Toby Langley started his entrepreneurial journey at 15. He is the Co-founder of Transgressive Records and a founding Partner of LoveLive TV. He was in Nigeria Late April – Early May 2014 as part of the UK YCE winner’s visit to the country.
He responded to questions about his impression of the Nigerian Creative Industry.
British Council Arts: This is your first time in Nigeria, what was the experience like, were your expectations met?
Toby Langley: As it was my first time visiting Nigeria, I didn’t really go out with any expectations – I wanted to be as open and neutral to the experience as possible. As it transpired, it was a bit of a revelation.
From what people tell me, Lagos isn’t necessarily indicative to the rest of Nigeria – mind you, it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve ever visited at all. It’s sprawling, relentless yet simultaneously laid back, boiling, exciting, challenging, whilst clearly still submerged in a numbing political hangover from prior years of exploitation and corruption. It’s a truly complex and inspiring place.
The people I was fortunate to meet really formed the highlight of the trip – impeccable visionaries, entrepreneurs, creative executives from music, television and film, sharing in common a firm intent to shape culture as we know it, on a local and international scale.
BC Arts: your trip was organised by the British Council, with the aim of giving you an insight into the Nigerian creative sector, would you say this purpose was achieved?
Toby L: 100%. I was blown away by the personal empowerment and direction that everyone I met possessed, and the calibre of their output. A drive to produce great content spanning all genres and media, underpinned by stellar ambition.
I was also inspired by the independence – every organisation has its own empire thing going. I guess that the only thing to watch with that mentality is somehow ensuring collaboration still occurs across all parties; from what I observed, whether radio stations, TV channels or production companies, the competition can sometimes be pretty fierce.
BC Arts: During your visit you got to meet and interact with several Nigerian creative entrepreneurs, would you say you now have a better understanding of the Nigerian creative sector?
Toby L: I’d like to think so, although I wouldn’t want to cast extremely firm judgements or assumptions since they were first meetings. That said, the aforementioned independence and the dynamic, DIY ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to making things happen is something that chimes with me. This is a hub of creatives and companies making things happen, taking control of their respective destinies and not making excuses when things get tough.
The only shared voice of frustration surrounded the sourcing of proper funding. Banks and the government don’t seem to prioritise support of the creative enterprises (there’s a surprise), despite the increasing export boom of, say, Nollywood cinema and so a lot of investment comes down to individuals finding sympathetic or enthusiastic private investors. In many ways, this is a just an echo for a lot of creative companies at the moment; unless you’re a tech business in the UK or US, it’s also hard to get financial backing at the moment – despite content being ‘king’. However, individuals and companies seem to just get on with it, and find any and all ways to get money for films, producing hit singles, or television output. The resourceful approach by keeping as many things as in-house as possible – owning gear and studios, being ‘all-rounders’ – seems to be working for a lot of these businesses.
BC Arts: what sector would you consider to be the most viable, especially for collaborations between the UK and Nigeria?
Toby L: Surely distribution of content, both ways. The Nigerian community in the UK naturally consumes a lot of Nigerian culture in an expat sense, and so there’s decent demand for relevant music, television and film. Likewise, Nigeria enjoys a lot of British and American music – one of my favourite moments of the trip was being in a random, cool bar and seeing everyone there sing along to ‘Seven Days’ by Craig David – a hit in the UK over ten years ago!
So, really, it’s by creating strong networks, where distributors in both countries are able to share content back and forth, and help find new revenue streams in the process. There’s certainly a lot being made right now, and the cost effectiveness of production is increasing all the time.
BC Arts: Your visit was predicated on the fact that you won the British Council Creative Entrepreneur of the year award; tell us a little bit about the award and your win.
Toby L: I really didn’t expect it. Our company’s press folks told me about the award and submitted me for it, and I didn’t really think about it until I was called in for a chat about what I do. It’s very flattering to receive any acknowledgement. From my perspective, although it sounds a bit chimp-like whenever I hear anyone else say it, I feel grateful to do what I want to do every day – it’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and something I’ve worked hard to maintain over the years. This is hopefully a sign that I’m heading in a good direction… although I often say it feels like this is all just the beginning somehow…
BC Arts: From your tweets, it is obvious you think highly of the Nigerian creative practitioners you met, compared to the UK, would you say they are on the right track?
Toby L: I think so. There’s no sense of entitlement that I often see in the UK from people in the creative or media industries. People are taking it upon themselves to be the thought-leaders, production companies and creatives that will change the course of their country’s future – that’s exactly what makes great media and brilliant content. I am a strong advocate of theory and education, however, I’m possibly even more enamoured by the idea of having an idea and going out there and making it happen, refining it until it’s the best you can possibly give.
BC Arts: Did you get an idea of the role British Council is playing in the Nigerian Creative sector?
Toby L: It seems to be proactive. I visited the British Council offices a number of times in the week and it felt like a lot of discussions were being held between BC folk and people seeking support for a whole range of their projects. I don’t really know any other central organization like that operating in the UK – it seems so fragmented, it’s hard to know where to get support and discourse at times.
It’s really important that there are organisations out there like the British Council endeavouring to bring different cultures together for education, learning, collaboration and – who knows – future business opportunities.
BC Arts: Do you see yourself coming back?
Toby L: Definitely. I feel like this was just a brief introduction. In an ideal world, schedules permitting, I’ll be back for the Felabration festivities later this year.
BC Arts: would you invest in the sector? Which?
Toby L: I’m less an investor at this stage, more of a creator or producer. I would certainly love to find opportunities on both a creative and business level that mean the exchange between the UK and Nigeria can increase and improve in the coming years. It feels like the lid’s about to blow off the industry over there.
BC Arts: What was your general view of the people and the country?
Toby L: I met some people I hope to know for years to come, which I think can only reflect a very special culture and place. There’s a strong sense of community that I really envied; despite the vast population, there were lots of cliques I was privileged to jump in and out of across the week.
The country, meanwhile, while initially a culture shock, it makes you realise how pedestrian and safe (in the negative way) London and parts of the UK have become. Lagos may well be chaotic, but it has won my heart.