Arts + Culture
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Fawaz.

Meet Fawaz, the Artist Behind Wizkid’s 'Made In Lagos' Artwork

We talk to the Ghanaian-born artist about his creative process, working with Sarkodie and Stonebwoy, and how Wizkid has motivated and mentored him.

Ghanaian-born Fawaz understands the influence of art on music. Through his precise, clever designs, he’s grown to become a voice in the cover art space. In the last three years, his designs have been utilized by Wizkid, Mr Eazi, Sarkodie, Shatta Wale and a host of celebrities.

Discovering his artistic gift in high school, Fawaz started out by creating fan artwork for some of his favorite globetrotting stars. A few like Sarkodie noticed. “One day, Sarkodie was about to release a song,” Fawaz recollects. “His designer wasn’t available to do the artwork, so they contacted me to design it. I did it, he posted it and I felt so confident about my craft.”

In 2018, Fawaz’ art would get to Wizkid, who reposted it and went on to replicate it as merch. The relationship between the two has since deepened, with Wizkid enlisting Fawaz as his go-to creative designer. And when the Nigerian superstar’s monumental album was due for release, he would turn to Fawaz to create the sleek, minimalist Made In Lagos album cover.

Below, the artist talks about his journey so far, meeting Wizkid and his relationship with the Starboy.


It’s been a hectic last year for you. You went on tour and achieved your dream of designing the album art for Wizkid. How did this all start for you?

I started this as a playful thing in high school. I was just trying to design for artists. For me, I’ll just take pictures and create [something] using [them]. Everyone around me knows one of my favorite artists is Sarkodie. I was a big die-hard fan. Me, I always had it in mind that even as a fan, you should have something to offer to the artist. So, as a Sarkodie fan, I should offer something from the creative side. I began by designing for him. I’d post fan art, he’d see it then retweet.

Then one day my moment came. He was about to release a song and his designer wasn’t available to do the artwork. So they contacted me to design it. I did it, he posted it and I felt so confident about my craft. I was like 'f-ck it, I can do this art thing.' From there on, I had this realization and self-belief that I could be successful at it. I started pushing myself out there more and reaching out to a lot of artists trying to work with them.

Wizkid's Made In Lagos cover designed by Fawaz.

In 2018, you posted a design you created for Wizkid. It went viral and Wizkid recreated it for his merch collection. How did you go from that artwork guy to being a part of the team?

I’m always retaining this mindset of: if you want to work with someone so bad, you should have something to offer to the person. No one wants to be with someone who doesn’t have anything to offer. After I did that viral artwork, I persisted on working with Wizkid. I reached out. Even though I knew for a fact that at that point he had a lot of graphic designers and, perhaps, a lot of people Iike me trying to design for him, it didn’t stop me from reaching out.

I was able to do "Commando" and "Fake Love" for him. My real goal with Wiz was to design his album cover. And God is just wonderful. Grace is just something you can’t take out of a person. Personally I didn’t even see it coming. He just asked me out of the blue. I didn’t even plan it.

Artists most times can be indecisive. They know what they want, and you try to translate them to designs. Have there been times when artists refuse what you’ve done for them?

Funny enough I haven’t had an artwork rejected by an artist before. I understand every artist I work with. I don't have to listen to all your songs to know what kind of vibe you want. When an artist tells me they want an artwork, say "Fake Love" for example, I’m picturing it in my head: definitely it’s all about love.

All I see for the artists I work with happens on that first try. Let’s say I do an artwork for you the first time, other times we have to work again, I already know what I’m creating for you. Maybe some have asked if I could adjust the font and all that. But I’ve never had an artist decline my artwork before. It’s never happened.

Stonebwoy's Angloga Junction cover designed by Fawaz.

Is there an cover you’ve created that has a surprising background story?

That would be Stonebwoy’s Anloga Junction. I was creating a rollout for Stonebwoy and, at that time, we were going back and forth on how to create the album artwork. We kept having people sending ideas and all of that, and Stonebwoy didn’t like any of them. I remember trying something to see how it goes. I took the picture. And the story is: Stonebwoy is the boy leaving the village to go to the city. If you see from the artwork, he’s finally come to Anloga Junction with his jukebox. On the back cover, he’s in a motorcycle on his way to the city to take the music out there. That was how I came about the artwork.

What’s the relationship between you and Wizkid? You’re like family.

For me, I’ll say Wizkid is an amazing mentor to all of us who work with him. Wizkid motivates us to do better. Everything you see us do for Wizkid is down to his motivation that makes us do our best. Behind closed doors, he’s always advising us. He knows we’re young, he on the other hand is matured. He’s been there, he’s done that. He never wants us to go on the wrong path. He’ll always put us in our place and make us know that the work we’re doing isn’t just for ourselves, it’s for everyone. It’s for everyone to see and be like 'wow this stuff I saw is amazing.'

The artwork for Wizkid encapsulates the mood, feel and texture of the tracks. How was it created?

We did that artwork in a day. I remember creating it online. Me and Langmia. He sent over the pictures and we worked magic together.

Wizkid Ghetto Love cover designed by Fawaz.

What’s your approach to creating? What do you do when you’re about to take on a new project?

I work in a very weird way. I don’t research albums. I don’t let other people’s works define my approach. I just sit down and process everything I want to do. If you see me work, you’ll find me weird because you don’t know where I get my ideas from. My creativity has no secret. For example, if I create an artwork, it’s more like a blessing rather than a challenge. When I create I don’t remember how I create. After I create, I cannot recreate it again. That’s how I am.

First time you got a major paycheck, what did you do with that money?

I invested in myself. I invested in my craft. Bought a new laptop and after that upgrade was when I started making more money. When you make money, you need to upgrade the materials you use to work. You cannot make money and then still use the same old tools. If you want your work to be better, you need to invest in it.

What’s the best advice you’ve got from Wizkid?

Wizkid will advise you to be versatile. You cannot be at one place your entire life. You got to keep it moving. You cannot be comfortable having 100,000 dollars. You have to double it up. You have to keep making more work. Personally, my life is moving. I’m not lagging. I’ve listened to him and everything he said is impacting my life. He’ll always urge us not to be comfortable at where we are. Always try to get more, do more, do better.

Mr Eazi One Day You Will Understand designed by Fawaz.

Sarkodie & Akan All Die Be Die designed by Fawaz.

Mr Eazi and Tyga Tony Montana designed by Fawaz.

Mut4y Afrosummer Vibes Vol.1 designed by Fawaz.

Sarkodie Can't Let You Go ft. King Promise designed by Fawaz.

Boys Kasa designed by Fawaz.

Wizkid Canada tour 2019 designed by Fawaz.

Starboy Fest merch designed by Fawaz.

Featured
Photo Credit: Netflix

The Stars of 'Blood Sisters' Talk About Becoming Netflix's Biggest Hit

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about shooting Blood Sisters, acting in Nollywood, what's next, and more.

Earlier this month, Netflix's "first original series" from Nigeria was released. The limited series, Blood Sisters directed by Biyi Bandele and Kenneth Gyang, follows two friends, Sarah (Ini Dima-Okojie) and Kemi (Nancy Isime), as they go on the run after the death of Sarah's fiance, Kola (Deyemi Okanlawon).

The show explores familial dysfunction, murder, the meaning of sisterhood, and how valuable friendships can be, with its central premise around domestic violence, a theme known to many.

Since its release, the four-part crime thriller has received praises, with Variety calling its first episode "explosive" and "hard-pressed to walk away." After its first week of release, the limited series sat at number nine on the list of most-watched TV shows globally, with over 11,070,000 hours of viewing, making it a first for Nigeria. This comes after Netflix’s first Nollywood film of the year —Chief Daddy — faced harsh criticisms from viewers and critics alike.

The success of Blood Sisters shows that cinematography isn’t the only selling point of Nollywood. And for Nollywood content to thrive on Netflix, there should be an investment in all areas, from the storytelling down to the marketing.

For Ini Dima-Okojie starring alongside some of Nollywood's big names — like Kate Henshaw, Ramsey Nouah, and Uche Jombo — was surreal because these are the people she watched growing up. "But when it came to filming, it didn't matter if you've been in the industry for just four years or 30 years," Dima-Okojie said. "All that mattered was everyone was ready to work."

Like Dima-Okojie, Nancy Isime also loved acting alongside them, even though it wasn't her first time working with some of them. "I was there for work and understood that it was bigger than just being Nancy Isime. It was me at work."

We sat down with Ini Dima-Okojie and Nancy Isime, the actors who brought life to Sarah and Kemi, to talk about what it was like behind the scenes, acting in Nollywood, what's next for them, and more.

Blood Sisters | Trailer | Netflix

What's one thing you learned while shooting this series?

Ini Dima-Okojie: One thing I learned for sure is that Nigeria is ready to tell its authentic stories to a global audience. We're not just prepared; we're capable of standing behind any industry. I could feel that from being on set, with the professionalism I encountered. I also learned that it is good to be kind, deliberate, and mindful of what people are going through because what we do has an impact.

Nancy Isime: For me, I learned it's possible to have good production in Nigeria. I've been blessed to be in a couple, and this was one of them. And it's a highlight so far. I also learned about the characters.

Nancy Isime,

Photo Credit: Nancy Isime,

What was it like playing your roles, and how did you get it?

Dima-Okojie: When I got the audition file for Sarah, I went on my knees and told God, "I want this." You can tell from the size alone, and I think that has happened to me only three times in my career because it doesn't often happen as an actor. A week or two after I sent in my audition tape, I got an email telling me to send another tape, but this time, it was for a different character, Timeyin. Altogether, I auditioned for Kemi, Sarah, and Timeyin.

I was so excited playing Sarah. I felt so lucky because, at the end of the day, an actor is only as good as the opportunities they are given. So playing Sarah had me go deep into the character, asking questions and putting myself into her shoes.

Isime: It was wonderful playing my role. I had gotten an email asking to read for Sarah, not for Kemi. So I made my tape and sent it in. Then, I was called in for a private audition and read through with everybody. However, I was called back and was told that Netflix wanted me to play Kemi, and I was like, "What is a Kemi?" Because I never read for her. So I was reluctant to accept because I didn't know who the character was and if she'd have the opportunity to show her acting range. But I took it, and when I read the script, I was like, "Yes, Kemi. Yes, baby, let's do this."

What was your favorite scene to film?

Dima-Okojie: My favorite scene? That's hard. I had so many unforgettable moments. However, I think one monumental period I'd like to pick on is probably when Sarah stood up to her abuser Kola and told him, "No!" because that was very big. She barely speaks up and is so used to being bullied, whether for good or bad, even in her beautiful friendship with Kemi, where she's always being told what to do. But in that scene, she had found the strength and was finally able to speak up, even though she knew what his reaction was going to be.

She spoke up for herself at that moment, and I think it was a huge moment for Sarah. It was a huge moment for people who may have experienced [domestic violence] because if there's one thing I realized from research, it didn't matter where people who are susceptible to abuse are from. Whether they were black or white, old or young, it was a triumph for Sarah and everyone going through any form of abuse.

Isime: I loved every single scene of playing Kemi because, as you noticed, there's no scene she's in that is a usual scene. In fact, no scene in Blood Sisters could have been done away with if you noticed because every scene is putting you on edge the entire time. Coming to set every day, I was like, "we're h-a-p-p-y," because yes, I was happy.

Ini Dima-Okojie wearing white sneakers

Photo Credit: Ini Dima-Okojie

What was the most challenging scene?

Dima-Okojie: For the challenging scene, I'll like to break it into physical and emotional parts. It was very physically challenging for Sarah. From when they decided to go on the run, physically, we were in Makoko, running all over the community, jumping from canoe to canoe. We also went to Epe, where we were barefooted. It was grueling as an actor and a character because this wasn't a fit character. Emotionally, I had to understand everything that Sarah was going through. I had to chip away from who I am as Ini to connect with what she was going through, which can be draining. But thank God I was surrounded by amazing people and directors who eased the process and were there to pick me up anytime I was down.

The series is a global hit on Netflix; how does that make you feel?

Dima-Okojie: Honestly, it's surreal. It makes me emotional half the time because, as a performer, all you want is for people to watch your work and for it to resonate. Being an actor, people see the glitz and the glam, but it's a lot of work. You chip away part of yourself to give a character life, but it's worth it.

Isime: Floating. Floating in a bubble, floating in gratitude. It feels so good. Imagine having 11 million hours of watch time in five days? It's no easy feat. I don't think any African show has been able to do that. So for that to come from Nigeria, and for me to be lead? I don't think I'll ever come down from this high that I'm on.

You are both a part of a new generation of Nollywood actors doing amazing if I say so myself. What is that like?

Dima-Okojie: Generally, I think being an actor in the world today is incredible. Nollywood has gone through much because we were in a time where we didn't have financing and institutionally there's no backing. So being able to be in a world today where everything is global, and I can do something here in Lagos, while people from Japan, Belgium, and Qatar, are sending texts telling me they watched me and loved it, I don't think there's a better time to act than now. It's a fantastic time to be a Nigerian actor.

Isime: It feels good to be recognized for something I'm passionate about and love. I feel blessed because Nollywood is bigger than I am. It goes beyond ego and wanting to be the best because we're all part of something way bigger than us. And I'm so happy to be able to contribute to this industry, leave my prints in the sand of time, and say that yes, there was a time I was not just a Nollywood actor, but every single person can confirm. I mean, it's one thing to say you're an actor, and people start asking, "which film you act?" "this one too na actress?" but you can't say that when it comes to me. And it also feels good to be recognized by the AMVCA, which is a huge organization.

Netflix

Photo Credit: Netflix

Now, let's go behind the scenes: did anything funny, sad, or surprising happen while filming?

Dima-Okojie: There were so many exciting moments, not necessarily sad moments. We filmed for over two months at the height of COVID-19, so you can imagine all the craziness that must have happened.

I remember while filming the dinner scene after we had our COVID-19 test, they told us a cast member had the virus, causing us to reschedule. Another moment was when Ramsey Nouah brought a crocodile for us to eat while filming in Epe, and it was delicious. I honestly had lots of happy moments.

Isime: I feel like all these emotions happen naturally because I was happy every day I was on set. But something interesting that happened was the fact that Ini and I got so into the characters that we took it just beyond acting. We felt every emotion that the characters went through. We had one crying scene together, and I promise you that they cleared the room for us because we had to cry to get it out for a while. Because in reality, when something happens to you and you cry, you don't just cry for a bit. You have to let it out, and that was us. We were Kemi and Sarah and needed time to grieve. To let it out. It was an interesting event, and I had so many times I was tired, mentally and physically.

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Dima-Okojie: There are so many exciting things in the works. First of all, I am getting married. Immediately after that, in June, I am going right back to set for the second season of Smart Money Woman. There are a couple more projects in the work that I'm not allowed to speak about yet, but there are exciting times ahead.

Isime: I love that question, and I also don't love that question because I don't know what's next. I'm just living my purpose, taking one day at a time, and grateful for every part of my journey. If you had told me five years ago that I'd be here, I would say it's a lie because I was probably sure that I knew where I was going. So what's next for me is a beautiful life, more projects, and more fantastic performances.

My show, The Nancy Isime Show, is also doing very well and happens to be one of the most-watched talk shows in the country, so I'm hoping that expands better. I'm also hoping to bring about a few more creations to life.

News Brief
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MRC)

Watch Burna Boy Close Out the Billboard Music Awards

The Nigerian star played a medley of "Last Last" and "Kilometre."

The 2022 Billboard Music Awards returned last night, Sunday May 15, broadcasting live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

In the big slot of the night, closing out the award ceremonies, was none-other-than the African Giant himself Burna Boy.

The Nigerian superstar, who's coming off a headline-grabbing sold out show at Madison Square Garden, jumped onstage to perform a medley of his brand new single "Last Last" (which just dropped last Friday) and the high-energy "Kilometre" backed by a full band and a drum line.

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(YouTube)

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If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

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Arts + Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Timi Nathus Is Making Digital Art Mainstream

The Nigerian artist NAZQUIAT is on a mission to make his futuristic collection of NFTs the norm in his home country.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Nigerian multidisciplinary digital artist, Timi Nathus aka NAZQUIAT. Nathus's shares his #Afrotroves NFT collection with us, and explains it as "Each NFT was made from sacred artifacts that were previously stolen and haven't set foot in Africa hundreds of years". Nathus and a cohort of digital artists are reclaiming the images and stories that were stolen, and instead using them to empower and inform his own communities. By breaking the mold of traditional art and storytelling, Nathus's decision to establish this collection as a series of NFTS is shifting the power struggle and encourages the celebrations of the old and new.

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