Banky W – Inspired By Life
Award-winning artiste, entrepreneur, philanthropist and CEO of Empire Mates Entertainment (EME) record label, christened Olubankole Wellington, a.k.a. Banky W, is a multi-talented individual who had a passion and fueled it to accomplish his life-long dream of becoming a household name. With a dream in his heart and an enviably silky voice, Banky rose into the limelight of the Nigerian music scene.
He laid aside his Engineering degree and returned to Nigeria, where he started his record label, Empire Mates Entertainment and hasn’t turned back since. He has several endorsements and has produced some of the biggest names in the Nigerian music scene. In this sit down, he illuminates his life, challenges, work and plans.
What Was Growing Up Like For You?
I was born in the United States but when I was around 5 years old, we moved back to Nigeria so I grew up here; for about 12 years. I went back to the States at about 18 years old and did my senior year of high school and then university. I like to think I got the best of both worlds growing up because I had just enough of the States in my upbringing but also enough of Nigeria; so I could learn about our values, cultures, etc.
Is music something you always envisioned for yourself?
I always wanted to be a musician among some other things. In fact, I was so in love with music and singing that there was a stage in my life, as a teenager, that my parents, when they needed to punish me for doing wrong would do so by cutting off my music privileges. They knew that was what meant the most to me. So, if for instance, I wasn’t focusing enough on my school work, they’d temporarily ban me from singing in the choir and from all my musical groups until I picked up the slack.
How did your E.M.E. record label come to be?
I was in university in New York. Around my third year, I started recording music in local studios. After a lot of work, I got to the point where the music I was making started to sound pretty decent so I started looking for a record deal. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find the right kind of deal; it was quite frustrating at the time. Now, Jay Z had always been an inspiration to me so I read up on his story. He’d said that he couldn’t get a record deal so he started his own company. So, I called up my best friend and said that we were going to do the same thing. That’s how E.M.E. was formed; right there, in my dorm room.
What challenges did you encounter starting up E.M.E.?
I encountered the same challenges anyone else in the business would face, as you can imagine. No one starts off at the top. You start from zero and work your way up. I didn’t have any real money. The only money we had was from working multiple jobs while going to school. I like to tell this little story.
When I had finished recording the music for my first EP, we figured we didn’t know anyone from anywhere who could help put us on so we would print a couple hundred copies of the music on CDs, then print posters and stick them on the side of the very old raggedy car that I had at the time. Then, we’d drive around the neighborhood towns and go to every single hair salon, nail shop and spa and plead for the owners to let me sing for the customers. IF they agreed, I’d sing one of my songs and then we’d sell CDs out of the trunk of my car for 5 dollars a piece.
That was the first income E.M.E. ever generated. So when they say don’t despise the days of small beginnings, it’s completely true. I believe that no matter what you want to do in life, you kind of have to just start where you are. Play the cards you’re dealt and just start. The journey of a thousand miles really does begin with the first step; even if it’s a baby step.
What qualifies artistes to be signed under E.M.E.?
You have to be very talented, extremely hard working, incredibly unique, and be a very creative thinker.
As a brand ambassador for Ciroc, what does that entail?
I’m very proud to be representing Ciroc in this region. I love the product and everything their brand stands for. It’s a drink for those who work hard and want to play afterwards to celebrate their success; it’s all about stopping to smell the roses in this journey called life. As their brand ambassador, I basically represent that Ciroc lifestyle here in Nigeria and Africa. I try to incorporate the brand in my work and life and, by example, show people what working very hard and playing hard looks like.
What was the inspiration behind your ‘Undeniable’ album?
Every album I’ve ever put out has been largely based on my life and personal experiences, at the time, or at least on things I’ve witnessed and been inspired by. “Undeniable” the EP, was my first project so the music was inspired by the life I was living at that time and the things I was going through.
How did you deal with the shoulder cancer scare you had earlier in life?
I was very fortunate in the sense that it was detected early enough when it was in a specific place in my body (my shoulder) and had not yet spread to other parts. I had surgery twice (because it came back a second time years later) but God really blessed me that I didn’t have to go through the hell that a lot of victims do. I learnt through that period to never take life for granted; one day you’re walking along and all is fine and then the next thing, you know you can be blindsided by something so intense that will change your life forever. Thanks be to God that I’m completely fine now and I pray that it will never come back again.
To what do you owe your success?
I owe it completely to God. I would be nothing without Him. I’m successful because of the grace of God and the love and support from friends and fans.
Your music is deep and soulful. What inspires your writing?
My writing is inspired by life. The experiences I’ve had and the ones I’ve witnessed; that’s what helps me to write.
Your music has taken you global. What challenges, logistically and otherwise, do you face?
I think the major challenge we face now is more about the structure; the business part of show business in Nigeria is where we’re lacking. We still don’t have proper royalties being paid; we’re lacking in the royalties, publishing, licensing etc. arm of the business. In order for us to compete properly in the global space, that has to be addressed and fixed with the help of the government.
Who are your musical influences?
Pretty much anyone who’s made good music that I’ve listened to. I’m influenced by everyone from Jay Z to Lauryn Hill, to Brandy, to Usher, to 2Face and even more recent greats like Drake and Kanye West.
Tell us about the “I am Capable” Fund.
The “I am Capable” Fund is a scholarship that I started some years ago. I was fortunate enough to attend a private university due to the scholarships I qualified for. I always said that when I became successful enough, I would in turn give out scholarships to students who need it and help them get their education. I’ve been able to put a few kids through private university on full and partial scholarships. It’s something I pray to continue to be able to do and to expand by partnering with corporate Nigeria.
You have an Engineering degree. Did you ever work with it and do you have plans to in the future?
After graduating, I worked for an engineering company in NY for a few years before moving back home to pursue my music dreams. While I don’t necessarily work in engineering anymore, I definitely apply the skills I gained from my education in running my business now. Everything from problem solving, pitching and presentation of projects, to execution of the work… All the tools I use in trying to be a successful, efficient, businessman, I picked up in school. So, unquestionably, my education has come in very handy. There are deals I’ve been able to get and work on, there are conversations with corporates that I have, that most people in my business don’t even know about and wouldn’t be able to handle; I owe that to being fortunate enough to have a scholarship to go to school.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be as blessed as I was to attend college. You can still be successful without an education. However, if you’re able to get one, I strongly encourage it. Being educated will only help you become better at what you do; it will never hurt.
What life motto do you live by?
“The best way to predict your future is to create it” and “Eighty percent of achieving anything is just believing in it enough to keep going regardless of the circumstances”.
You are known for dressing dapper but the hats remain a mystery. Is it a brand thing or is there another reason?
I decided to start dressing more formally with suits, hats and all in order to separate myself from the average Nigerian musician. Years ago, when I had just touched down in Nigeria, I came to perform at a show and upon getting backstage, I realized that the entire music business almost looked like we were in one big-boy band. Every artiste was in an Ed Hardy type of t-shirt and jeans with the Arabian scarfs on (they were hot at the time). I decided there and then that I would change my whole look and style because I wanted to stand out; I wanted people to see and hear me and take note of the fact that I was different from everyone else and unique.
Are you single?
Would you say you feel fulfilled so far?
I would say I’m very grateful but not at all satisfied. I feel like I have so much more to achieve.
Congratulations on your Samsung and MTN endorsements. How does it feel?
It feels great. Thank you. I’m very grateful for the deals I have and to be blessed enough to work with such amazing companies. Samsung and MTN are very successful, credible, classy companies with great products so I’m fortunate to be associated with them. We have mutually beneficial working relationships as I do my best to add value to their brand as they add value to mine.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing up my new album tentatively called “Songs About You”. I’m also going to be working on a couple more albums as well; a joint duet album with Iyanya and a rap mix tape hosted by DJ Xclusive. I’m also helping to ready releases by my artistes, Shaydee and Niyola. Outside of the music space, I’ve set up my own production company/multi-media agency called Pace Setters Agency. There, I’m putting my directorial/production/film making skills to work; we shoot TV commercials, music videos, ad campaigns and documentaries. I’m building our capacity to transition into full length feature films. You’ll be hearing a lot more from PSA in the near future and I’m excited about what this new venture will achieve.
What is your favourite drink/cocktail?
Peach Ciroc with pineapple and/or cranberry juice.
What is your favourite meal?
Jollof rice, grilled peri peri chicken and fried plantain but my trainer says I have to cut down on rice. This makes me very, very sad.
Was your song “Yes/No” written for someone special?
At the time, yes.
Can you address rumours about your 3-album release being your last album?
I’m not retiring per se. But after this set of albums, I will probably look to push my other business ventures a bit and work in the background for a few years.
Any word for your fans?
Thank you all so much. I wouldn’t be here without you and I hope to continue to meet or exceed your expectations. I’m a living testimony to that fact that if you believe in God and believe in yourself, nothing is impossible.
Do you have anything to say about the issues ensuing between Tiwa Savage and TeeBillz?
By Pamela Echemunor