Image courtesy of Stephen Tayo.

Stephen Tayo Is the Fashion Photographer Capturing the Effortless Style of Everyday Nigerians

We speak with the rising photographer about his growing portfolio, advocating for fellow Nigerian creatives and his vision for capturing fashion on the continent.

Stephen Tayo thinks Nigerians are naturally fashionable people, and we don't disagree.

After all, the 24-year-old fashion photographer would know—he's travelled throughout the country, capturing what to some, including his very subjects, might appear as unassuming everyday looks. To him, however, they're markers of ingrained taste.

To the young photographer, who got his start in fashion after earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Lagos, that's exactly what being "fashionable" is all about: genuine effortlessness. Though he didn't pursue a career in the field, he seeks to bring philosophy into his work, figuring out why exactly people dress the way that they do. We get a glimpse of that vision through his many photo series which explore high fashion with a broadening lens. With Tayo behind the camera, we get to see that places like Lagos and Accra are every bit the "fashion capitals" as Milan or Paris.

With his latest series on the eighth annual Chale Wote Street Art festival, published in Vogue earlier this month, the "it" photographer helped introduced a new audience to the sartorial prowess of the festival's young Ghanaian attendees. For Tayo, it's less about just showcasing the impeccable style that he has always known to exist on the continent to an international audience and more about giving his subjects an opportunity to relish in their style by seeing themselves represented on globally recognized platforms like Vogue.

We caught up with the photographer following the success of his recent feature in the publication and his work on Skepta and Wizkid's music video 'Energy' to discuss some of the highlights of his growing portfolio, advocating for fellow Nigerian creatives and his vision for capturing fashion on the continent.

Check out more Nigerian street style photos at Lagos Fashion Week 2019 here.

Read on for our conversation.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What drew you to pursue fashion photography?

I'm trying to understand how people can look effortlessly beautiful. Because some people can just wake up and look fashionable. It's a Nigerian thing, especially in Lagos, where people actually do dress up. People know how to dress. It's not something they learn—it's not like they have a mood board that they study. It's just their style, and I figured why not document that lifestyle?

So it's all about capturing people's natural fashion sense?

Yes. Yes.

When you were starting out, who were you looking to for inspiration?

I was actually so obsessed with Hassan Hajjaj and Seydou Keita because when they were photographing, they were not under pressure. They captured what they could capture so easily and I'm taking a queue from them. Hassan is still functional and is really amazing. He's one of those people that I would really love to meet when I go to London. Those guys are really iconic and Samuel Fosso as well.

Photo by Stephen Tayo

What's your experience building a creative career in a place like Lagos? Not everyone can do that.

For me, because I'm not from a rich background, it's really hard navigating in a classist society, but I've always tried to channel and pursue good energy toward believing that I'll always survive in doing what I believe in. Sometimes as a young creative, you see all of your mates doing amazing things and you kind of want to compare yourself. As for me, I've kind of let it go and have just decided to live my life—to each his own. Lagos is really interesting. I feel so blessed to be working from Lagos. I feel like a champion, with all the leaps I've made and the opportunities that have come my way.

Recently, I read an article in GQ and that said that Dakar in Senegal was the most fashionable city in the world. They were really amazing photos, but some believe they didn't capture the true style in Dakar because it featured all Western designers. Of all the places you've shot, where would you consider to be the most stylish?

I would say that Kano was a dream for me. There are a lot of similarities with Kano and Dakar because it's very traditional. I've never been to Dakar, but there is a strong traditional element and a lot of family representation in the way people dress in Kano as well. It's the most fashionable place I've ever been to.

Photo by Stephen Tayo

Your Chale Wote pictures really took off with the feature in Vogue. In a way, you sort of introduced a new audience to that festival because I don't think all of Vogue's readers knew about it and how fashionable it was before seeing those images.

When I got the assignment to go to Ghana, I was like "oh yes, definitely." Ghana is close to Nigeria and the fact that I was able to capture people the way I captured them was amazing. It was really stressful for me though, trying not to get in between the crowd.

I was glad that Vogue recognized that there is so much happening in West Africa that needs to be spotlighted. But, the happiness comes from the fact that Ghanaians were happy, which is the most important thing. I'm always thinking about how I represent people's country especially if I'm not from there. It seems that so many appreciated my effort, and that means so much to me.

Photo by Stephen Tayo

I also saw on your Instagram that you did some work for Skepta and Wizkid's "Energy" music video, which was beautiful. How was it working on that?

That was brought about by Grace Ladoja and Meji Alabi who was the main director, and the idea of the video was to capture youth culture. I was part of the young creatives that co-directed and co-created the video. It was a fun, feel-good time working with Skepta and Wizkid. It was quite a tasking time as well and a very experimental project, which I am very grateful to have been a part of. All of us on the team had one thing in common: we just want to make sure we advocate for love and unity. Together we push. Together we're in this hustle, and we'll figure out how to get to the next stage together.

That's cool and is it different working on set versus like being on the street capturing style?

For me it was the same feel, because it was the same type of energy I incorporate in my photography.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

Who would be your dream collaborator. Is there a dream project you would want to work on?

I love and cherish what Virgil Abloh is doing, it'll definitely be a dream to work with him. At the moment I'm working with Patta—an Amsterdam based street wear brand—and that's definitely a dream for me. I believe that if I can work with Patta, sooner or later, I should be able to create beautiful work with Virgil Abloh.

Is there a photo series of yours that you had an exceptionally interesting time working on? What's been your best experience shooting so far?

The one that's really close to my heart was my first Vogue feature about "New Year, New Me?" focused on the kids in Lagos. It's really close to my heart because the kids might not know how relevant it it is to be in Vogue and I think in the next few years, they'll understand that they were in Vogue just being childishly effortless and that might be a motivation for them that they can be as stylish and as fabulous as they want to be in the future. That's really close to my heart. That was shot where my parents live. That's where I actually grew up.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.

What's next for you? Is there any other creative pursuit you would like to take on?

I'm looking forward to publishing a photobook soon. I'm taking my time to decide and to read and understand the best way to get it out. Also, I'm collaborating with some streetwear designers at the moment including Motherland, SevereNature, Shekudo, Orange Culture and Vivendi. Also, during fashion week in Lagos, I'll be working with a few designers as well. So, I mean, there's work, work, work, for a freelance artist like me. There's so much to do.

Photo by Stephen Tayo.


Nike Has Unveiled a New Nigeria 2020 Kit—and It's Just as Striking as the First

The Super Eagle's new kits are an impressive follow-up to the 2018 design.

Nike and Nigeria have done it again.

On Wednesday, the sporting brand unveiled a brand new Nigeria kit. This comes after the success of the wildly popular World Cup kit from 2018 which seamlessly fused streetwear with athletic function. The famous design was even nominated for the Beazley Design of the Year Award the year of its release.

The 2020 design is just as striking, featuring an angled, hand-drawn green design on top of a cream base. The Super Eagles's football crest is placed at the top front of the jersey, with the signature Nike swoop underneath. Matching sock sets were also unveiled for both colors of the jersey.

Keep reading...
Image via Getty.

29 Nigerian English Words Have Been Added to the Oxford Dictionary—Here's What That Means

Linguist Kola Tubosun breaks down how language grows and why it's also important for Nigerian policymakers to empower local languages.

Last month, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced a new development: it would be adding 29 new "loanwords" from Nigerian vernacular to the English dictionary. The news caused excitement amongst Nigerians on Twitter after it was shared by Nigerian linguist and founder of Yorubaname.com, Kola Tubosun. According to Tubosun, new words get added to the dictionary when they "gain new currency," which reflects how these words are being used in everyday language and not how they should be used (contrary to how many believe dictionaries function).

Keep reading...
News Brief
Twice As Tall World Tour. Flyer provided by Atlantic Records.

Burna Boy Announces 'Twice As Tall' World Tour Dates

The Nigerian star will be playing shows across North America and Europe this summer.

Burna Boy is hitting the road again.

Following the celebrated release of African Giant—which came with nominations at both the Grammys & BRIT Awards and a trophy for Best International Act at the BET Awards—the Nigerian star will be embarking on a long run of shows that will take him across North America and Europe.

The Twice As Tall World Tour will kick off in May in Atlanta, and will see Burna Boy playing concerts across the US, Canada, Norway, France, Portugal, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and more locations.

You can check out the full tour dates for Twice As Tall World Tour below and revisit Burna Boy's performance for Okay Acoustics.

Tickets are available now.

Keep reading...
Angelique Kidjo performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

'Take Africa Out of It and There's No Music for Y’all,' Angelique Kidjo on Success, ‘World Music’ & Championing New African Talent

OkayAfrica caught up with the legendary Beninese singer following her recent Grammy win and her feature on the collaborative electronic track 'Milambi.'

Last month, Angelique Kidjo won her fourth Grammy in the 'Best World Music' category. But it wasn't quite like every other year she had been nominated for the award. This time she shared the nomination with fellow African act Burna Boy, the first artist of the continent's current afropop scene to earn a nomination. While there's no question that Kidjo, who won for her 2019 album Celia, was beyond deserving (this was by no means a Kendrick-Macklemore scenario), Kidjo made the conscious decision to dedicate her award to Burna and urged viewers to pay attention to the wealth of new talent coming from the continent. "The new generation of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come," said the artist.

Her vocal support for African talent isn't new though. As Kidjo notes, she gave a similarly memorable speech when she won four years ago for her album Sings, and she sounds fierce and impassioned as she speaks about it over the phone. After all, Kidjo has always been notably forward-looking in life and in music—experimentation doesn't scare her. Her latest work is on a futuristic, electronic project from Swiss DJ and producer Pablo Nouvelle and she expresses excitement about the novel methods in which African artists are creating and amplifying their music.

We caught up with Kidjo following her latest Grammy win and the release of her joint single with Nouvelle, "Milambi," to discuss her support of the new crop of talent emerging from the continent, fame, the controversy around the 'Best World Music' category, and remaining true to her identity in a Western-oriented music industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Grammys were a big moment. Why did you decide to dedicate your award to Burna Boy and acknowledge the new generation of up-and-coming African artists?

I'm always in contact with my continent. I go back on a regular basis, and that's where my source of inspiration is from. Throughout the years going back and forth, I've been seeing the entrepreneurship of the young generation coming up. When I started music—there was none of that. You just went to the studio, and you found people to help you do your music. Now you can be a self-producer. I have nephews and nieces, and I'll just say "Ok, what's new? Let me listen to the new stuff." And I just realized that the rest of the world has no clue about what's happening in Africa.

Four years ago, when I received my Grammy for the album Sings, I said "Brace yourself, because Africa is coming. You have to open your heart, your mind and ears to listen to what is going on and what is coming from the new generation of my contient"— I said that four years ago, and the time has come because [with artists like] Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Yemi Alade and many more from Nigeria, and Sho Madjozi from South Africa—you have so much happening culturally in Africa. I have the feeling that sometimes people just completely turn their head away from Africa and I just wonder how one could possibly turn their head away from where they come from, because Africa is the cradle of humanity. Culture comes from there—there's no music on this planet that doesn't have Africa in it.


Is this why you've chosen to work with a lot of younger artists from the continent like Yemi Alade most recently?

I'm so proud of this new generation of musicians that are using the technology to tell a positive story about Africa. It's no longer about our suffering. Everybody suffers. So, why should people be focusing only on our suffering and not seeing just the human beings that we are, and how joyful we are? Then suddenly, you realize that joy becomes political because if your society, your people are perceived as joyful, then a leader cannot complain anymore that something is wrong. Beyond all that, [I do it] to pay tribute to the entrepreneurship of the young generation. They aren't waiting on help from anybody. If you are famous in your country and on your continent, there's nothing that can stop you. You have billions of people that will love you, so why should the rest of the world look aside when you're passing by? They should pay attention.

That's why I use my platform to bring the attention of the media to this new generation coming. They don't want to be caught by surprise because I've been telling them to pay attention. If something happens, and they don't pay attention, at least I've done my work.

I do think it's really amazing how new artists have been able to gain traction and put their music out despite their not being a lot of support by African leaders for creative industries. Do you think that African governments, and the folks with money should invest more entertainment?

I think they should because we create jobs. People make money, and it's not only the artists. There's also the people helping them make videos, or cut tracks—music creates jobs.

I think we have to educate our leaders and our business people in Africa. Who can carry their brand better than us? Who are the best ambassadors of our cultures, our countries and our continent? It's us artists across different forms of art, from painters, to storytellers, to people in theatre and movies. Every form of art is about telling the story of ordinary people and the people that have come before us. How do you know about your own history, if not for the elderly people that tell you the story of who you are?

In order for us to tell our story, we need to have a voice. We need to say it through different mediums. Music is one of them. We shouldn't let anyone else tell our stories anymore. That time in history has passed. We have new narratives, we have proof of how entrepreneurial we are. Africans can make money in Africa and anywhere else. The world is open to us—the world is ours. No one can stop us.

So many African artists look to you as an inspiration and a model for longevity in the music industry. I'm wondering which artists served that role for you when you were first coming up.

There are many, many of them. I would say it started with traditional musicians because I was a very curious child. I come from that background of traditional musicians telling me stories through songs. [Growing up] my brothers were playing music, my father brought the instruments for them, and freed a room in a crowded house for them to rehearse. I heard every genre of music in the '60, '70s and '80s through them, but my role models start with traditional musicians, both male and female. [But at a certain point] I noticed that every album that would be brought home had just men on the covers. I was like, "Okay, so women don't sing? They can't do albums too?" Then you had Western women start coming in and I was like, "Okay, at least some women are making it through [in the industry]."

Then Miriam Makeba came and Aretha Franklin came. The day Aretha Franklin came, the singer of my brother's band—who had such a fucking ego, you couldn't even put it anywhere—said "there's no song I can't sing." [But] Aretha came and he couldn't sing. I'm like, "What? A woman is whooping your butt. I like that."

So, there have been strong men and women as musicians that have informed the music that I make today. The only way I could absorb it and make my own music, and become a role model to others today is because I am proud of my culture. I know where I come from, I'm not trying to copy anybody because everybody copied what we have. There wouldn't be any music in America without the input of enslaved people that came from Africa. The blues came from slaves. It doesn't matter how hard the slave owner wanted to dehumanize us—they even took the drum away from us. But we had many ways of celebrating culture. We had many ways of celebrating our humanity—singing was one of them. We sing our pain to lift it up. We sing our joy to share it with people. That's what African music is. The essence of what music is comes from that place. We've seen it all, we've been through hell, yet here we are prevailing still.

"I have to be able to sing my songs till I die."

You've always championed African culture and identity, whether it's through singing in Yoruba, or representing Benin through various endeavors. Did you at any point, ever face pressure from the industry to tone down your "Africanness" to appeal to certain audiences?

They have a saying in my country, that "the advisor is not the payer." [It's about] what you do with the advice people give you. I'm always listening, I'm always ready to sit and hear constructive criticism. But if you want to critique for the sake of criticizing me—I've heard some journalists say that I'm not African enough in France because my music sounds too Western. I said, "What is the music of the West then? Tell me." Take Africa out of it and there's no music for y'all.

For me, I respect everybody, particularly the differences because there lies the genius. We all don't think the same.

People said, "Why don't you show your titties?" I'm like, "Well, I don't feel like showing my titties because my titties ain't singing. My voice is not in my breasts." You've got to be somebody, and I am African. I come from a rich culture. Why should I change to look like what? What do you want me to look like? I've never ever allowed anyone to say to me, "You can't do this." I have fought some producers that try to change my music. I say, "If that's the case, you take the microphone, you sing, it's not mine, I'm out of here." You have to stand for something. If you are afraid of not making it, then you become a fool to somebody.

People will say what they want to say. If I want to dress differently, I do sometimes. When I received the NAACP award, I wore a suit. A well-tailored suit, and I kill it too in a suit. It's not what you wear, it's who you are.

I always say, if anyone wants to work with me, I'm open. The bridge I'm trying to build, everybody's welcome on it in the respect of each other's differences. My strength might be your weakness, and then I supply. My weakness might be your strength. It goes both ways. I don't have the answer to everything, but one thing I know is that if we stop bitching at each other and blaming people for all the things that aren't good in our life will be better off because when we start doing that, what do we do? We create fear, and fear is dangerous.

I wanted to ask you about the controversy surrounding the Best World Music category at the Grammys. Many believe that it doesn't truly encompass the diversity of music coming from the continent. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Don't underestimate the recording academy. They have been thinking about it way before this. It's a conversation that we're going to be engaging in. Africa is not a country, it's a continent. The Latin Grammy exists. We should have the African Grammys too, because it's a continent, because it's vast, it's huge. So, it's a conversation we started having because the academy is also realizing this, and they are, at least, having that conversation. Right now, if you look at the "French Grammys" coming up, there's not one person of African descent [represented]. Not one. They just completely ban what is called "world music" out of it and we're in the 21st century. So, I think criticizing is one thing, finding solutions is another.

Let's work with the recording academy and find out how we can help to come up with something that works for everybody. That's all I'm about. I'm always about solutions. The thing is that we also need to recognize that we cannot be discriminating when it comes to culture. If we don't speak to each other, and we're always blaming and pointing fingers, there's no conversation possible anymore. We should have an open discussion about this and be creative about it. That's all I say.

Speaking on shifting genres, you recently worked with Pablo Nouvelle on his new project Eliso, I saw it described as your "maiden venture into electronic music." What was that experience like for you?

I started with electronic music. If you ask David Byrne, he would tell you that my first album, Logozo was completely electric, but African electric. So for me, working on this album brings me back to the beginning and, I'm not done doing that. I'm going to do it more.

So, we can expect a lot more of this electronic sound that you've already been working on?

I'm not saying anything.

We can't have a hint?

No, nothing, because I always follow my inspiration. If my inspiration changes a little bit, I have to change [my direction].

You just go with whatever feels right?

I have to be able to sing my songs till I die. All my songs, if I can't sing them, with just my voice and a guitar, it means it's not good. When writing a song, less is more because if you add too much stuff, then you kill the song. You're overstating it. Do the minimal. If it feels good to you, and you can sing it in your sleep, wake up dancing to it, and you can feel it in every beat in your body, it's right.

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