Meeting Nicholai in Antigua the day after Ricardo Drue’s very successful ‘Druesday’ concert, I find out more about his role as road manager for Ricardo Drue. He is an interesting individual. As well as being road manager, Nicholai with tats and locs for days is a power boat racer with the team Extreme Measures, a trained MMA fighter, a drummer for the successful Trinidadian rock band ‘Hail the Hatter’ and a self-proclaimed good cook! A man with many skills and a bit of an adrenaline junkie (bit of an understatement there I think). But here, we focus on his role as road manager for Ricardo Drue.
How did you become Ricardo’s road manager? Did you have to apply for the job? Well it was random. I went into a band called Imogen Company as a drum technician. Ricardo was front line for that band. We hung out and became friends from then. Eventually I left the band. He left afterwards but we kept in contact, used to hang out every time he came to Trinidad and he said ‘I left Imogen, thinking to go to Roy Cape All Stars. And I said ‘Well bro, hell yeah, I know those guys’. Cause I kinda grew up under them in the music industry. My dad is from a big band of all song writers. I grew up in music. So, I said, ‘Yeah that is the band to go to’. So, he went. And the rest is history. I stuck with Team Ricardo from then. Everywhere he had to go, I drove him. He was talking about putting a team together, management and what not. And I said ‘Cool. Well you need a road manager and since I on the road with you, might as well.’ And he said ‘Ok’. And then I began to pay more attention to the role and began executing. I’ve been with him for about 4-5 years now, maybe less. now,maybe less.
What is the most important thing for your role do you think? The most important thing is always to keep my artist comfortable and take things that would be stressful for him away from him, things like scheduling. So, when the managers are doing bookings. Instead of him being stressed about that, co-ordinating times, transport, I do that. Finances as well. That is something that falls under my role. If the manager is unable to complete the transaction, then I have to deal with it. Errands, running around. Making sure that everything is in place, calling the promoters. Handling the bands, the dancers, that might come under my portfolio at times. Security is also one of the main things for me.
You are the road manager. But he has other managers. What is the difference between your role and the other managers? His manager is basically the overall head manager. There is one based in the States, one based here in Antigua and one in Trinidad. The management team is basically five of us. I am the last one. I only started travelling last year with him. We are always in contact in whatever part of the world we are in. Things have to be done in a proper manner. That is most important. Who determines the proper manner? Well the proper manner to Ricardo’s standards. And he has a vision. He has a focus. He likes to break things down and deal with it in a proper way without having a big bacchanal at the end of it. Some of us, (I must admit that I am guilty of that at times), certain things like the BS, we will deal with in a hasty fashion that he may not like. We have to think of first, what would he think of it at the end, what will be the end result.
So, with every decision you guys make, he is at the back of your heads, in that you guys think about what he will think about that decision? No, he is at front of our heads because he has to be the filter before it gets to the back [laughter].
Do you enjoy it, the work? I love it. The travelling aspect or the management aspect? I enjoy the management aspect. Travelling for me is a dream. I love it. But my focus is always, when I am travelling for work is the team and my artist. So, if it is a new place I am coming to, for example, this is my first time in Antigua, I have to focus, pay attention to what is happening and then put my experience into either falling in place or make something better that I know will make things better.
Does that mean you have to come to the place before him? Or do you do that over the phone? Whether I come before or after, I am quick. It is about not letting him know what has to get done so he does not have to worry about it. So, if I am not sure about something or I have to learn about something, I don’t want him to be stressed about that. I deal with the managers, we will communicate and I go from there.
What are the essential things do you think you have had to learn for your job as road manager? One, at the beginning, what is the role of being a road manager which is what we spoke about, besides being a friend. Someone to help give advice, a listening ear, to always be there.
You are his road manager but you are also his friend. Are there any times when the two roles come into conflict? So, for example if you think that he is working too hard, he needs to rest… In that sense yes, but it also comes across as a benefit cause if you say ‘Rest.’ He might be hesitant if you’re just a manager. But as a friend you say again ‘Yo Bro, rest, sleep’. He knows… 87% of the time he will listen [laughter]. Just like we’re laughing now, we will always laugh it off. Sometimes we will get on each other’s nerves. But we never really fall out and argue and get vex. I know him good and he knows me good and we have been around each other for a few years now so it is all good. It works.
Has the management team got a plan for him? Well the management team always want to make every year better than the last one for him. But how do you know this year is better than the last? We don’t. It all depends on how the music is presenting. And how the people take it. If a sound becomes really big in Antigua, Trinidad might be ‘What **** is that?’ And a sound that might not take off in Trinidad, Antigua or Barbados might blow up in New York. Does that happen a lot? All the time.
What makes it so hard that one country might like it and others won’t? Culture. And the musical arrangement of certain songs. If it doesn’t fit with the culture of that particular country, it will not be successful. They will not accept it. Each country has a certain type… Ok, Soca is bacchanal. Everybody knows that. However, there are different types of bacchanal. And I have learnt that.
What are the different types of bacchanal? That’s a real hard question. I can talk for Trinidad. Trinidad likes wildness. Antigua like wildness but I realise Antigua is more bruk out kinda wildness. They are very influenced by Jamaica.
Would you ever consider being a Head Manager? I would but there is a lot I have to learn. Like what? Like interacting with people in a different way. I am a straight forward person and I don’t tolerate nonsense. No BS. The first sign of it, I turn my back on it. [laughter] In that sense, that is perfect for my role as road manager. But for a head manager, I have to learn to be more diplomatic. To be the person to speak to people and say ‘My artist is the person that you need’. I can do that but there are certain people, promoters, managers that feel that they are better than the artist and I would be straightforward with them.
Different managers have different styles and different ways of working, some more… enthusiastic than others. Is that down to personality or something they have had to become to protect their artist? I’d say it is a bit of both because you have to be.. For example, dealing with promoters. Everyone always wants the best price or better. You have to be able to come to agreement without it hampering you or the promoter because you don’t want to lose that relationship. The whole ego and personality thing is that you can’t fool too much and you have to enforce what is required without coming across as arrogant or disrespectful or anything. Me I just don’t tolerate BS. That’s just me. I like to meet people, I like to communicate with people but once you cross a certain line, then you just talking to the wrong person.
Some seem to like the limelight… We don’t want any limelight whatsoever. None. All the focus is supposed to be on the artist and that is what we are here to do. To support the artist, to help the artist execute what they need to get done.
Has your role changed a lot over the years? I’m understanding my role more, enforcing it more, letting team members understand what my role is. The head managers have started recognising it further over the past two years. They wanted me out here in Antigua. They like how I work in Trinidad, they like how I get things done. They wanted that same level out here. Do you think that you have done that? To the best of my ability. I will try my best to execute and so far it has worked. I was given a role last minute last night to deal with certain things and it was appreciated. I’m good at stage managing, stage engineering. I’m also a musician. I’m good at security as I have experience in security. I am a trained fighter. They say I does play bodyguard for him but I know why I do [laughter]. I always try to make sure him and the team? On the road? Everybody has to be safe. And try to enforce it as much as I can whilst everybody having fun and not make them feel pressured and what not.
How do you deal with Ricardo’s fans? Cause he must have some… enthusiastic ones shall we say? That is an interesting question because… We love how he appreciates his fans and the way he interacts with them. He has a humble personality about him. He can’t say ‘No’. He can’t turn his back on a fan, no matter what. If we have to walk from here to that gate there? And there are 100 people? He will take 200 pictures. And he will stop and take a picture with every single one. If we have two minutes to walk out that gate to get to the vehicle to be on time for somewhere else or the team has to get through and out, has to properly secured? He doe wanna hear that. He wants time for his fans. He making the time for his fans. That can be annoying to the rest of us [laughter]. Then he will smile and we cyah be vex with him after that. We cyah tell him nothing after that. We just have to shake your head. It’s like you should get used to that by now.. But oh gosh man… But at the end of the day, he has to make time for his fans and we appreciate him for that.
What is the thing you have been most proud of in your role as road manager? I am always proud when we get things done and I can look out there and see him performing. He will turn to the band and what not and there is a big smile on his face. He is beaming, all stress gone and he is in his zone. That is when I am proud I guess. To see the one moment when he is out there with nothing on his mind, he is beaming, he is free like a bird flying? Then I think ‘Yeah, that is what we talking about. Job well done’
What stands out in conversations with Nicholai is his commitment to getting the job done well and to the best of his ability; be it ensuring that everything goes smoothly for Ricardo Drue, ensuring the safety of his team or stepping in last minute for stage management. Witnesssing his management of the various acts on stage at Druesday, keeping everything to time and not running over is testimony to his abilities. He is very transparent about his perceived areas for personal development as a role manager and in general. There is something else which is also very clear; his absolute loyalty to his artist and friend Ricardo Drue.
Nicholai would like to give credit to the entire IDnation Team for all their hard work. All images were used with the authorisation of Nicholai Assam. Images were by Crown House Media.