By Arise News ace broadcaster Charles Aniagolu
Vannessa Amadi-Ogbonna has earned titles and responsibilities beyond her years in the world of public relations and entertainment management.
She’s an industry leader who is watched over and guided the careers of some of the greatest stars to rise out of Africa, black Britain and African-American and she’s executed huge international PR campaigns for the likes of Usher, Ciara, Estelle and Ne-Yo and was Whitney Houston’s UK and European publicist for seven years until she passed in 2012.
Vannessa is currently representing some of Africa‘s biggest entertainers including the actress, movie producer and director Genevieve Nnaji. She was instrumental in breaking D’banj into the UK with his first international hit, Oliver Twist, which reached number 9 in the UK top 40 charts in 2011 – the highest position any Nigerian Afrobeat artist has reached in the UK charts to date. Her management, music licensing, events and entertainment company known as VA-PR Management represents the likes of Tiwa Savage Davido.
Explain what PR actually is and how essentially it is to the making or breaking of an artist’s musical or acting career?
Thank you for having me. Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the public. With that organization in my case being an artist, actor a brand. Effectively it is my job to promote the artist positively in a specific market.
How did you get into PR? Was it something you studied at school?
No I actually studied computer science and that’s my degree. I met an entrepreneur here in the UK called Kanya King who founded an event called the MOBO awards. I did some work experience with her and whilst I was there, she suggested that I would do well in the PR department so I did a short internship there and ended up eventually becoming PR manager and running the publicity for the MOBO awards. That’s where it all started for me.
MOBO is Music of Black Origin Awards which is a big music award event in the UK and is highly celebrated. You ended up going way beyond MOBO didn’t you?
I did! I actually got ‘poached’ actually by an entertainment PR company called the Outside Organisation run by an incredible music PR veteran called Alan Edwards. He represented pretty much every big name in the music business from David Bowie, Sir Paul McCartney, The Who and the Spice Girls at the time. In fact, he launched the Spice Girls and was part of their project from the outset. Alan and I worked together on the MOBO account and once I joined his company, I worked up to eventually launch and run the Urban Division there. I represented great talent such as Usher, Destiny’s Child, Ray J and others. I left Outside Organisation four years later and opened my own firm, VA-PR publicity in 2006
Going back to your evolution as a PR person, How much of that you owe to some extent to your father Tony Amadi who was a very well-known music impresario in Nigeria in the 60s and 70s? He formed and promoted a lot of bands of that era and he was a well-known national and international music journalist? Tell us about that.
Yes, my father ChiefTony Amadi is and was a brilliant writer, journalist and author of a number of published and best-selling books across Africa. It’s funny because I actually didn’t realize that the work I was doing was actually shadowing some of the work that my father had done many decades before. My work ethic and part of the reason why I decided to branch off and open VA-PR Publicity and have something of my own,
was down to my mother Vivienne Amadi who was and is a great entrepreneur, a very hard worker who raised five children (me and my siblings), and it was her energy and her vision with her own businesses that I realize or actually I can do this myself.
Very impressive stuff! Then of course you went on to work with some of the biggest names on the planet; multiple Grammy award-winning artist Whitney Houston, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, Kelly Osbourne. Presumably, at some stage, you felt it was time to take a closer look at Africa and what was happening there musically?
Yes! Whitney Houston was an incredible person. She actually hired me following an event she had in London. When she realized that the person that her team was working with was a young black girl she said I really wanna work with her so of course I joined the team and I was blessed to work with her until her passing in 2012.
Following on from that, I wanted to do more with my heritage and home country of Nigeria. I met an incredible guy called D’banj and he gave me the opportunity to work on his project ‘Oliver Twist’ which thankfully was quite successful and then from there I went onto it with a number of other Nigerian acts like Davido and Tiwa Savage and some others.
Now you represent a huge clutch of acts as you mentioned which some of the biggest names in Afrobeats globally. I expect that one success that you’re particularly proud of is what you did with Dbanj and his Oliver Twist song which achieved a spot on the mainstream top 10 charts in the UK and that record is still unbroken.
Yes that was something that was so special. We knew it was a big song, but we didn’t expect it to do that well! I’m just so proud to have been a part of the historic project.
Did it take a lot of work on your part to bring Afrobeats to global attention? Because I have read that you played a huge part for bringing the genre to mainstream international attention.
I’d like to feel that I played a small part in shifting Afrobeats to the forefront not just in the UK but globally.
It wasnt an easy journey promoting the genre especially in the UK where I’m from and it took a while for people to fully understand but thankfully I’ve had great acts to work with. Also, Africans in the diaspora demanded the music so it couldn’t have been ignored.
You are on the album cover art of Davido’s latest album ‘A Good Time’. I mean that’s a big tribute!
The big surprise actually a really big surprise which I was not expecting at all!! That is a testament to who David is! He is all about his crew, his family, his real friends and the album art work demonstrates just that. He’s having the tine of his life and he’s carrying us all along and we love him for that.
Just looking at the the work that you do enlighten some of our readers I mean in today’s music business, how do you think a band can best get through or above the noise presumably they’d have to stop by have a really good music?
Of course talent is paramount. It just won’t work without that fundamental thing. We are living in an age where you don’t need much to put your music out. You have the Internet, social media making things a lot easier to gain fans and followers and carve out your niche.