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TYRON RICKETTS

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Entrepreneurship within the Black community in Germany is still very rare. This should not give the impression that Blacks are not making any efforts in this direction. Despite diverse problems, a number of Blacks venture into the business world. A young talented man that felt at home in Africa built up a successful business in the entertainment sector named Panthertainment. His name is Tyron Ricketts. In an interview with Afritopic, Tyron talks about his background, the difficulties in the business world, his goals and his opinion about the Black community in Germany .

Afritopic: You speak German like a mother tongue. Were you born in Germany ?

Tyron: I was born in Austria , in a little town near Graz . My father is from Jamaica and my mother is Austrian. I automatically had the nationality of my father as the law was in Austria . I started school in Austria but moved to Aachen in Germany after the first year. In Aachen , my Austrian ascent was quickly noticed. It sounded funny to many people and some could not even understand me. On the other hand I could not understand some people speaking a German dialet called “Plattdeutsch”. Sometimes jokes were made about the way I speak when I was with a group of kids from my school. But at that tender age, I never felt bad about the comments. I only realized the differences between where I was born and Aachen .

Afritopic: How would describe your experience living in Aachen as a teenager?

Tyron: As I grew older, I started noticing the attitude or behavior of some people and state officials towards me. I could remember an incident when I was together with a couple of school friends. The police came and told us to pick all the beer cans and cigarettes that littered the ground. This was very annoying because we were not responsible for the mess. I neither drank beer nor smoked. With time, I began to understand the different social settings and I saw more of such incidents.

Afritopic: How was it at school? Which subjects were your favorites?

Tyron: I was not very good at school. However, I was determined to obtain the Abitur (Secondary/High School Certificate). So, I worked and did whatever I had to do to achieve the necessary grades. In the secondary school, I was good in Religion. But I dropped the subject due to a dispute with the teacher. I liked geography because the content of the lecture was focused on learning about continents, countries and their inhabitants as well as gaining insight into general economic issues. I did not have to cram names of rivers and mountains for the examinations. Of course, English language and sports,  track and field in particular, were also my top favorite subjects.

Afritopic: Did you have an idea of what you would like to be later in life?

Tyron: In my early teens, I wanted to take care of animals. Though, I did not want to become a veterinarian, I thought of protecting and spending time with animals. As I grew older, I developed interest in arts. I was not into painting but I could do graffiti quite well. I also felt I had good ideas and a passion for combining pieces of different materials to create something new. At a point, I decided to study design with the intension of working in an advertising agency as a designer. Due to my average high school certificate grades, I could not get admission to the design schools immediately. I had to wait. Meanwhile, I applied for internship at advertising agencies and succeeded. I worked at advertising agencies in Frankfurt , Düsseldorf and Wiesbaden for almost 3 years before gaining admission to study design at the Fachhochshule (Technical University) in Cologne .

Afritopic: You worked at advertising agencies and studied design. How did you then get into show business?

Tyron: I was interested in show business while in the high school. Music, dancing as well as modeling were my hobbies. I was earning money as a model in the high school. At the age of 16, I formed a music band with friends. Later, these hobbies were playing more important role in my life. By the time I started my design studies, I was attracting attention, earning more money as a model and finally I was offered the opportunity to host the Hip Hop TV Show on the music channel VIVA. I initially enjoyed hosting the show but after approximately 18 months, I had enough of it and decided to do editing. All of a sudden, I was in a position to produce the show myself.

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Tyron Ricketts

Afritopic: It was surely not so easy to get into VIVA. Did you have contacts to people in the music/show business?

Tyron: In 1993/94 I had an agent, who liked the music our band was doing at that time in Aachen . This agent got us the first record deal in 1993 and managed my modeling contracts. It was the agent that sent me to a casting at MTV. After the casting, I received a letter of intent from MTV stating that I would be offered a job as soon as an appropriate vacancy is available. This boosted my ego. I summed up courage and called VIVA. I told VIVA that I would like to be a DJ in the team. The reply was bluntly negative. I quickly mentioned that MTV is interested in me and ready to offer me a position. There was a short pause. Then, the voice on the line became excited saying, “Ok. When do you want to come over? We made an appointment and I took part in the casting. Everything went well. I was offered the job to host the Hip Hop TV show and I took the chance. I realized that they needed someone with the look that fits into the Hip Hop scene, which was created and dominated by African Americans. With more success as a model and the opportunity to produce the TV show, my design studies did not appeal to me anymore. I had a feeling that I could make a career in show business. I was motivated. I was traveling to the US and other countries as well as making a lot of money. Everything in the show business was real. My studies became fictional. So, I quit the design school after 2 years.

Afritopic: Looking back, do you regret not completing your studies?

Tyron: No, I do not regret giving up my studies. Already as a student, I became aware of the fact that you are taught how to do things in certain ways. you are taught to apply routined or generall accepted methods. At the advertising agencies, where I worked, about 80% of the job were done using set rules and methods. To be really creative, I believe one should have the freedom not to conform. One should be able to change, modify and experiment. In the show business, I was able to apply my creativity freely to a greater extent. I had more opportunity to be creatively expressive. And that is just what I want to do.

Afritopic: There were only a couple of Africans/Afro-Germans on the German TV. How did you feel hosting/producing the show and what was your goal?

Tyron: The only African, I know, that was at VIVA on the German TV before me was Mola Adebisi. When I started, I only thought of it as being cool to host a TV show. I did not know what it meant to be in the center of the public. I was not aware that whatever I say would have a very big impact on the public. If I said something negative, it would resonance ten times worst to the audience. If I made a positive statement, the public would echo it ten times more positive. Moreover, I was strongly influenced by the African Americans in the Hip Hop business. I tried to emulate their style; the way they move and dress. It was trendy. I later realized that this was actually inappropriate and in fact a totally wrong behavior. As I gained more experience, I grew to be myself and learnt how to deal with sensitive issues. I wanted to do more than presenting music video clips, which VIVA employed me for. There was a show before mine in form of a magazine. It was a high quality Hip Hop show. Due to cuts in budget, VIVA replaced the show with the video clips show I was hosting. This caused annoyance within the Hip Hop community and the audience took it out on me.

Afritopic: What did you do to win the audience and get out of trouble?

Tyron: I thought it was time to be in control of what I was presenting to the public. I made my wish to edit the show known to VIVA and I started editing the show. This gave me some control over the content and the participants of the show. I had a very good team. We worked effectively together and were able to improve the quality of the show. At a stage, I felt that the team including myself could produce the show. So, I approached VIVA with my intension to produce the show. However, in order to produce the show for VIVA, I needed to have my own company. It is then I could be contracted as an external company to produce shows for VIVA.

Afritopic: So it was necessary to form your own company. Was it difficult to form and get capable people to work for the company?

Tyron: This was not a big issue, since members of the editorial team at VIVA were ready to be part of the company. We have been working together and were basically friends. It was like creating a company with friends. We were all motivated and ready to give our best. The company was created and a gentlemen’s agreement was made with VIVA to produce the Hip Hop show. It was beautiful, a very beautiful experience in the beginning. We soon realized however that keeping a business afloat is not all fun and blue skies. It takes a lot of nerves, work and creativity. We had to earn money with the company. It was unlike my first year working for VIVA, which is a big company. At that time, I could travel to Paris , New York or anywhere in the world if it was necessary for the production. It was like a dream.

 

Afritopic: Did you have a plan, strategy or concept for the company?

Tyron: To be honest, we did not have any business plan. We did not have any 2-3 year plan, strategy or concept for the company. All we knew was that we had to deal with record companies. Our productions were based on the music industry and we implemented ideas gained from the music business and promotion. For example, while on a visit in New York, I saw how street marketing was being used as a promotional channel for records. It was amazing. This was not the case in Germany. I thought it was a good idea to do the same in Germany since we had contacts to record companies. Many of these companies invited us to audits and shows. We offered the new idea of street promotion to record companies. It was accepted and our company started doing street promotions for record companies all over Germany. We also had a DJ-pool, which was a database consisting of music-DJs in Germany.  With it, we offered record companies a promotional service. We sent records to music-DJs, so the DJs could listen to the music and play them to reach the public through their channels. With these services, we were able to build a profitable business network. Moreover, I was in the show business myself. The music sector was practically my domain. I was doing recordings and concerts. I traveled to Ghana, Africa to do a music video Tabularasa in collaboration with Mr. Gentleman. The record sold over 225000 copies soon after it was released. In 1995, I co-produced my first movie. Our activities were getting popular and music video producers approached us for contacts. We thought of taking advantage of the situation and decided to start organizing castings for black models, artists and actors/actresses. This is simply how we started the business. We learnt more about casting along the way and developed the business further, as the market required.

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Afritopic: So you were in a successful business and the future looked bright at that time. Has it been all success since then?

Tyron: As I said earlier on, I had a gentleman’s agreement without written contract with VIVA to produce R&B shows and other music programs. In the year 2000, VIVA revoked this agreement without giving any notice or reason. All of a sudden, our main source of business contracts was blocked. Things started getting tough. We realized that we were in business only because we had good business relationship to VIVA. In this highly competitive business environment, you are somebody if your clients need your business contacts or services. People are nice to you if you are able to offer them what they need. Now that the contract with VIVA was over, we found ourselves sailing in stormy whether. We decided to concentrate on promotion and casting. The promotion aspect of the business was relatively successful. We focused on street promotion for major record companies, DJ promotions as well as product-event promotions, which generated income for the company. Our clients included Universe, EMI and Reebok among others. In the casting business, we had to contact and negotiate with photographers, video producers and directors who were involved in advertisements intended to sell Hip Hop music and products to target demographic groups. However, we were confronted with more or less business political issues and problems. We had immense difficulty in acquiring good roles and contracts for our black models, artists and actors/actresses. The producers wanted Blacks to play typical primitive cliché roles. Some of the roles were incredibly disgusting. We knew we had brilliant and highly professional people that deserve good roles. In many cases we declined to accept poor roles. In some cases we had to compromise.

Afritopic: Have you been able to achieve your business goal and  self-fulfillment with the company?

Tyron: My initial goal in the entertainment industry and why I founded Panthertainment, was to produce music/video shows and also initiate a platform for my creative output. I was able to realize part of these goals when we started promoting songs immediately they are released. The success of song promotion depends on the creativity of the promoters. This allowed me to use my creative talent. I was also able to apply my creativity in realizing the Afro Deutsch project, an entertainment platform, which was co-produced by Panthertainment. Later, the working processes within the company became more corporate, focused on commerce and financial survival. If I were on my own, I could spend time on my creative output. With people working for the company and bills to pay, individual creativity was getting less attention and priority. The company had to generate income. I started missing the creative part, which was more important to me. It became clear that commerce and creativity do not always go well together. I created the structure of the company in the way I thought creativity would be highly prioritized. But, when the focus of the company shifted to commerce, keeping the structure alive became difficult and demanded a lot of energy. I decided to employ a general manager to manage the company with the hope that I could concentrate on my creative interests. This I did but unfortunately did not function. So, I took over the management of the company again.
Tyron Ricketts

Afritopic: Managing the company is time-consuming and demanding. How do you plan to spend more time for your creative interests?

Tyron: I plan to downsize the company, give up my position as the general manager, move out of behind-the-desk duties and pull out of the day-to-day business. I am not saying that the work in the office is totally void of creativity. What I am talking about is my wish to be able to express my personal creativity without the restrictions of company policies. Even, if I were the creative director of a company, I would still have to conform to the company’s routines in my creativity. I do not want to be restricted in any way. That is why I want to leave and move into a new environment, where I can fully explore and apply my creativity. I believe I could be of more help to the company if I focus on developing concepts and producing good movies, using the contacts and resources the company already acquired. I have written lyric for Rap music. Working together with the film director, I wrote the script to my film debut. I would be leaving Cologne for Berlin, where there are more projects and activities going on in the movie making sector. In Berlin, I hope to find the inspirational environment in which my creativity would prosper.

Afritopic: Your father is from the Caribbean . Do you have strong contact or relationship to the Caribbean ?

Tyron: No, I do not. I was in Jamaica for the first time with my father when I was 23 years old. I was there the second time with the Hip Hop musician Mr. Gentleman. Prior to my flight to Jamaica with my father, I thought I was going to find my roots. Even, if I was not constantly reminded, the thought of finding my roots was somewhere in my mind. To my surprise, on landing in Jamaica and throughout my stay in the Caribbean , I did not have any feeling of having found my roots or being at home. I was neither disappointed nor sad. I just did not feel that I have found my roots. 

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In 1997, I went to Ghana, Africa to shoot the Tabularasa music video featuring Mr. Gentleman. And there it happened. Immediately I came out of the aiplane I knew I have found my roots. It was the first time in my life that I really felt at home. It was a great feeling. I felt a strong connection to the continent. I was part of the community. It was amazing. Africans who were born in Africa and now reside oversees, cannot imagine such a feeling. The experience and feelings could be overwhelming for African descendants visiting Africa for the first time. Think about it, all people originate from Africa . Sure we are all aware of the problems in Africa and that it is not all romantic for the people living in Africa . Nevertheless, visiting Africa for the first time was a beautiful experience for me.
 

Afritopic: You were relatively successful at an early age. What is your view about money and happiness in life?

Tyron: In the early stage of my success, I acquired what I wanted and could afford. I had nice cars and well furnished apartment with electronic entertainment products that were en vogue at the time. Having a lot of money to spend was normal and nice cars testified to my success and lifestyle. Later, during my travels to other countries, I met people who were happy with less. I met people who were poor, people without luxury or properties but were living happily. I began to question my lifestyle and need for luxury. Somehow, I started acquiring less and I realized that having luxury is not a prerequisite to happiness. Money could provide convenience, security and more. But money is not everything. Today, money is not the main aim for my activities. I would like do what I really love doing. I would like to be in peace with myself. I could achieve self-fulfillment by producing good movies in which my creativity comes to light. Money is definitely not the most important thing in my life. Money alone would not give me self-fulfillment.

Afritopic: Does a strong Black community exist in Germany? What is your opinion?

Tyron: In my opinion, compared to the US or Britain, we do not have a strong black community in Germany. I believe that this is due to the very low population of Blacks in Germany. Other issues that seem not to foster a strong black community are the diverse nationalities of Blacks living in Germany, different reasons for living in Germany and unfavorable residence permit status of many Blacks. These factors divide the Black community into small groups with common specific problems. Blacks from a particular country tend to have stronger ties within themselves than to the Black community as a whole. The Afro-Germans are confronted with other issues that are being tackled by the Afro-German initiatives. We have a couple of Black activists, organizations and groups fighting for the recognition of Black potentials and self-empowerment. Hopefully, as the population of Blacks increases, information dissemination, communication and understanding improves between all groups, the Black community would grow in strength. I am happy that some Black groups have recognized the power of the media and are now working at making use of different media channels. Remember, whatever you say in the mainstream media would amplify and reach millions of people. We cannot wait for other people to do things for us or help us in all we set as goals. We cannot just complain and do nothing. If we learn to combine professionalism and punctuality with hard work, we could go a long way in our endeavors. I am optimistic that with the work being done by all the activists, initiatives, groups and organizations like yours AFRITOPIC, Blacks in Germany would achieve respectable recognition in the future.

End.  Afritopic

 
 
 
 
 
 

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