|Chief Romanus Nwaementa Okonkwo a.k.a Rogers All Stars|
By Fred Iwenjora
If you are a regular radio listener driving from Agbor into the Delta state capital of Asaba and cruising into Onitsha, the commercial nerve center of eastern Nigeria and fiddling with your car radio or any other radio for that matter, you are likely to find that all music playing in all these radio stations you stumble upon may be works produced by R.E Okonkwo sometimes written R. N Okonkwo and marketed by Rogers All stars Nigeria Limited, one of the most respected indigenous record companies in Nigeria with a full and running 24 tracks digital and analogue audio and television recording studios based at Umuokpu, Anambra state.
It is either you are hearing the world famous hit songs, Sweet Mother delivered by Prince Nico Mbarga and the Rocafil Jazz or enjoying the jives of African Number one Zigmatiser Bright Chimezie or rocking to vintage hits from Ghanaian exports like Sammy Koffi of Okukuseku fame. Aside from that, it could be highlife kingpins like Goddy Ezike or Late Muddy Ibe or other top highlife icons blaring from the speakers.
Of course, it could be the old evergreen hits from Zaire like Franco Makiadi of the famous OK Jazz and a host of others.
Indeed Rogers All stars records is unarguably one of the last of them standing of those indigenous recording companies that propelled Nigeria’s musical heritage still waxing strong and releasing all its vintage hit albums and not stopping and recording new ones while others set up at the same time may have gone under.
What makes Chief (Sir) Romanus Nwaementa Okonkwo, the Managing Director of Rogers All stars a rare human being is that he was able to set up and still running a very gigantic business empire of that magnitude with tentacles across the ends of the globe till date without a secondary school education not to talk about attending any University anywhere. Yet he is a consummate business genius and a grand master in business administration who combines his rare knowledge in the management of men and material for the production of music with its distribution and marketing, his knowledge of accounting to make sure that his books are all kept and audited accurately and his business development acumen to project for the future of his business. He is also a real forecaster of who is a star artiste whenever he sees one.
In this interview, Rogers Okonkwo takes us down memory lane on the bits and pieces of his life and continues to glorify God for all his successes. He also gives an insight into the expansive world of music recording business and the secret of the company’s survival over the years amongst other issues. Please enjoy this.
Can you take us down memory lane about how you started this journey through music production and marketing?
I served a recording company. I served Right Time Records. He was the contemporary of CT Onyekwelu and Niger Phone Records. In those days, there was Araba Records in Lagos. These were the people who took after the white man and were trained by them; these were the people who pioneered recording business in Nigeria. The people who took over from the white man directly; those were the people we served. My master was Sir Fabian Igbodoukwu who was owner of Right Time Records who showed me the way. He on his own part served CT Onyekwelu, the big recording mogul of that era. They both hailed from Nawfia in Eastern Nigeria that is Anambra state now. It happened that my sister was married to one of the close relations of CT Onyekwelu and they handed me over to Right Time for internship just immediately after my First School Leaving Certificate exams. I spent 7 years with him and was settled to go on my own.
During those years, we sold all records of great artistes of the era like Rex Lawson, Eddie Okonta, Celestine Ukwu, Erasmus Januari. From Ghana came the famous Ramblers Dance Band, Star Gazers etc. In those days every thing was done in a professional manner. Serving one of the top music dealers in Nigeria at that time exposed me to a lot as we traveled at will to seek out the best in music. I learnt so much about music production and marketing in Nigeria at that tender age.
Early recording of music in Africa were done by the Europeans who brought their equipment down to record the artistes here in Africa. I recall they were in Ghana to record the Ramblers and the Star Gazers. I think they came from DECCA London to do these recordings and went back to distribute them
How did the name Rogers All stars come about?
Having been sent forth after serving my master for seven years, it was time for me to take a name and go on my own. I first toyed with the name; All Stars but there was a clash in that name so I added Rogers All Stars which linked up with the name I was already known with. Ok, let me flash back. As one of the boys from Right Time Records, I used to be a regular DJ about town and took our equipment to different dances and parties that most parties rocked because Rogers of Right Time Records was on the musical box. I used to take our equipment to schools like DMGS, CKC, Onitsha, Bebendof, Adazi and so on whenever they had funfairs and annual get together or debate. Boys schools invite Girls schools who arrive with buses with their teachers. There was discipline in those days. It was well organized weekend shows held on Saturdays. They came to book with Right Time and it was my lot to go to those shows. We played from the loud speakers variety of highlife, and blues music like by Skeeter Davis, Jim Reeves. We also played James Brown, Everly Brothers and it was Rogers on the sound box, Let me not be seen as boasting, I have heard so much sound and music in my life time. All kinds. I know sound. And I think that it is because I know sound that I was able to break through by the Grace of God.
Follow the series on ejigbocitydiary.blogspot.com