With warm greetings, alongside the smiling face of Eddie Kadi and Guvna B, their manager Adetokunbo “T” Oyelola, greets me at the door of his company Black Grapes current venture – a restaurant and music venue. Located in Turnpike Lane, Black Grape Music Venue and Gastro Bar is a picture of elegance and comfort with its wooden floors, large stage, well lit stage area and spacious tables to sit down and eat. Described as an entrepreneur ‘T’ gives us an insight into his journey on the road to success.
How would you describe your job?
I do a lot, I manage the artist, that’s my first role, and I’m a manager, a concept builder, an events manager, even promotions! I have an in house team that I work with when it comes to creative concepts and designs. Really, I just add the glue to their projects. It’s not about what I do; it’s about what the artists are. When people say I’m the brains behind everything, I don’t like to take it, because I know it’s a marriage between the artist and myself.
Has your time at university helped you a lot in what you are doing now, or do you find that this industry is a matter of knowing the right people?
It’s a matter of both; I went to Kingston University and studied Applied English & Linguistics and Business… and Japanese! The degree was a ten per cent help, but I think the university experience helped more by means of having to fend for myself, having to meet people from different universities and networking, being broke after spending my student loan in the first month was the grounding because you can apply the same principle you can apply to your business in terms being able to move the cash flow around.
I don’t think that concept of who you know matters, because I don’t go to a lot of networking events, but by making noise, you become a magnet. That is our philosophy as a company. We don’t make friends to make opportunities, we make opportunities for ourselves. We create our own market so that we don’t have to rely on anyone to open a door for us which is the reason why we have grown as quickly as we have.
How did you fund your project when you were in university, being a student makes you broke!
As difficult as it seems, we always tried not to let funds limit us, so I was maxing out my student loan and getting as many credit cards as I can! I felt that if you believed in something strong enough, then you need to be able to take a gamble. Never play ‘What If’. It hurt because there were times I couldn’t afford to put money on my oyster card but I would see old university friends driving from 9-5’s in their Ferraris, but if you’re watching people, you will never progress! Having that faith in my project now allows me to make what those 9-5ers make in a couple of hours
How many people are there in the Black Grape Company?
Let’s start from the seed…
The Black Grape name is structured on a concept of a bunch of grapes by which each grape represents a different venture, for example events manager, management and television. Black Grape was started by me because I was a singer! Ha-ha, I retired early because I heard my own voice and decided I was not a singer! My talent was not bringing people together, so I formed Black Grape Cartel which is a collective of singers, musicians and dancers performing as one, which went on to be very popular and drew audiences from the midlands down to Kingston for a sell out show. From there, it went on to doing more events.
In the core of the family, there are five of us, but we have an extended family of 60-100 people and they are for our projects and we would use the same people.
As the manager behind MOBO award winning saxophone artist Yolanda Brown, what kind of aspects did you have to take into consideration bringing a saxophonist into the mainstream urban scene?
I wouldn’t consider her to be an “urban saxophonist”, because she has different influences from to R&B to salsa, and the urban world has embraced her, but really her project is more mainstream because she tours with The Temptations, Errol Brown, she did a gig for the Russian president, but that necessarily wouldn’t be evident to the mainstream audience within the UK. So I feel she is already there, she just may need more of a push because it is an independent record label as it is all done in house.
With have a vision for talent, what exactly is it that catches your eye?
Being talented is not about being the greatest artist, because there are people in churches and on street corners that will have the best voice. I look for someone who is committed to their project and believes in it so much that they are willing to take risks with it and someone who has the ability to stay humble no matter how big they get; talent will shine through all of that.
Opening your own music venue, comes with a lot of risks, how did you take all of these into consideration?
The gastro music bar/ restaurant had always been part of the plan, but we saw it as two separate businesses until we saw this venue. It didn’t take a lot of thought as I had been thinking about it for nearly ten years. In terms of finance, it was an act of faith with no money in the bank.
What type of venue do you see this being? Something like the Indig02 or the Jazz Cafe?
This is a mix of Ron S Scott, Jazz Cafe and Indig02, we wanted to be the first home of black UK entertainment and the overseas acts that we have. It’s extremely professional from the sound system to the lighting and the food. We have a mix of Caribbean; African and Brazilian food that I feel is my chance to do right, as before it was not branded in the best way. I saw a niche in this market and I ran with it. Food breaks stereotypes!
What’s in store for Black Grape?
We’re in talks with some US artists, but I’m not going to say too much! The success of the people I manage has allowed me to be approached by many people, who I find very humbling, but my mind factor is time, and the aura I get from the person, with Guvna B I knew it felt right. Three artist s have my time at the moment, but my doors are always open to have meetings with people over jellof rice here, it’s no problem!
With the venue… this is the start of the chain, and Flavour will get the first taste!
Words by Simone Byer