Kamal Salau, one of Nigeria’s foremost OAPs, hosted the Nigerian edition of TV game show “Don’t Forget the Lyrics”, a franchise with presence in 18 other countries of the world. Notorious for being an optimistic, fun minded, but die hard media junkie, Kamal is also the CEO of the PRO EMCEES, a professional communication solutions company based in Lagos. In this interview with our correspondent, FRANCIS OGBONNA, this graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University, talks about his life; his foray into broadcasting and other issues. Excerpt…
Can we meet you sir?
My name is Kamal Salau. I am so many things to myself, some people would say they are so many things to others, but I personally would say that I am so many things to me, because I probably know myself better than anybody else. I am a broadcaster; a musician; an author; a speaker; professional master of ceremonies; a career and life coach and a talent therapist, essentially those things define me or who I am.
Wow that’s an intimidating resume…
It’s a combo that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
How do you manage all of these seeing that in most cases multitalented individuals find it hard focusing on any particularly gifting and therefore end up being ineffective at any, like they say “Jack of all trades and master of none”?
Well one of the principles I have used is to go with the flow, because for me, if it is natural with you then you don’t have a problem with it. It’s like asking a Shark how it navigates in water, it is it’s natural habitat so everything, the diving; the maneuvering all of that comes natural with the shark. Now for some people they may have issues with it, because just like me, I had a bit of challenge when i first started, but I have learnt overtime to just go with the flow. So whichever one I find doing, i just do with all my heart. You don’t have to do everything at once. Even for broadcasting, when I first came into the industry, people told me that if you are a great talk show host, you might not make a good news reader or an entertainment presenter etc. but who said you cannot do everything? In all modesty, I would say I am someone who has tried everything that has to do with broadcasting and have done them very well. I’ve hosted reality shows and been a house mate on reality shows; I like to go to all the extremes in my industry and the only way I have been able to do all of this is to go with the flow.
To some people you are the “cruise control” guy and to others the “don’t forget the lyrics” guys, can you give us a little more insight into some of the things you have done before now?
I have really done a lot; i have had had my legs in a lot of places that I can hardly remember some of them again, but let me try. It all started during my days in the NYSC camp, Niger state. First I was a presenter in the OBS, Orientation Broadcasting Services in camp and from there I served at Crystal Radio 102.3fm Minna, the only Fm station they had then in Niger state. From there I went to Metro FM, Lagos and worked as a freelance presenter until they moved to their new studio. Was there for a while and also joined what was known then as Radio1, I was running shows there on Sundays and reading news until one presenter in Metro FM had a problem and resigned, so I was called to take his place. I have also worked with UNILAG Radio, was with them for about 6 years. I was actually a founding member, you know? I like founding things, that explains why I wanted to join Metro then when it started because I liked start ups. I left UNILAG radio, after a while and my last Radio job was at City FM, I got in there as the manager programmes and from there I became acting General Manger and eventually left as the General Manager of the station. I built that station (City Fm) from the scratch, I took care of programming; hiring of presenters, did virtually everything from the scratch. It was a good thing for me because it gave me the opportunity to put into practice some of the things I really did know. When we came in we were actually number 22 or 23, but before I left we ranked among the top ten stations in Lagos. For me it was a great feat because we had no promotions; no publicity whatsoever; we didn’t make any noise or go to the market; it was by sheer quality programming. People found something refreshing and different from what they are used to. Now in between all of this I have done several other things e.g. “House 4”, which I would say is the first ever “Talent” reality TV show, but the second reality show in Nigeria (Ultimate Search was the first ever). I hosted that. After that I had done programmes with NTA; Dove TV when they first came on cable TV. Like you said, I have done “don’t forget the lyrics” by Zain, which was an international format in about 19 countries and that got my name in Wikipedia. It was the highest paying game show, we were supposed to give away N20 Million and I still think it is the highest paying game show, because nobody has been able to give out that much ever since. I have done a whole lot that I can’t mention here for time. I did all of these in between, while working for all of those radio stations. The only TV station I have ever worked for is MITV.
You have done a lot of movements, would you say Kamal is a restless person or it is just a hunger for something more?
I am restless yes, but my restlessness doesn’t cause me to move. I am somebody who believes that things can get better. My restlessness shows in my work, not in the movements I make. Most of the time when I move, I do so because I think the management does not see the future, I don’t like it when people pull me back, I have a vision of where I want to be. Most people, who know me, know that I am a very tenacious person; I am patient and always believe that things could get better, I am a very positive minded person. But I move when I get to that point that I know that this mule here does not want to go any further; when it has decided to pitch tent here. So if they are not ready to move ahead, I leave…
Was that why you left Metro fm?
That was why I left everywhere I have ever left. I remember while at MITV/Star fm, I went there one day and they were making my life difficult, they were not ready to move ahead so I left. The same thing with Metro, I had actually resigned from Metro before and then a new management came and brought me back, so I told them these were the things that made me leave and they said okay, things are going to change, but I told them I had resigned and don’t go back to where I had left. So they said what they wanted me to do was to come back and do Cruise Control. So I came back and did Cruise Control for 2 years plus and I didn’t see those changes so I left again.
What is Kamal doing now?
After like a dozen years in the industry and doing what my colleagues at my level had done, at a point I was working with two Radio stations at a particular time and running the most popular show on those stations at the same time.
Before you continue with your response, I will like to know where you get your strength from?
It comes from my restlessness. It somehow helps to bring out that passion and the best of me. It is not about moving for me, it actually brings out the best in my job. It makes me want to be better; to beat my previous performance…so right now I am bring all of this experience together, I put a icing on it, then built a radio station from the scratch and brought it to an enviable height. So then I said to myself, it’s time to give back, not that I have not inspired a lot of people, I have. I often meet people who tell me that I inspired their getting into radio; they come to me and say “eh, you are my mentor”. That is impressive and humbling to. But there are a lot of people who come to me and tell me they want to be OAPs, so I said to myself it is time for me to give back to these people, it’s like trying to duplicate myself in people so that they can have the kind of successes I have had and even surpass them. Secondly I have had a lot of complaint and my ears are almost full, people complain about the level of professionalism, people walk up to me and say all they hear on radio is crap, does it mean that this is a dyeing profession? So what I am doing now is trying to sort of raise a new generation of OAPs. We intend raising professionals…
Is that what gave birth to “PRO EMCEES”?
Yes that was what gave birth to the “PRO EMCEES”. “PRO EMCEES” simply means Professional Emcees, basically the professional people on the mic.
One would have thought that with all of your experiences the natural thing would have been for you to start your own Radio station?
Yeah, that would have been nice. A lot of people actually come to me and ask what are you doing now, are you going to start your own Radio station? You see, that’s not really a motivation. I have built and ran a station (City FM) from the scratch, everything I would have done if it were my own station I did while running City fm. I am a very passionate person and want things properly always. So it would mean going back to the same routine, I would be bugged down with administration, I wouldn’t be working with talents. I will be trying to build a station and make money, it will now be about commerce, and then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to give back…
Are you saying that you would rather give back to the society than make money?
Yes that’s what I am saying. I have made so much money from the industry, everything I have done before now, I had done for myself. This is an industry that had met my need…
You said you have made so much money from this industry, would you say you are rich?
I am rich! Not rich because of the money I have made…
But you have made a lot of money?
Yes I have made a lot of money…the money has gone into a lot of places as well, family; I have got kids and they’ve got to go to school and that’s a big responsibility. Money doesn’t really stay. By the way you don’t stop making money, making money is a journey. You keep making money. but for me what matters is when in a few years I see people who walk up to me and say “I was in the class (promcees) of “x” year and now I am managing this radio station, that is bigger than any money I could ever make…
What happened to the “Don’t forget the lyrics” franchise?
It’s something only Zain can answer…I don’t know if it is the change of name thing, they should be in a better position to answer that.
In a lighter mood, I noticed while the show was still on that you wore a particular cloth all through, was that done on purpose?
Every other person that has raised an observation about that show has always said the same thing. The only country where they change the costume is in the US, I don’t know why, but maybe it’s because they have been able to maneuver…but in every other country, including France; UK; Japan; Korea and every other country it ran, the host wears the same costume. The reason is because we record so many episodes over a number of days and then we edit it, so that we can cut out some things and swop contestants. So wearing the same costumes allows us to do all those swopping etc., so as to make an interesting show.
What was growing up like?
Growing up was boring. There were no high moments or low moments, my life was just like a patient on a hospital bed attached to a life support machine (he laughs) seriously. I was just there, a regular kid. People who knew me while I was young would look at me now and say they don’t believe that it’s the same person. In primary school for instance, they would take me to school, my dad was a top officer in the police, so I always had orderlies around me, so a police vehicle take me to school and drops me by the assembly ground, so even when I am late there is no shaking. After we are done, I sit under a tree and he comes and picks me up. So I don’t go anywhere; have any friends, so that’s why I am at my best when I am alone. So when I tell people that I am an introvert they don’t believe me; when I tell them that I am a shy person, they don’t believe me. By the time we got into secondary school, I was senior prefect then, we were the first set of Senior Secondary Students, so I was head prefect in SS 1; 2 and 3. It was the same thing in the University…you never know I am there, that’s my kind of person.
Looking back, do you have any regrets?
None, except for the fact that I finished school with a third class. Not that I wasn’t brilliant, I was committed to christian fellowship; I was very active in fellowship. I wanted to do things for God and that took a lot of my time. I can remember taking the citation for my department while in year three and by the time I was done the Dean asked if I was part of his department. My lecturers severally would tell me I was brilliant, there was one that walked up to me and told me “Kamal I know you are very brilliant, it’s just that you church people don’t have time for academics”, you know before then nobody has ever told me that I was brilliant, not even in secondary school. The HOD called me afterwards and told me that she was watching me, my grades actually improved afterward. The course was not really that hard (I studied psychology) but I was never really in class, so it was difficult giving answers to something you didn’t read. So that was a big regret for me because I could have done a whole lot better. But then again maybe I wouldn’t have been in broadcasting, because I could remember back then there was this Job in Omega Bank that I would have gotten, but didn’t because of my grades. I was actually in a church where someone who was highly placed gave a referral. I was supposed to just go to the headquarters, put in my papers and get an automatic employment. I entered the office that day on the Island, and I was like yes, this is the kind of environment I would like to work in; everyone was neatly and properly dressed, but when they looked at my certificate they said sorry, the least was a 2nd class upper. I cannot forget, I left that place with my head bowed. This was a job in a bank on a platter of Gold. Maybe my path would have been different.
Any advice for up and coming OAPs?
Though talent is very important in this industry, you require skills as well. You need to develop yourself and pattern yourself after a mentor. You also need to have a plan. Don’t settle for mediocrity; always strive to outdo yourself.
Thank you sir.
You are welcome.