In Conversation with C.J. Obasi on His New 'Kick-Ass' Supernatural Thriller Inspired by Mami Wata

The award-winning Nigerian filmmaker wants to challenge dated stereotypes of African women with this new project.

Award-winning Nigerian filmmaker C.J. Obasi followed-up his critically-acclaimed guerrilla debut feature Ojuju (2014), and sophomore effort O-Town (2015), with an Afrofuturistic short film based on award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor's short story Hello, Moto. Currently touring the international film festival circuit, the short film—titled Hello, Rain—follows a woman who discovers witchcraft in science, and science in witchcraft, when she creates wigs for her friends that give them supernatural powers. The story tackles individual and societal identity, in a fairytale that unfolds via a blend of witchery and technology.

Staying within the world of the supernatural and female-centered narratives, the prolific Obasi—who first caused an international stir with his zombie thriller Ojuju, set against a contemporary Nigeria backdrop—looks to do the same with his next feature film, in what will be another renegade take on a familiar genre, inspired by the age-old West African legend of love and sacrifice known as Mami Wata (Mother Water). Summarized by the filmmaker as a "kick-ass, female-driven, black & white supernatural thriller," the official synopsis of the film reads:

When Zinwe visits her late grandmother's village—a small rural fish village, she must confront her true spiritual destiny, and save her people from the hands of the ruthless and violent Sergeant Jasper, to usher in a new age of blessing and prosperity.

The Mami Wata folklore has taken several unique forms across Africa and its diaspora—primarily in the Americas—as there are a variety of interpretations of what the deity truly represents. In some instances, she's reified as a good spirit, or a mermaid, whose presence in a person's life is a sign of good fortune. Others will describe her as cunning and seductive, or protective yet dangerous, a snake charmer, or a combination of all of the above.

And just as varied are descriptions of her physical being—having long dark hair, very fair skin and compelling eyes; or, in other depictions, she has short hair, and can even be bald. She may appear to her devotees (in dreams and visions) as a beautiful mermaid, complete with a tail. She is also said to walk the streets of African cities in the guise of a beautiful but elusive woman. And the colors of the clothing she most often wears are either red and/or white.

Photo courtesy of C.J. Obasi.

Promising a film that will "overthrow stereotypes about black women, and black cinema by challenging old narratives and revealing new visual possibilities," Obasi's Lagos-based Fiery Film production company will produce Mami Wata starring Lucy Ameh, Ogee Nelson, and Wale Adebayo, with Obasi directing from his own script, and Oge Obasi producing.

Other notable behind-the-camera talent attached to bring the project to life are AMVCA award-winning costume designer, Obijie "Byge" Oru, as well as AMVCA-nominated and BON award-winning make-up artist, Adefunke Olowu.

Mami Wata will be shot in the outskirts of Lagos, in the villages bordering Nigeria and Benin Republic, and near the Atlantic Ocean.

Given the superstition around and taboo (to some) nature of the mythology central to the film's narrative, it's been a challenge attracting the necessary financing required to bring such an ambitious concept to the screen. Hence, the filmmakers have launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $120,000, in anticipation of a likely fall 2018 principal photography start date.

I spoke briefly with Obasi about the project—its origins, his decision to film in black and white instead of color, telling a woman-centered story against the #MeToo backdrop, amid a rise in attention given to stories about women, and more.

An edited transcript of our exchange follows below.

Tambay Obenson: Mami Wata folklore is not only revered in Nigeria, but also throughout much of West, Central, and Southern Africa, and the African diaspora in the Americas, which means that there isn't a singular, universal representation and understanding of her. Why did you select this particular mythology as the basis, or inspiration for a feature film?

C.J. Obasi: It just hit me. The image of this mermaid goddess in stunning black and white just hit me, and I could see it very clearly. Usually with film projects, you sieve through different ideas and then one just sticks out. But with "Mami Wata," I wasn't even thinking about it. It just happened, and I haven't been able to shake it off. But I like the fact that in Africa and the African diaspora there are different ideologies and beliefs associated with her. I like that over the years it has become more than just a traditional belief, but an idea expressed through a people's spirituality. In West Africa, we have countless folklore, but Mami Wata is one of the few that has a tangible and very organic presence in our daily lives. And It makes you wonder, if colonialism didn't happen, or if it happened, but certain African worlds where excluded from its influence, what would such a society look like? How would I represent that world visually without pandering to stereotypes. Now those questions really spurred me into action.

Since the deity is of deep spiritual significance and even sacred for some within the diaspora, rooted in ancient tradition, do you concern yourself with how your modern genre interpretation of the folklore might be received by those who are more orthodox and traditional?

No. The only people who will have a problem with my interpretation are the church folks; you know, those who think anything even remotely traditional is devilish or something, yet don't have any issues whatsoever buying "Little Mermaid" merchandise for their kids. Anyone who is truly African orthodox will appreciate how we'll uphold core African values and spirituality. At least they should. Because that's exactly what we're doing.

What led to the decision to shoot the film in black and white, instead of color? It's a curious, bold approach, especially in 2018, and for a story that I would immediately visualize as one that would benefit from color. Although I think shooting black and white might help distinguish the film.

I'm a student of all cinema. I have favourite films that are both colour and black and white, but as a personal visual aesthetic I've always leaned towards colour, which was weird to me when I realized that I could not visualize the film in colour. When I picture Mami Wata, I picture deep, contrasted, ultra-stylish black and white, accentuating ethereal landscapes, ocean waves, and gloriously beautiful dark skin. That's what I see. And I absolutely agree that black and white will distinguish the film. There really is so much content being pushed out into the world, so as a filmmaker you immediately want your work to stand out visually. I just believe that making a genre work of this nature, you want to really push the limits of what visual storytelling can be. The work demands that.

I assume you're shooting digital, given your budget. Your stated approach to a film that is "... deep, contrasted, ultra-stylish black and white, accentuating ethereal landscapes, ocean waves, and gloriously beautiful dark skin..." immediately tickles the imagination, as I can visualize how dramatically interesting it could look if you were able to shoot it on some high contrast, black & white 16 or 35mm film stock, and really take advantage of what celluloid has to offer in terms of playing with lighting and shadows, as well as in post-production. Although digital cameras today are almost as comparable.

That would be my ideal choice—shooting on black and white film stock. Alas, the budget, as you said. Even without the issue of a lower budget, there's also the fact that we don't have any film processing labs in Nigeria. So literally, we would be filming blind, without seeing any of our dailies at all, which you can't really pull off, again, without an adequate budget. So the digital option is indeed a saviour for many of us in these cases. In as much as we would love to shoot celluloid, we make do, and there are hacks to get us pretty close to that film texture. It's never the same, but it'll still be pretty sweet. I promise.

Photo courtesy of C.J. Obasi.

When you say that the film will "overthrow stereotypes about black women, and black cinema by challenging old narratives and revealing new visual possibilities," can you further expound on that?

I'm trying to answer this question without spoilers. What I mean by that is, the entire story is driven by strong female characters whose story arcs are not dependent on their boyfriends or husbands, which is something we can never have enough of. You're going to find women who kick-ass and save, and actualize their destinies, while having flaws and being human. Also, the story doesn't do what you expect it to do. And while respecting genre tropes, it challenges old narratives within its genre, as well as within West African society and culture, about a woman's place, etc. It directly challenges and interrogates them, and by so doing charts a new course of visual possibilities. That is to say, there are other ways we can tell our stories. We don't always have to conform to one thing, or one story about us, or one way of making films. We can do anything.

This project also comes at what I think is an opportune moment, as the film industry almost globally has been forced to confront its history of not only gender disparity, but also sexism and misogyny (see the #MeToo movement especially). And even more so with regards to the representation of women of color—specifically black women in this case, as we see demand for varied stories about black women seemingly surge to satiate a hungry, growing audience. So as you take on this story that's inspired by a very popular African folklore, which squarely centers black women, and in ways that we rarely get to see them represented on screen, are you in any way influenced by the zeitgeist?

I've been developing and writing "Mami Wata" since early 2016, pre the #MeToo movement. It just so happens that the themes and philosophy of the story resonate well with the movement, and I'm all for it. Listen, If you go to most African communities, you're going to find women running things. Yeah, sure the men may have all the fancy titles and such, but you'll find that the women really decide how things go within their families and in the larger society, and they do most of the heavy lifting too. This is what I grew up knowing via my mum and my late sisters. I've never been able to see women as second-class citizens, until I became an adult and realized that it was a thing—this global perception of women as somehow inferior to men. Now, I may not be able to champion every single cause, but I sure as hell can make movies with strong, black women kicking ass.

I've come across a few short films inspired by the Mami Wata legend; the one I recall most is fellow Nigerian filmmaker Bolaji Kekere-Ekun's Nkiru, which you've probably seen. But I was actually surprised to find a number of feature films as well, although none of them are familiar to me, including Beninese filmmaker Mustapha Diop's Mamy Wata (1989), which I found very little information on, and doesn't seem to be easily accessed. Although it appears that it traveled internationally (screening at film festivals across Europe for example), which can sometimes be an indication of how strong a film is. Did you perform any research on past films inspired by the folklore, and if so, can you share anything that you discovered, or what you might have learned that maybe influenced your approach to your own film.

I did a lot of research, and I learnt about Diop's Mamy Wata, but I haven't seen it. I also realized that a few filmmakers have tackled, or tried to tackle the subject. Why not? It is an intriguing mythology. I actually think artists don't tackle it nearly enough. And certainly not enough in cinema. But there's also a lot of superstition surrounding the lore. I didn't find many cinematic works about Mami Wata, and those few that exist certainly are not accessible. So with my approach, I realized early on that I would have to treat it as a thriller, and really ground the narrative in reality. But really, most of the stuff I know about Mami Wata comes from oral tradition. Which, as you know, oral tradition is a huge part of what shapes African belief systems, especially in West Africa. But with those very ideas I found very strong gems for me to tackle the even bigger ideas about African femininity, our spirituality and identity.

Your crowdfunding campaign lists a goal of $120,000. Is that the final budget for the film, or do you anticipate having to seek additional funds, and this is just an initial phase?

That's the entire budget for production and post-production, which is really small if you think about the cost of making feature films around the world. We plan to work with a small crew, but the very best, and mostly non-actors, except for the leads, with principal photography set for an intensive four weeks in this gorgeous and untouched fishing village between the Lagos and Benin republic border, right next to the Atlantic Ocean. And the great thing about making a film is that you can do it in stages. So if we can get through principal photography and have our rushes in the can, then that in itself will open up other possibilities for post-production and collaborations. I'm not in a hurry to make the film, if it means compromising on the quality. It's much too important.



After a world premiere at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen in Germany earlier this year, Obasi's latest work, the aforementioned short film based on Nnedi Okorafor's Hello, Moto, is currently touring the international film festival circuit, drawing praise from fans and critics alike. It's scheduled to make its UK premiere at the Southbank Centre in London on July 20, as part of its annual Africa Utopia program which celebrates arts and culture from the continent. The film will then head west to the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal (one of the world's most significant genre film festival) which kicks off on July 22.

Tambay Obenson is a Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker. Obenson also is the founder and former operator of Shadow and Act. You can follow him on Twitter at @TambayObenson.

Photo Credit: From Taamaden

10 Upcoming African Films to Look Forward to in 2022

From Nigerian thrillers to South African documentaries, here are 10 African films we are looking forward to in 2022.

The glitzy and glamorous Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently returned for its 43rd edition. The eight day festival, which took place in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), featured an embarrassment of riches on the program, from around the world. The festival is a good indicator of what we can expect from African cinema for the rest of 2022.

The 10 films on this list were all screened at the festival. These films managed to stand out for reasons that have been explained below. (One of those films, Robin Odongo's Bangarang from Kenya, won the Best African Feature Film award at DIFF.)

Do not miss these movies when they come to a theater or streaming platform near you.

1960 (South Africa)

This pleasant, King Shaft directed period musical centers a heroine who may have been inspired by the life of the late South African icon Miriam Makeba. 1960 opened the Durban festival this year and set the tone for what would come after. Lindi (played by both Zandile Madliwa and Ivy Nkutha) is a singer who in her twilight days digs back into her past to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer when his remains turn up in Sharpeville some six decades after the infamous massacre of 1960.

African Moot (South Africa​)

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful for the future of the continent. According to Shameela Seedat’s African Moot, the educated youth are leading the way. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a group of bright law students who are participating in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Seedat, a human rights law specialist turned filmmaker, heads to the University of Botswana with her subjects. Her film details the interesting ways the students approach the fictional case of a people crossing fictional African borders to escape oppression.

​Bangarang (Kenya)

Inspired by true events, Robin Odongo’s chaotic feature expounds on an earlier short film. Bangarang’s protagonist, Otile (David Weda) is a graduate of engineering who has failed to secure decent employment a decade after university. He makes a meagre living as a bike rider instead. When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections of 2007, an embittered Otile leads rioters on the streets of Kisumu. Before long, he is on the run from the law, accused of murder.

Collision Course (Nigeria)

A frustrated young man collides with the brutal power of the police force. Can a tormented official stop the descent into carnage? The third feature length title from Nigerian director Bolanle Austen-Peters (The Bling Lagosians, The Man of God) is a propulsive thriller set over the course of 24-hours. Starring Daniel Etim Effiong and Kelechi Udegbe, Collision Course digs into the underbelly of urban crime, law enforcement gone rogue, and the desperate victims that suffer the consequences.

The Crossing (La Traversee) (Burkina Faso)

After years in Italy, Djibi returns to his native Burkina Faso and begins to mentor a group of young people whose sole purpose is to leave for Europe. Djibi prepares them for this crossing through a tasking physical and intellectual program that helps bring them personal achievement and may end up neutering their resolve to migrate. Can he make this difference? Irène Tassembédo’s social drama embraces the complicated nature of the immigration experience.

Lesotho, the Weeping Motherland (South Africa)

Told interchangeably between South Africa and Lesotho, this Lwazi Duma-directed documentary engages with the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, a key income earner in the region. Duma follows Khethisa Mabata as he attempts to revive his father’s farm. The film uses Mabata’s personal story as an entry point into the larger national crisis that has taken Lesotho from a thriving food basket to one suffering extreme drought.

Skeletons (South Africa)

Conceived as an experiment in theatre-making during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this magical realist expression was re-written for film and now sits somewhere as a hybrid between theatre and film. Set in the heart of the Maluti mountains, Skeletons grapples with the issue of land and ownership as told through the lives of four characters. In an environment of scarcity, these four people wrestle to break free from the vicious cycle of oppression. Skeletons confronts notions of home, belonging, and identity.

Streams (Tunisia)

Amel, a married Tunis factory worker is imprisoned on charges of adultery and prostitution following an assault. Upon release, she attempts to put back the pieces of her life and reconnect with her teenage son whose life was derailed by the scandal. Director Mehdi Hmili comments on the decay, contradictions, and hypocrisies of contemporary Tunisian society with this engaging drama about the breakdown of a working-class family and the state’s unwillingness to protect the vulnerable.

Taamaden (Cameroon)

In Taamaden, Mali-born filmmaker Seydou Cissé paints a uniquely intimate portrait of immigration and zeroes in on spirituality. Taamaden, which is the Bambara word for traveler or adventurer, presents two different points of view. The first is that of Bakary, a young Malian preparing for yet another attempt at crossing over to Europe. The other is a motley crew of West African immigrants struggling to survive in Spain. They are united by their ties to their spiritual clairvoyant.

You’re My Favorite Place (South Africa)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (Of Good Report, Knuckle City) is one of the most exciting and original cinematic voices on the continent. His latest, which closed the Durban film festival, is a change of pace attempt that also carries some of Qubeka’s slick imprint. On the last day of high school, the young heroine of You’re My Favorite Place and her three friends embark on an unforgettable road trip. They steal a car and head to the remote Hole in the Wall, a landmark that according to Xhosa legend, enables communication with the dead.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

An Inside Look Into the Underground Queer Party Scene in Nigeria

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and has been forced to go underground.

A few minutes before midnight on a June evening, there was a line of people attempting to gain access to an unmarked apartment block in Lekki Phase 1 — a suburban neighborhood in Lagos State. To the uninitiated, it was a regular house party in the heart of Lagos Island, which is populated with young people in their 20s. For the attendees who had a flier on their phones and a passcode on their lips, this was an event they had looked forward to for weeks. When they arrived at the doors, they were all asked for a passcode which transported them into a vibrant pulsing party which had drag queens walking across the room and men in shorts that barely went past their crutches gyrating on other men while afrobeats blared. Welcome to queer nightlife in Nigeria where, on weekends, apartments turn into gay clubs, barred with passcode-guarding doors to protect against homophobes.

Party people hugging each other

Secret house parties, discrete raves, and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular amongst young queer Nigerians.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Across the country, especially in the big cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, lounges, clubs, and bars dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community have started sprouting despite legislation that makes it illegal for them to exist. In 2014, the Nigerian government passed the highly controversial and homophobic Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Despite the name, the law would go on to criminalize many other aspects of queer existence and not just marriage between people of the same sex. The far-reaching law criminalized queer social spaces, groups that advocate for queer rights, and even individuals advocating and supporting queer rights. The law also went on to prescribe a prison term that could go up to 14 years for those who were found guilty of these crimes in southern Nigeria. However, in Northern and mostly Muslim Nigeria, where Shariah law takes pre-eminence, these crimes could lead to death by stoning. While there isn’t an extensive record of people being found guilty for these crimes in Nigeria, these laws emboldened many homophobic mobs who took the laws into their hands and would beat individuals who they identified as queer and destroy spaces and parties that they suspected were hosted by or for queer people. One of the most infamous instances was a 2018 case where 57 men were arrested at a party in Lagos under the suspicion of being initiated into a gay club. While this particular case garnered significant press coverage as the men were made to go to trial, it is far from being the only case of its kind. It is fairly common for the police to raid suspected queer parties to arrest everyone in sight — often with little to no proof of the suspects being gay.

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria has been forced to go underground. Bars and clubs are left behind for parties in apartments. Recent years have seen a resurgence in the public profile of queer nightlife in Nigeria — partly thanks to a rise of resistance against oppressive systems within Nigeria that have been supported and have originated on social media, more queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria. Secret house parties, discrete raves and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst young queer Nigerians. Creative collectives like hFactor and Pride in Lagos have pushed the narrative even further by organizing pride-specific events and raves in Lagos over the last few years.

Man making out with man

"‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

‘‘My first time at a queer party in Nigeria was in 2021. A friend invited me to a hFactor event and It was such an experience,’ Peju, a 23-year-old bisexual man tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties. Guys were grinding on guys, girls were flirting with girls. There wasn’t a need to pretend to be something I’m not.’’

However, attending these events comes with specific risks. Guests often took precautions — attending the parties with friends, letting their friends who weren’t there know where they were at and confirming there were accessible exits at all times. For many of these attendees, they may have never had to use those themselves but they know of people or at least have heard of people who have had to. Tamuno, a 31-year-old gay man, tells me of a near-capture experience when he had gone to a party in Port Harcourt in 2020.

‘‘There was this party that happened weekly. It became kind of popular and more queer people started coming. What we didn’t account for was that neighbors had realized it was full of queer people,’ Tamuno said. ‘‘One day, we were all at the party and they surrounded the house. Some of us managed to escape, others weren’t as lucky. I wasn't lucky.’’ Tamuno recounts that after being taunted and shamed and then stripped to their boxers for a relatively long time, the police then came. ‘‘The police coming to carry us was what saved us because then my brother, who I called, was able to bribe them to let us go. Whenever I think about what would happen if the police hadn’t come, I experience a full body shudder.’’

a group of people taking photos

Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to these parties.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

To help combat this, organizers of these events prioritize security and the safety of their guests. It is important that attendees feel safe from homophobic attacks from civilians and the armed forces. To achieve this, organizers have learned to deploy multiple guards.

‘‘Everyone’s safety is a priority to me and this means that multiple channels of security are constantly put in place to help safeguard our guests.’’ Kayode Timileyin, one of the organizers of Pride In Lagos tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘The first of which is the fact that all our events are only by a registration and verification process. Also, external security guards are made available. Lastly, we go all out to look for a real safe space.’’

It doesn’t end at just verifying the identities of the guests. Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to the location. This might mean generating a password only verified guests are given or keeping the exact location — and sometimes even date — a secret and only given to the verified guests. For these organizers, these security measures are put in place, not against potential miscreants or robbers but instead to keep off the police force and homophobes.

woman wearing black smiling

Despite dangers, the queer nightlife scene is bustling and thriving.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

The underground nightlife scene in Lagos is bustling and thriving — despite the laws that criminalize it and the constant danger. This illustrates the spirit of resilience amongst queer Nigerians who choose to reach for any semblance of freedom they can find even if it is on the dance floor for just a night.

‘‘My experience getting arrested traumatized me. It scared me. I was getting beaten, and paraded and I was so scared that they would kill me. But they didn’t so of course, I’ll party again," Tamuno said. ‘‘I still go to these parties and I’ll still keep going. It’s not that I’m scared. It’s just that when I’m on the dance floor surrounded by other queer men, I feel like my true self. I feel happy. I feel content. And that’s what I want out of life. If I die because I am seeking that, that’s fine.’’

a group of friends taking a photo

More queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Kelvyn Boy On Becoming One of Afrobeats’ Leading Stars

The Ghanaian singer narrates how his latest single "Down Flat" has accelerated the trajectory of his career.

Kelvyn Boy is one of the leading afrobeats hitmakers from Ghana. Since his official debut in 2017 under singer Stonebwoy’s record label imprint Burniton Music Group, the talented singer, songwriter, and performer has consistently dished out hit after hit. From the sentimental midtempo ballad “Na You” to the gritty afropop cut “Mea” to his Mugeez and Darkovibes-assisted smash hit “Momo”, with every new release Kelvyn Boy has established his profile as one of the West African nation’s top afrobeats acts.

Fast forward to January 2022, Kelvyn Boy drops his most recent single “Down Flat," an infectious afrobeats single produced by Nigerian producer KullBoiBeatz, and the song has been immensely successful. “Down Flat” has held the number one spot on Apple Music’s “Top 100: Ghana” playlist, hit number 10 on Billboard’s “Worldwide Digital Song Sales” chart, just a couple of out several other accolades the song has landed in the few short months since its release.

The effect of the song’s success has already kicked in, with the singer in London, United Kingdom as I speak to him, which is one of the early stops of his current world tour. “Down Flat” is currently the biggest song of his career so far, and even Kelvyn Boy himself didn’t see it coming. “Some of the great things that happen are unpredictable and unplanned. I didn’t really see it coming” he explained. “Everyone believes in himself or herself. I have that belief and that feeling already when I’m making every song. If it’s not right, I won't sing it. But I didn’t see it coming as quick as it did, and I didn’t know it would get to this level. I knew it was gonna be big, but honestly it got out of hand.”

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Interview: Director K Is Making Historic Music Videos For Afrobeats & Beyond

The 28-year-old director behind the "Essence" music video (and many more) tells us about his come-up, inspirations and working with the biggest stars in the game like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and more.

African music is sprouting into dominance with the upswing of genres such as Amapiano and Afrobeats across dance floors, day parties, festivals, and gatherings across the globe. Among the ranks of directors curating the visual interpretation of African music; Director K, born Qudus Olaiwola, is an oft-tranquil figure that has charted a lane separate from his contemporaries.

Starting off in the perpetually bristling clusters of Surelere, Lagos, Nigeria as a phone repairer at his uncle’s workshop, Director K’s curiosity shoveled him into believing he could shoot videos on his iPhone. “I used to go super crazy on iPhones, I used to make iPhones do stuff that you couldn’t normally do,” he tells OkayAfrica nostalgically.

Raised in the hovels of Shitta, Surulere, and Lagos — home to Afrobeats trailblazer Wizkid—Director K found a neighborhood artist called C.O. Decoast, and tested his hands at music video directing off the lens of his iPhone. “It wasn’t anything big. It was just something in the hood that I shot with a few people."

Now, in the parking lot of a lush apartment in Lekki, Lagos, Director K regales me with stories of his journey while walking me towards a modest swimming pool. The Creative Arts dropout has had his work nominated for Video Of The Year at the Soul Train Awards, and he has won an NACCP Image Award and Best Music Video at Nigeria’s most-prestigious awards show, The Headies.

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