Who is MKO?
I am a Nigerian Afro-pop singer-songwriter, entrepreneur, founder of Art Fusion Night, a self-taught chef, a people person and believer in better days ahead—because every day is a new opportunity.
As the brand known as MKO, I have been able to leverage myself to promote affiliate brands such as tourism entities, venues and lifestyle brands.
What does MKO mean?
MKO are my initials. It stands for Maduabuchi Kingsley Okpor. That’s a bit of a mouthful so going with my initials as a stage and recording name made sense. Besides, it has a ring to it, don’t you think? By the way, the meaning of my first name, Maduabuchi, is ‘No man is God’. In Africa, we say that there is always a meaning attached to a name, and it’s true. Our names play a significant role in our lives as we grow. My parents still say, “Remember what your name means—‘No man is God’—so, you should never be afraid to face anybody wherever you find yourself.” Confidence should always come first, and this has always helped me whenever I go into any situation–business, creatively or otherwise.
Where did it all begin? Your love for music and wanting to get into the music industry.
Music has always been part of my growing up. My father has always been a music lover, and he had all the classics in the house. From a young age, I could sing along to many of the classics—records that someone from my generation would probably not know about. So growing up, I’ve always listened to good music. When I say good music, I mean meaningful music—music in which the lyrics are very personal and relatable. I would say I started at a very young age, say, at the age of six; and by the age of 12, I had already started performing in school. I would always do covers from the likes of Bobby Brown, Tracey Chapman, The Jackson 5, and others. Then, I joined a band. We were having fun getting small gigs here and there. We were just happy to be a part of something. I used to be the one who sang all the ballads and did the writing, while the other guys would rap. Many years down the line, I started writing for other people, and then I wrote for a friend of mine—that song was picked up in Mauritius, her home country, and that’s when I went back to music properly because it just made sense. I can sing and I can write so I might as well do it for myself.
Outside of music, what do you do?
Well, music has always been a passion, but it came second because I had to eat. When I moved out to the UAE, music was something I was doing, and my full-time job was supporting me in terms of paying the bills, studio time, music videos, etc. When I first moved to Dubai, I worked for a few multinational companies such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Lawrence Graham and Executive Expatriate Relocations. I did everything from operations and quality control, to business development. Meanwhile, I started to manage a creative platform called Art Fusion Night.
Outside of business, I love to spend time with family and friends, particularly keeping up with my dad (who is my role model) and Mr Babatola Akinkugbe (my mentor). I also enjoy cooking, hosting people, and being social.
Is Dubai home?
I would say wherever I am is home. I’ve lived here for 11 years, so at the moment Dubai is home. When I moved out here 11 years ago, I knew no one at all. I was able to stop being homesick and attached myself to Dubai by building relationships with the people I worked with, and they were my first family. Fast-forward a few years—I started creating my own community, which is how I was able to put together my own events. So now when I put on an event, I can rely on my community to show up to support me. With what I’ve done over the years, I understand that building and maintaining relationships is key. As an international artist with a local appeal, I also feel at home when I travel to Kenya, Ghana, Mauritius, Seychelles or anywhere else.
Describe your music.
My musical style has developed over the years. When you listen to my first single “Still Into You”, you’ll be blown away because it’s completely different from everything else I’ve done since. I feel I have shown a lot of growth evidenced in the inclusive nature of my new album, Diverse, which features many different genres. I just want people—sometimes, even when they are dancing—to stop for a moment and listen to the lyrics. Sure, the beats get you jumping every once in a while, but when you’re in that quiet moment listening to the lyrics, you are sure to take something from them.
Talk us through the album and the launch.
My album is called Diverse because I’m based in Dubai, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world. One of those places where you learn about different people and their cultures, without travelling to their countries—and when you do travel to their countries, you will feel at home. So I had to create something just as diverse and relatable to almost everyone. We have songs in Arabic, Swahili, Twi (Ghanaian language), Nigerian Pidgin English, Yoruba and Igbo (my mother tongue). The idea behind the album launch was to be very inclusive and bring everyone together in one space. The listening party was not your usual listening party, where there is only music, drinks, and people making a lot of noise. We went for a different approach. We made a strong statement by having an invitation-only guest list of industry stalwarts: we had the likes of Abri, DJ Neptune and Adina (as well as some amazing homegrown talents) all come through, and we held a panel discussion that covered topics such as the music scene in the UAE and abroad, and how we can effectively impact growth. We had a lot of fun, and it was a game-changer.
Inspiration: what inspires your music and what inspires you as a person?
As a person, my inspiration comes from wanting to learn. I meet all kinds of people every day— people with different creative ideas and dreams. I get inspired by looking for innovative ways to come up with creative concepts or ideas for more opportunities for other creatives and myself. People’s success stories also inspire me as a person. In my music, all kinds of things inspire me: from the beautiful scenery, situations that surround me, to being in a studio when I hear a great beat. These things play a big part in my writing. I would say that in general as a creative, inspiration comes from anywhere, and when I want to get into that creative zone and it doesn’t come at that moment, I allow it to happen naturally, and it comes to me in its own time.
Motivation: What motivates you, especially when the going gets tough?
As a creative, my number one motivation comes from when people tell me that I can’t do something. That is my number one driver so I’m not afraid to fail. When I bring my ideas to people and they say, it’s not going to work, the goal is to make it work. And that’s what motivates me, especially if I believe in what I want to do.
The Nigerian parents: What do they think of your career in music?
My father always says to me, “I know that you can always succeed in anything you want to do, but I just don’t know why you chose to make music.” So that made me question him, and I said, “Dad if you believe that I can do anything I want, why do you doubt music?” He said he doesn’t doubt me, but it’s just a difficult path. And I can relate now. My family has always been very supportive, but I can assure you that music was never their first choice for me because I’ve always been very driven, and they felt I could accomplish a lot more doing other things. But when I said that music is the way forward, they allowed me to do that, which is very unusual. They’ve been very supportive, and their support comes from them believing in me because I believe in myself.
Wellness and mental health - how do you keep it together in such a busy industry?
It can be hard to keep it together, because it’s a lot of work, especially when I had my full-time job. I would wake up as early as five in the morning—workout first—before being at work by nine. Sometimes, I would have conferences where I had to be at work by seven. Sometimes I would have been at a music gig the previous night, which would finish at three in the morning, and then I would get home by four and still had to be to work in a few short hours. That was challenging. I believe mental health comes from your state of mind. You always have to find bliss in everything you do. In addition, mental health is also driven by our physical wellness, which I maintain through daily workouts and maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle.
What’s the dream?
The dream is to be remembered as MKO, not just as a singer but as that guy who made an impact, who made a change. It could be in music; it could be in helping another creative blossom. It could be growing tourism in Africa. I want people to be able to show up to a venue because MKO is going to be there and not even only because I’m going to perform, but when I do perform, it becomes a plus.
If I can speak frankly, I have seen so many creatives do the impossible, because MKO made them believe it’s possible. Even though there are people who are not aware of MKO, the change and impact I’ve had in the creative community in Dubai make it so that there is always somebody within the environment who can reference me. “Have you met MKO?” “Have you heard about Art Fusion Night?” “Did you know he launched his album?” “And he had a listening party that was sponsored by Dubai Tourism.” So somehow, I feel like I am already living the dream, and the dream is to make a positive change.
Where do we find your music?
MKO is on all the major platforms from iTunes to Amazon to Spotify, and the list goes on. And on social media, you can find me @MKO_world, and I’m on YouTube so you can look up my music video such as MKO – “Still Into You” “Good Lovin,” “Relate” and others. I also have a new single called Diverse, which is the first track of my album. I think it’s going to have a significant impact on the music industry in the UAE, so check out for that as well.
Art Fusion Night: Where did it start and where is it now?
I started Art Fusion Night about three years ago with a couple of other creatives. Our first event got cancelled, and the second one got cancelled as well. Why? Because the venue was not sure what was required in terms of permits, etc.—and that demotivated the other people I was working with, and they pulled out. Art Fusion Night was a concept I brought to people who felt like it was impossible for anybody to come out and watch creatives that are not already famous. When I was asked, I said, “People focus on who is coming, as opposed to what they’re bringing to the table. You’re celebrating celebrities who don’t even know who you are. But this time, you get to come up close and personal with someone who is probably more talented than a lot of the people you celebrate.” And that was the vision behind Art Fusion Night.
So far we’ve had ten editions of Art Fusion Night, and we’ve seen so many creatives now grow to such great heights that if they were to send you their performance rate, you would be shocked at the value they now command.
At Art Fusion Night, we showcase music, art, fashion, poetry, comedy and all sorts of creative performances. When we started, some people had their paintings in the restrooms, and now they have art pieces in galleries and prestigious venues and showcased at events like the Global Business Forum, At.mosphere (Burj Khalifa), and several other places. We’ve collaborated with Davidoff, Capital Club, Dubai Tourism/Dubai Foodfest, to name a few. It’s amazing that in just three short years, we’ve done so much! Nowadays, we see many people replicating the concept—but that was the vision—for more platforms to come up for more creatives to showcase themselves because we can never do it alone. So we’ve rebranded where Art Fusion Night now takes on a more corporate feel, and the reason is, it’s usually those people that spend on your art. We want people to buy art pieces from the artists that showcase at Art Fusion Night so that they can continue their craft. It’s been a great journey so far, and I am very proud of what we have accomplished.
Where is Art Fusion Night held, and how do we find out more about it?
We usually partner with different venues. The idea is, apart from showcasing art, we also showcase outlets to people. So we’ve had it at places such as Nikki Beach, Capital Club in DIFC, Intersect by Lexus, At.mosphere (Burj Khalifa) and Maison Rouge at the Conrad, but it all started at Story Rooftop Lounge in Media City—it’s all about the right venues. It’s all about showcasing great venues that appreciate local creatives. By moving the event around, we keep it exciting and fresh for our discerning audience.
The next Art Fusion Night will be on the 14th of November at the Pointe on The Palm Jumeirah, in collaboration with Nakheel and we’re calling it, “Get To The Pointe—Party At The Pointe,” and it’s going to be epic.
You can find out more about Art Fusion Night on our website, www.artfusionnight.com. We always post our upcoming events there. Also, follow us on Instagram @ArtFusionNight to stay updated. It is a great way for people to stay plugged into the local art scene and the locally based creatives.