Profile of Sheila Okonji
By Steve Sigha
Sheila Okonji-Ashinze is a well-respected international business and entertainment mogul who has made significant contributions to the entertainment industry worldwide. In February 2017, Sheila O made history as the first international female personality to create and host an Afrobeat radio show in the United States, airing across major FM platforms.
AfroZons is a ‘groundbreaking’ two-hour weekly radio show that fuses today’s hip hop with Afrobeats’ while simultaneously highlighting the latest in global, urban trends and news. Leading a movement to bring African culture to American audiences, AfroZons with Sheila O features an array of African artists, DJs, designers, activists and entrepreneurs. As the ‘hottest’ new musical genre, Afrobeats offers a rare opportunity for hip-hop stations to catch on to the new wave of music, featuring artists such as Black Coffee, Whiz Kid, Tiwa Savage and Davido.
After enjoying successful ratings airing weekends on a top radio station in Chicago, the show has since gone national, debuting in Washington, D.C, Houston, Miami, and on SiriusXM HURVoices Channel 141.
In 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, Sheila O decides to produce “How Far” which translates to Whassup! “How Far” provided a platform for Sheila O to check in and conduct her interviews with her artist, into the studio, via Zoom. The show that solely aired on AfroZons Radio on YouTube got picked up by Hip TV and now airs in over 44 African countries.
Again, while the world is still in a pandemic, in 2021, Sheila O lifts AfroZons to higher heights, and launches her latest venture, AfroZonsSoundoff, partnering up with Dubai Tourism, connecting the African and American market to Dubai. With a host of radio partners all over the world, Sheila O is changing the culture making AfroZons a household name. No wonder Sheila O was selected as a Grammy Recording Member for the Class of 2021!
In this interview, Sheila Okonji bares it all about AfroZons Dubai Soundoff
The world is looking forward to the AfroZons Dubai Soundoff. What is the Soundoff all about and how did you conceive the idea?
Thank you for the question and thank you for giving me another opportunity to put things in context. The AfroZonsSoundoff is about bringing different cultures together as one indivisible unit, reaffirming our shared ties, promoting our culture, under the banner of Afrobeats music, and making it one big celebration. This year Dubai has volunteered to be our host city and they have truly gone the extra mile. The Ethos for AfroZons with Sheila O has always been to keep bridging the gap with Africans in the diaspora, through music and this is simply a continuation of that same theme.
Secondly, Dubai is a country that’s on many people’s bucket list to visit. Making the trip affordable for blacks in the diaspora was something we really wanted to achieve, hence our partnership with the Dubai Tourism board. With complimentary tickets to the once in five years EXPO, 3 customized tours, five-star hotel accommodation, awesome comfort and a select number of all expenses tickets to giveaway winners, we’ve made dreams not only affordable, but real.
You have been a worthy ambassador of Afrobeat music. Has Afrobeat music made any impact in the world today?
Of course, Afrobeat’s impact is closing that gap for Africans and African Americans, which more importantly really means that you are bridging cultural awareness between lost brothers and sisters from distant lands. I am so thankful to be in the forefront of this digitized movement. We are still the only nationally syndicated afrobeat show in the United States till date with a presence in 44 African countries. Next stop is the UK where we will be launching on prime time shortly. We don’t just talk about connecting, we live it daily.
Apart from Afrobeat music, what other genre of music are you into?
(She laughs) I am an avid fan and a lover of all good music. Afrobeats might be the focus here, but my Hip Hop and my R & B are never too far away.
From the information out there, lucky winners will have a chance to win a spot to attend the AfroZons Sound off. How can one win this opportunity?
Oh, that’s very easy to explain, simply go afrozons.comand enter for a chance to win! Enter your details into the draw and you could end up being one of our lucky winners. Remember if you win, you get to bring a guest as well. You can thank us later. And Goodluck to all those who seize this opportunity.
Afrobeat music is synonymous with Africa and the black community. Why did AfroZons choose Dubai as the destination for the Soundoff?
Yes, it is, but people of the African diaspora are everywhere. So quite honestly, we can celebrate our culture, anywhere and everywhere. Dubai was gracious enough to open their doors and hearts to welcome us, so why not. See Dubai as neutral grounds.
Doing it in the Middle East just adds an additional, rich layer and a unique backdrop to the entire travel experience. The fact that it runs in parallel with the Expo 2020, a hub for some of the best inventions this world has seen, gives us another reason to celebrate this choice. I would rather modify your question to ask; why would we choose anywhere else?
The CEO of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing said “The AfroZonsSoundoff is a very exciting project for us, and we have great confidence in working with AfroZons as a partner”. What role has DCTCM been playing in the success of the Soundoff?
That’s very kind of him. Dubai Tourism has been key to making this experience unforgettable, easy to navigate and last but not least, affordable. Without their influence and support, this experience and the perks, wouldn’t be possible. I want to thank him and his team for looking in our direction. As an organization and as a people. From the interest we are seeing so far, it looks like both of us have made the right decision. Touch wood.
Discounted flights and accommodation packages have been arranged for individuals who want to attend the Soundoff on their own. How can one key into this and are there other benefits for coming to Dubai during the Soundoff?
Again, that’s easy, anyone wanting to be a part of this experience, but not as a winner of a giveaway, they can go to AfroZonsDXB.com and visit our selected travel partners, click on their country flag and just choose a package that meets your budget. 10 countries in total will be participating. The first six were the USA, Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Tanzania and Zambia. Not wanting to be left out, the UK, Canada, Uganda and Zimbabwe have also just joined the list. There’s an old Nigerian saying that says it’s better to be there than to hear about it.
We’ve seen a long list of celebrities that will be in Dubai for the Soundoff. How were these celebrities chosen and should travelers expect any surprises in Dubai?
There are many surprises in store for those travelers that join us in celebrating us; the surprises are so big that “E Choke”. Sometimes when I think about it all, I can’t keep still. I could tell you, but if I did, it wouldn’t be a surprise. So, please tell a friend, to tell a friend, to tell a friend to embrace this opportunity and visit afrozonsdxb.com. Let’s just say to everyone, that I look forward to hosting you all in Dubai and surprising you pleasantly at the very same time.