Brave Women: “The heart of a lion” | Mo Abudu profiles Kemi Adetiba

by Mo Abudu

The shock appears to have come and gone. The headlines remain, but by now, the figures are not news anymore. Not unknown, but likely less prominent in public consciousness is how it came to be. The story of 4 film studios coming together in an unprecedented and, ultimately historic partnership  that has now, by the grace of God, etched its name in the annals of Nigerian film history. To say the work was backbreaking  would be perhaps the mildest of understatements. The ELFIKE Film Collective  – all of us at EbonyLife Films, FilmOne Studios, Inkblot Productions and Koga Studios – rallied, working tirelessly to ensure that The Wedding Party would end up as special a film as we knew it could be. But it’s hard to say just how much any of that would have amounted to, without the work of a talent, just as special in her own right, to consolidate the efforts of everyone involved.

Under any circumstances, Kemi Adetiba’s involvement in this success story would be worthy of note. But what casts this in an even brighter light is the fact of this being her very first feature film. The film itself exists as a testament to all that is special about Kemi; an expansive project that required such a wealth of skill that one might question how it is possible it was the creation of a first time feature filmmaker.

But this is no case of the chicken and the egg. This Kemi Adetiba existed long before The Wedding Party. Perhaps not in this exact form, but she had more than laid the foundations. So much so that, when the opportunity presented itself to spread her wings, she took to the skies with gusto.

She started as a kid. A privilege only a few get. Her father, Dele Adetiba remains a force to reckon with in the Nigerian media space. Kemi would accompany her father to his radio and television stops while he practised at one of the leading Advertising agencies in Nigeria, Lintas.

There were no surprises when young Kemi was in front of cameras, starring in television commercials for Omo which were aired nationwide.Although she has now chosen a life where she works her magic behind the cameras, there’s no doubt that her early start with cameras had something to do with a choice.

She, however, had a brief run in with the law, graduating law school before joining Silverbird’s Rhythm 93.7 as an On Air Personality. Here, Kemi shone by souling out at the seaside. She was the anchor of the two acclaimed shows, Soul’d Out and Sunday at the Seaside.

When she made her transition from Radio to TV, she did it in a fashion we now can call the Kemi way – totally and with heart. She started with MNet where she hosted Studio 53 and Temptation Nigeria alongside IK Osakioduwa. She also had stints with Soundcity where she hosted Lifestyle, Celebrity Profiles, Chat Room as well as a number of red carpet shows. Like all that would not have guaranteed her spot at the top, Kemi Adetiba went on to host the three seasons of the family dance show, Maltina Dance All.

From TV to proper live shows, Kemi has hosted the best of Nigerian events. She handled the Silverbird Entertainment 25th Anniversary Gala, the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Year-End Celebration show (alongside DTH founder, the great Arthur Michelle), the launch of HAUTE fashion magazine in New York, the 2008 Future Nigeria Awards, the 2009 Hip-Hop World Awards, and MADE Magazine’s “Celebrities on the Runway” show.

By 2007, Kemi was had done it all. Even won The Future Award for her work in radio. But she was certain she hadn’t reached her own height so she enrolled at the New York Film Academy to learn cinematography. This turned out to be the best gift she could give Nigerians.

She came back home after New York Film Academy and has shot nothing less than 10 amazing music videos. She worked on TY Bello’s deeply moving Ekundayo in 2008 and last year, with Sound Sultan on his very funny “Hello Baale”. That’s just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kemi’s directorial range.

Before those and before the Wedding Party, Kemi had directed the Hennessy Artistry video for  “Dance Go (Eau de Vie)”, Tiwa Savage’s My Darling, Niyola’s Toh Bad and Love to Love you, Olamide’s Sitting on the Throne and Anifowose. She’s worked with Banky W on no less than three of his best music videos including Follow You Go. For these, Kemi won several awards, never resting on her oars but continuing to challenge herself along the way.

It was inevitable she would catch my eye, not just for the quality of her work (which speaks for itself) but the nature of her career. She’d made a number of transitions, making each one look easier than the last, and conquering as much as anyone could, on her way. What I found even more noteworthy was how willing she was, at each step of the way, to leave at the height of the applause, risking it all on the conviction that there was something greater for her to accomplish. In her I recognized many of the same things that have kept me going throughout my career.

This spirit of bravery, the same thing that drove her to accept the task of directing The Wedding Party, is the very reason she got the offer to begin with. As someone who has, many times in my career, and everyday as I continue to take new strides on my journey, found myself with no choice but to rise to occasions many might have thought laughably daunting, I saw in Kemi kindred spirit. Any confirmation I needed was delivered when Kemi, ever the lion-heart, took on the job, despite how daunting it would undoubtedly have seemed to her. Kemi might have been thrown into the deep end, but boy did she swim.

The Wedding Party may be “Kemi Adetiba’s first directorial foray into feature films” but if her track record is anything to go by, we know that she has just carved out the big shoes for only her to fill.

Brave Women is’s citizenship series for the month of March. Find more stories in the series here.

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