our homegrown artistes to another level. This solidarity and support from fans and media is what has made Sauti Sol and Diamond Platnumz blossom in the last two years.