Seni is one of the most important young people behind the solidification of the Alté movement and culture in Nigeria.
Seni Saraki (Chubbz) has worked with artists like Odunsi the Engine, Lady Donli and Cruel Santino on crafting their music projects. He’s also the Editor-in-Chief at The NATIVE – a key music publication for young Africans at home and in the diaspora. We caught up with him to discuss how how approaches A&R-ing, growing The NATIVE and the Alté movement.
Hello Chubbz, how are you doing this evening? Welcome to tonight’s chat. We’re looking forward to an exciting & enlightening conversation.
All good man, can’t complain too much. Thanks for having me, love what you guys are doing.
Thank you. NATIVE is family. You’ve A&R’d a number of really interesting projects that have explored unconventional directions. What’s your typical approach at the beginning of a new project? Do you discuss ideas with the artist before music creation begins? Or otherwise?
The only artists I work with right now are really good friends of mine, so it’s quite organic, and we’re already talking about ideas/songs before we realize a project is even being formed.
That’s interesting. From these initial discussions, do you already start visualizing far ahead? On things like visual direction, promo etc. Or it starts from music creation and then evolves to encompass the other elements?
I concentrate on the music, and everything follows after that. That’s the only way to do it. If we make a song or get a feature that we realise has the potential to be on FIFA or a Tiktok dance – for example – then cool. But you can’t create with that in mind. It’s fake.
That’s a really nice approach. So we take it, you don’t believe in specifically crafting songs just to perform well on specific channels? For instance, engineering a song that you think will blow up on Triller/Tiktok? What if it works, isn’t it a viable strategy?
I mean it doesn’t really matter what I believe. Everyone has their process, it’s just not a strategy I subscribe to. I’m not the ‘Music Police’. We all have different goals.
What happens when you and the artist have differences in content/creative direction going forward? What’s the best strategy to reach a compromise in an artist x A&R relationship?
I would be worried if artists, producers and A&Rs don’t have differences of opinion in the process of creating a body of work. I’m blessed to work with there artists who are open to differences of opinion, and the clarity to weigh it all up before moving.
NATIVE is doing fantastic work. What was the vision when you started? How did you want the brand to be positioned and how well would you say you’ve met some of the goals you had then?
Safe, man, very kind. We just wanted to build a platform telling our own stories. I grew up on Hip-Hop more than anything else, and the writers & pubs played such a vital role in making the genre & movement what it is today. We’ve come a long way, but it’s still phase 1 in my mind.
How did you approach growing the NATIVE brand? What moved the needle? And how would you advise emerging media platforms looking up to The NATIVE?
It always comes back to the music and our great audience. Just like us, they want to hear and see more. They were tired of what was dominating radio, blogs, stages and TV. I’m not sure I’m in a position to give out advice, but if any, it would be to get to know your audience.
You guys definitely have your audience on lock. Collaboration is a key element to growth and penetrating new spheres. How do you approach collaboration both as an A&R and in leading NATIVE?
Thank you. Yeah I mean, some say suggesting collaborators is the most important role an A&R has to play. I would say collaboration in any field is so important not just to reach new eyes/ears, but it can bring out things in yourself that you previously hadn’t tapped into.
Yes, definitely. As a young platform, though, how do you pitch your value to bigger brands that you want to collaborate with? Can you share a few tips on pitching and reaching out to potential sponsors/collaborators?
I think if you have a unique voice in your market, and a genuine relationship with your audience, the brands will come to you. One thing I would say about pitching, is don’t be afraid to ask questions right back at the sponsor/“bigger” collaborator.
What’s your take on media platforms and objectivity? Do you believe a media platform can actually be unbiased? Also, how do you try to achieve fairness and objectivity with your stories and perspectives at NATIVE?
The stronger the values and identity of a platform, the easier it is to be objective. Having a diverse and well-read – listened – newsroom is the key to fairness and objectivity, and we have that.
Great work. We have a few more questions to go. How do you know when a project is done? What signs are there that show that a project is musically completed and ready to be distributed?
I think it’s two things: when you’ve said all that needs to be said for that moment, and when it sounds done. GMK – who mixed Odunsi’s rare. and Lady Donli’s Enjoy Your Life – does this thing where he makes the whole project into one long song. It really helps in the closing stages to gauge how cohesive it is.
What does the future look like for NATIVE? What should we look forward to?
The future is telling bigger and better stories, and connecting to our audience in more ways. We just relaunched our radio show on NTS, and we’ve got something quite exciting coming tomorrow that we’ve been working on for a minute.
Also, what music projects are you currently working on? Are you open to working with more artists and how can you be reached?
For me, I’m so blessed with the music projects I’m working on right now. Odunsi is in album mode, and it’s sounding special already. Donli has been in the lab too, but we’re still figuring out what that’ll look like. I recently started working officially with Cruel Santino too, and his album.
What do you miss the most about the Soundcloud era, which was the introductory period for the alté movement? Do you think it counts as one of the golden moments in Nigerian music, recently?
I think for me, I associate the Soundcloud era more with timestamp Drake and obscure Young Thug leaks. But yeah, I mean, I remember hearing “Happy Hour” by Odunsi on Soundcloud and I was like ‘this shit is crazy’. It’s definitely a golden moment. It started a revolution.
Someone wants to know your take on artists being independent vs signing to record labels. Also, how important do you think it is for an artist to own their music/masters in this era?
Every artist needs to know what they want, which sounds easier than it is. Know your music, your personality, your nature, and make a decision on the best possible way to reach your goals. I would say every artist should try both at some point in their careers.
Labels shouldn’t be owning your masters forever, that’s for sure.
Thank you very much, Chubbz, for this chat. We thoroughly enjoyed it. Do you have any last words for creatives trying to build in this climate? Any advice?
Thanks for having me, like I said, massive fan of what you guys are doing and my guy, Dolapo.
My only piece of advice is: nobody knows everything and nobody knows nothing – there’s always something to learn. Find your voice, find your audience and start running.