Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy. These are just a few notable African artists whose songs have successfully crossed into the U.S mainstream music industry. When you visit Houston’s Black nightclubs and lounges, listen to the radio, or go on TikTok to see your favorite dance challenges, most likely you will hear trending African music.
This is a dream come true for the CEO of Big A Entertainment and Founder of AFRIMMA Awards (African Muzik Magazine Awards), Anderson Obiagwu. For more than 20 years, “Big A”, as many in the entertainment industry call him, has cemented himself to be one of the most respected and reputable figures in African diaspora entertainment. If you’ve heard of a popular African artist performing in Texas, there is a high possibility that Obiagwu is responsible for that vision becoming a reality.
Obiagwu, a native of Nigeria, left his homeland to move to Dallas with the intention of creating a company that focuses on solving the lack of quality show production, professionalism, talent development and management structures that kept the African music industry from being a major contender on the international stage.
He was able to tap into the industry at a time when it wasn’t popular to associate with the African entertainment industry. Several top Nigerian artists and entertainers have considered themselves proud beneficiaries of his platform. The Big A Entertainment brand has produced a long list of U.S nationwide tours and shows that have expanded its reach to the African diaspora in Canada and Europe, and he doesn’t plan on stopping yet.
Music isn’t the only thing keeping this Nigerian-born entrepreneur and philanthropist, husband, and father of three busy. He is an author, the founder of African Muzik Magazine, and the owner of Aso Rock Restaurant & Lounge located in Dallas, and Ebony Food & Music Restaurant located in Houston.
Obiagwu shares with the Defender his journey to creating thriving businesses in entertainment and nightlife, and the impact that African entertainment has had on the city and the world.
Who is the man behind Big A Entertainment? How has your upbringing shaped who you are today?
I was born and raised in Nigeria and came to the U.S. by the age of 25. I grew up in an environment full of industrious and hardworking people. You had to be tough and fend for yourself. I came to the U.S. in pursuit of a medical career, but I soon realized that it wasn’t my calling. I was a therapist for 12 years at the time. I’ve always wanted to be the person that created a niche for myself. I love challenges. I like to dream and find a way to make it a reality.
What moment in time influenced your decision to carve a niche for yourself in the African music entertainment industry?
When I came to America in 1998 and moved to Dallas. Afrobeats wasn’t really popular. Every year I would travel back to Nigeria to visit my family during Christmas, I would observe what kind of music was playing in the area. It was always a great experience going to the clubs and lounges to hear what’s trending. When I returned to the U.S, I told myself that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in African music and bring African artists to the U.S. And since Texas already has a large Nigerian population, I wanted to launch a business.
You have cultivated the careers of many artists and give opportunities to young Africans in the diaspora to thrive in entertainment, as well. Talk about the launch of the AFRIMMA Awards and the African Muzik Magazine.
I created the African Muzik Magazine for people to learn more about what is happening in the African music industry, what the biggest artists are up to, and what the trending songs are. I remember watching the BET Awards and saw some of our African artists accepted their awards backstage before the actual event began. So, I told my team that we have to create a platform to recognize the contributions of our African artists and that was how AFRIMMA was born.
Nigerians make up such a large part of the Black community in Houston. You are based in Dallas but what about the city influenced your decision to expand your brand?
When you look at the demographics, Houston has a very big African population especially in the U.S. There is a market for African music here. I’ve produced many shows here in the city and it has received great responses over the years, so it only made sense to expand my love for entertainment by launching my own restaurant and lounge in Houston.
COVID-19 impacted the entertainment sector and forced creatives to think outside the box. How have you been able to pivot?
I think COVID is giving us time to sit back and relax. African artists needed to educate themselves on how many other ways they can make money from their music. Some artists were worried about not being able to perform live for shows. Some of them don’t believe in the power of online streaming numbers. So, when everyone went on lockdown, it helped them pay attention to marketing when it comes to their intellectual property. I wouldn’t see the pandemic as a loss. We were still able to host our annual AFRIMMA Awards virtually. We reached thousands of people worldwide who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to join us physically.
How do you feel about the standard of African entertainment is right now compared to when you started? Do you feel there is more to be done?
When you go to American clubs they are playing Afrobeats. It’s not just African clubs playing African music anymore. Africans are winning Grammys. African artists are performing in big music festivals and popular award shows. The growth is there but there is still more work to be done. The artists are more motivated knowing their work is being seen on a global scale.
You’ve expanded your experience in the music industry to the nightclub scene and restaurant industries. Was there something lacking in these sectors?
Not really. I wanted to create a space for the artists to feel at home. I travel a lot with them and go to different venues. Usually, when I travel to a city, the artist will arrive at the venue and not feel good about the sound, lighting, or the stage. I ventured into these sectors to bring experience where anyone who arrives at my establishments will always want to come back.
What were some challenges that you believe hinders African entertainment from being taken seriously on a global scale?
We are slowly getting there. America is the entertainment capital of the world. This country has its own type of culture and music and these African artists are not from here so it was going to take some time for the music to crossover. It’s finally getting the recognition it deserves. At times, negativity is associated with Africa. People assume that it’s going to be a disorganized event. I want people to know that when they see Big A Entertainment on the event flyer, that it will be a well-organized and high-quality production.
What new projects should Houstonians be prepared for?
This year AFRIMMA will host a live watch party at Ebony. We also want to take Ebony across America, not just in Houston. I don’t only work with musicians. I work with actors and comedians as well. We want to give everybody in America the opportunity to experience what we have here in Dallas and Houston.