Wizkid at Gidi Fest 2018. Photo: Tej/Gidi Culture Festival.

How Gidi Culture Became The Festival For The 'New African Generation'

Gidi Culture Festival's co-founder Chinedu "Chin" Okeke on creating one of the coolest African festivals around.

Now on its fifth year, the Gidi Culture Festival is at its peak.

Gidi Culture was started in response to the demand from young audiences in Nigeria for affordable access to live entertainment. Though still relatively young, the festival has become a special hub for the meeting of established African acts with a rising generation of promising young musicians.

This year proved to be its biggest yet, as the line-up featured star performances from Wizkid, 2Face, Brymo, Adekunle Gold, Maleek Berry, DJ Spinall and a special appearance by Tiwa Savage, along with live sets from the new school of Nigerian and African music like Odunsi, Tay Iwar, Lady Donli and many others.

We talked to Chin Okeke, co-founder of Gidi Culture Festival, to pick his brain about the hard work and magic behind the success of his festival.

Odunsi at Gidi Fest 2018. Photo: Tej/Gidi Fest.

How did the idea to start Gidi Culture come about?

I think it was at a time where I was transitioning from management and consulting for brands to building other brands and platforms and wanting to build something that had a larger and positive impact on the rest of the industry.

The idea behind the movement was to create a safe space for the youth that would enable and empower them, as well as channel their energy into something positive.

More than a festival, there's also a movement around it which has evolved into the Gidi Tribe—which represents young Africans who refuse to take no for an answer and are determined to succeed with whatever they're given. It's an energy and attitude. The Gidi Tribe identity only became very clear at the end of last year.

"The idea behind the movement was to create a safe space for the youth that would enable and empower them."

The lightbulb moment for me in terms of the festival, was going to Sundays at The Shrine then Elegushi beach. The beach the dichotomy was everything you don't expect from Lagos. There were no social boundaries and all walks of of life had a good time in the same place—upper, middle, working class, it didn't matter. I wanted to amplify that.

When you start a festival you have an idea of what you want it to be. What it becomes is something different and not down to you. You can curate and mold it but it's determined by the people who attend it and share a common interest.

Mut4y. Photo: Tej for Gidi Fest.

Were there other African festivals that inspired you?

Yeah, the major inspiration was Lekki Sound Splash, one of the last people to headline it was Fela actually, ironically enough. That used to be huge on the beach in Lekki. Before we started Gidi Culture, I traveled to Coachella, Wireless, Ultra, seeing what they're about.

There were many different ideas of what kind of festival we wanted to be. I think we even registered a name "Made in Africa." In the end, we decided to position ourselves around the current movement.

There's a couple of festival that we produced for partners like Palm Wine Music and Nativeland. It was interesting to have three festivals which all speak to different audiences. Obviously there's overlaps but they're all so different in themselves in terms of representation and who they're for.

On the continent there's Lake of Stars, but to be honest, I don't think there's a festival that truly represents the movement that is "now." A lot of the other festivals are quite specific to their region but nothing for the new African music movement. From the people we've had from Vanessa Mdee to K.O to Efya to Sauti Sol.

Tiwa Savage at Gidi Fest 2018.

Gidi Culture is a relatively young festival, having started in 2014, how have you grown and improved each year?

This is the fifth year. In terms of growth there's a couple of things we look at. Doubled in ticket sales each year. Last year we quadrupled in ticket sales—that had a lot to do with our pricing. In terms of numbers we're still growing.

The talent and even the stage itself has grown. I think the way it's set up now, the way it looks, is gonna stay. We're looking at heightening the experience for the music fan.

This year we also introduced a second stage (Next Generation stage), we gave them their own stage. It was for the millennials and the next generation of fans.

"When you start a festival you have an idea of what you want it to be. What it becomes is something different and not down to you."

The line-up this year was the biggest yet with Wizkid, 2Baba, Adekunle Gold, Brymo and a surprise by Tiwa Savage, and others. How do you work to choose and secure your acts?

There's a number of things that go into it and a number of people who work on it, it's something that I enjoy. Let's start with the next generation. We've now got a team of graduates whose responsibility to curate that next generation. They introduced me to what's being called the Soundcloud generation: Tay Iwar, Maka, Lady Donli and others.

With the main stage there are a number of factors. What comes before popularity is the entertainment factor. Not every act can perform live. Not everyone has to perform with a band, some are better with a DJ. and then some acts they want the band. Entertainment factor is number one, then popularity is second and availability is third, in that order.

Ycee at Gidi Fest 2018. Photo: Tej/Gidi Fest.

I want something for everybody. I don't mess with the idea of Afrobeats, or, putting all african music under one box. This year you had your Brymo and Adekunle, your Ycee and your SDC, your 2Baba and your Wizkid. We had two DJs—it flowed, it was a journey. I always consult Leslie Kazumba from Channel O, Pulse NG editor-in-chief Osagie Olange, Bizzle Osikoya, and obviously my partner Teme (Oriteme Banigo) and the young team.

What's the crowd usually like?

The most exciting festival on the continent have always very much had an African fan base. While we have that, because of social media, the Gidi Tribe's gone global. It's truly a beautiful thing for people to fly in from all over the place to come to Gidi Fest.

My motivation at first was that I wanted to change the way the world saw us. Then I wanted to change the way we see ourselves. We had a strong Nigerian lineup this year and it's ironic that the time we decided to do that we had guests from NY, LA, Chicago, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Berlin, Riyadh, and other places.

"My motivation at first was that I wanted to change the way the world saw us. Then I wanted to change the way we see ourselves."

It's funny I felt like it was my wedding because all my friends from all over the world came. These are people I didn't ask to come, they just came. I think that's the beginning of something quite large.

There's a large population of people that come in and fly in for it. We hope that there will be more and more people who come from all over the globe.

Wizkid. Photo: Tej/Gidi Fest.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced over the years with organizing Gidi Culture?

This year we had a bit of technical glitch. People were really patient with us. What happened was the configuration on the soundboard literally switched before we were about to start, so we had to reconfigure everything and it took us an hour to make it work. It meant that we were pushed back and some people were upset.

I'd like to apologize to everybody for the delay and thank everyone for the patience.

Challenges are about accepting them, and now we can do better, it just means we're learning. We started the festival five years ago from zero. And the fact is that we moved venues. The main goal is to tighten it and make it a seamless experience. Once we get it right, it's easier to keep it growing.

Photo: Tej/Gidi Fest.

What have been some of your favorite performances over the years?

I don't always get to watch them but this year it was the DJs. DJ Aye is someone I'm very excited about, he's an artist. The way he creates music on the stage and his set is a journey. It was such an interesting comparison to DJ Spinall who came on with 20 minutes of hard-hits just before Tiwa Savage. It was electrifying and, like I said it got late, but at that point nobody cared.

Over the years, Burna Boy was a good one. Diplo was good. Tiwa Savage two years ago, it was the first time she performed since her baby and she came with a full troop of dancers. It was so good that she was trending on twitter a few hours after that.

Photo: Gidi Fest.

Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njere, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njere. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko formed a creative and activist hub, called PAWA 254, with Mwangi, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njere represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njere's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njere, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has three cinematographers, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njere and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.

Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating. They're putting us on the same level as porn.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'

"SOFTIE" Movie Poster

Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko

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