Sheila O Talks Afrobeats: ‘It’s Really About Love’

by Yah Yah
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Sheila O is credited as the champion behind the first Afrobeat show on a major FM dial in the United States of America.

She is also the Founder and CEO of Zons Holdings, a booking agency for A-List artists and celebrity speakers. She has toured a long list of international stars, including Megan Thee Stallion, Chris Brown, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, J Cole, Nas, Mariah Carey and the list goes on.

Ambitious and highly driven, Sheila O did not take the global lockdown due to the pandemic to relax; instead, she used it to launch her new television show.

How Far with Sheila O is a new weekly segment on television where Sheila O “goes one-on-one with musical geniuses, forward-thinkers and influencers, pioneering change and growth in the entertainment industry, and everywhere.”

ShineMyCrown chopped it up with the perpetual go-getter about her new show, her journey to becoming a pioneer in the Afrobeat movement, and how to stay sane amidst the pre-election hysteria.

Photo credit: Liz Calhoun Photography

ShineMyCrown: You are the first female to have a, let me get this right, it’s a mouthful. Nationally syndicated Afrobeat show on mainstream, terrestrial radio. How does it feel to make history?

Sheila O: Wow. It’s one of those opportunities that I just found myself walking towards. My background, I grew up in London, I was born in Nigeria, but I grew up in England. And in England, Afrobeats is really in the forefront, and I kind of played a role with my affiliation with the MOBO Awards, Music of Black Origin Awards.

So when I moved to Chicago and I’m like, okay, where’s the Afrobeat scene, what’s going on? I only hear Afrobeats when I go to the clubs with the DJs, why is it not on radio? What’s going on? And if I do hear a tiny bit of Afrobeat, it’s a mix, and it’s not a mainstream terrestrial radio. So I just saw that niche, and I’m like, you know what, I’m going to go for it. So I did my little research and realized that there was this platform in Chicago, which is number one here on radio.

So I reached out to them at Power, and I’m like, “Yo, there’s this thing called Afrobeats, okay.” It’s a new genre, it’s the new wave, you should have this on radio. And of course, I went through the normal politics, “oh, we don’t know, should we make space for it? And let’s see, let’s see.” But I just kept on. I kept pushing, sending decks, sending music, sending them the stats, the demographics and all that. You could be the leader here in this market. Chicago can claim it as the first to have it on terrestrial radio. It will be bigger than just Power 92.

It will be a movement for Chicago, for Chi-Town. And luckily for me, with the help of a few of my artist friends, like Ciara, who [were] helping me tweet, I got them to all tweet for me, the [station] took a chance on us and said, you know what, I’m going to give you time to do this stuff on the radio. If the ratings drop, at least I tried, but if the ratings do well then, okay. And I was right, the ratings went off the roof, and it was just great, and then it just kept us on. So that’s three years since 2017, so that’s how we took it. In 2018, thanks to Black Panther, it became so cool to be African; every African was proud. Before, it was like, where are you from? I’m from London. No, you’re not, you know what I mean? No, you are not. You are from which part of Africa? Where’s your roots?

So now, it was so cool to say, “Yo, I’m Nigerian.” this is where I’m from, blah, blah, blah, went to school in England, but I’m Nigerian. When Black Panther came out, it was so cool to be African. That was when all the stations reached out to us to find out if we were interested in syndicating the show. And I knew what syndication was because on my station, there was The Morning Hustle with HeadKrack and there was Rickey Smiley. So I was like, oh okay, I know what this syndication thing means. But then that’s when we signed our deal, and that’s how we became national on Sirius XM, got into more terrestrial radio stations in other cities. And I was coined the first Afrobeat show on a major FM US dial. Then the first Afrobeat show to also be syndicated on the major FM US dial to date. So yes, that’s how I got there.

SMC: And now you’re about to take over television. Why is now the time for this?

Sheila O: My first job is a booking agent, right before the radio thing took over. I’m a booking agent, first and foremost. Booking agent in the sense that I book artists, I booked speakers to Africa.

So the same thing, ICM, William Morris, and all the others do. My company was focused on Africa, so we used to put events together. So because I had that job, I was blessed to have a very extensive database of artists who now became my friends, being that I was the first to take a lot of them to Africa, so that made me kind of their first love. I was the first to take Jay-Z, first to take Ciara, I mean, the list is endless. I could go on and on Luda, Busta, so many of them, Megan Thee Stallion, she went to Africa with me last year, December for the very first time.

So I was thinking, okay, COVID now kicked in, and we were not allowed to go anywhere. We always used our YouTube, but YouTube was when a radio interview got so long, then we divert people to YouTube. So I was like, you know what? We’re not moving around this COVID. We should find out how everyone is doing. We should check up on the celebrities because we can’t do concerts with them. The fans want to know what’s up, how are they doing, and that’s why I came up with the concept with my team.

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