It’s not enough to be famous. Not even to be (economically) successful. In fact, you don’t even need to be famous. This list is for those who are at the top of whatever game they have chosen to play in the culture – but who are also doing it with an originality of voice or action that makes them stand out. They stand in their truth, they don’t follow the crowd, and they are owning the culture. I want to admire them in public today.
Wizkid is brave in a way very few people are able to appreciate. That bravery often bleeds into cockiness, but civilization has always loved a little cockiness in its entertainment stars. And in every way, Wizkid is a star. For such a star, it is entirely possible to say the sound of this entire slice-of-an-era is defined by him. That’s why he can drop Joro, have it savaged, but then go on to have it suddenly sound like sheer genius. Or drop an entire EP without saying a word. Or to drive conversation after conversation with one tweet. He is not your mate.
If you had to place a bet on one entertainment mogul who is going to survive time’s test, I would advise you to place your bets nowhere else but Don Jazzy. Because he is not just a master creative, he is a master communicator and most importantly, a master chief executive. He will continue to survive the present hollowing out of record labels while simultaneously building a record label for the future. You must pay attention not just to what he has done with Rema, but also to what he is trying to do with Ladipoe and ignore those big Victoria Island offices; they are just the trunk of a tree buried deep into the ground. The things unseen are where the magic is.
Wurld, Tems, Lady Donli, Nonso Amadi, Santi
Some people will be upset that I have grouped these guys together, others that I will tar them with one gold brush as ‘alternative’ artistes. And I understand the anger, but their individual impact in the culture brings several branches to one big tree. That tree is that they have forced the Nigerian culture space to allow and respect alternative voices. It would have been a shame if they hadn’t succeeded in this mission. We didn’t know what we had lost until we found them.
Seni Saraki and Teezee
The founders of Native have built one of the most resonant culture brands in the past few years. Native’s voice – print magazine, digital magazine, event, merchandise – is so strong that it rings loud on its own without needing any crutches, and that’s really a remarkable thing to see in a disintermediated media space. They understood quickly, instinctively, how much music would drive the culture especially for Gen Z (even though, for some reason, they insist it’s a millennial audience) and quickly owned the space at the edge of the culture. It will be interesting to see where this journey takes them (and how they navigate curveballs like the scandal at the last Nativeland Concert will shape that journey).
Deola and Dare Art Alade
The Art-Alade’s transition from a music power couple to a 360-entertainment-mogul power couple is complete with the public celebration of their genius alongside Cardi B this year. Years of painstaking investment in building an entertainment company that delivers high-end concert experiences (one that sometimes led to excruciating financial sacrifices) have finally paid off. Dare’s brilliance finally gets the shine it deserves. And his wife’s savvy the prominence, foresight has earned her.
While people are busy writing Twitter threads about owning niches, creating verticals and building media ecosystems, the founder of Consolidated Media Associates (owners of Soundcity, Spice TV, Urban FM, and the entire world) has quietly been doing it – owning the hottest TV and radio property across the continent, spreading his arms across movies, music, religion, fashion, news and business and carving a front-space seat for himself in the emerging music-driven culture with Xchange. Mr. Adepetu is a legend, unacknowledged.
I am not a fan of Mr. Nouah’s acting – in fact, despite being a Nollywood Stan, sometimes I react very vehemently to it– but you cannot disrespect the consistency and ambition, especially when it leads him to pioneer something truly significant in this space, remakes of legendary movies. Living in Bondage: Breaking Free achieved many things at the same time, blending old and new, winning the approval of Nollywood cynics, breaking the box office, and creating a new slate of stars. If he keeps doing these interesting projects, at the same time as he extends his acting range, we will never stop calling his name.
Genevieve Nnaji and Chinny Onwugbenu
This creative duo (one a front of seat legend, the other a backstage force) has already shown us, with a slew of national and international movies, what long term vision truly looks like. And it’s not a cliché to say they haven’t even started. The material they have secured rights to, and the conversations that players in the industry are aware of all behind the scenes, make it almost inevitable that they will be flying the global flag for Nollywood for a long time to come.
Isn’t this like the 15th year that the Flytime Production’s chief executive is hosting a music festival that continues to be a leader in its industry year-in and year-out? And didn’t he just transform seamlessly from a day’s concert to an authentic music festival without missing a heartbeat? Give him his respect for what The Flytime Festival this year has become.
It is not easy to have the kind of madness that Timi has. It’s the kind of madness that enables you to ignore what everybody else is doing and focus maniacally on your own path, refusing to tone it down, water it down, dumb it down, or anything it down. Just focused on what you believe to be your gift and your unique space without looking left or right. That consistency has paid off with his Virgin signing this year, his Emile Sande collaboration and a future that looks blindingly bright.
You didn’t know him from a decade of co-building West Africa’s most powerful television conglomerate alongside the visionary Tajudeen Adepetu. And you didn’t know him from his work as director of the live shows at Big Brother Naija. But it doesn’t matter. He is doing the work. He is backstage of the culture. And he will continue to do important work.
Ebuka Obi-Uchendu is the most valuable television talent in the country today, and I don’t just say it ‘cause he hosts our show, Rubbin’ Minds. It is just so. He puts in the work – effortlessly blending the mundane and the sublime, and understanding how a brand that can both speak up and down the culture can make a person one of the most compelling media brands the country can speak of at present. His break-the-internet fashion statements are only icing on the cake.
There is something about Cuppy that is all love and light, and in the truest, non-performative way. What is it about this woman that has made her so emotionally resilient that she is Teflon to criticism, without being bitter, strung out, or discouraged? It is the reason she has parlayed snide comments about her talent (however legitimate) into a tour de force presence in the culture that means she will be around – if not for a very long time, then for a good while.
With those steady credits as associate producer and assistant director on many of the important film projects this year, Isioma has finally come into her own (even though I believe that particular compliment may be at least a year or two old). With it has come a pearl of wisdom that she liberally shares on her social platforms. Young made-in-Nigeria creatives should pay heed to the insights she shares.
Wasn’t it Zlatan that gave us Gbe body e? And wasn’t it Zlatan that gave us Leg work? And isn’t his the voice that granted us Yeye Boyfriend and Bolanle? You know you have to wonder at the mix of the streets and creativity that gives us the magic these guys bring? It’s truly a thing of beauty.
First, you need to know that I am a Marlian. And because I am a Marlian, I am the kind of person that would say to you that he is innocent until proven guilty (because he is, even though for those we don’t like, we are unlikely to offer that same cover) of whatever the EFCC claims. But how can you not find it incredibly sexy the confidence, the fearless, the gumption of those force of nature? Marley is one of the originals.
Tola has been running things in this industry for years, including the very first edition of Big Brother Nigeria, as well as being one of the hands behind Storm at its height, churning hits from Darey, Sasha, Ikechukwu, Naeto C, and Nneka. But then, if you look behind the scenes today, you would most likely know him as the man behind RED TV’s first authentic hit, Men’s Club and now Assistant Madam – this, even more impressively, after The Island didn’t quite work out. Then there is his hot new restaurant, Atmosphere that’s actually pretty made-for-Instagram stunning. Whatever Tola spent the past half-decade learning and mixing as he shuttled Nigeria and the United States, the results have been well worth the wait.
Corporates are now by far the biggest investors in culture, and that’s a very significant development that many people aren’t paying attention to. It’s also both risky and visionary. Or actually, it is visionary because it’s risky. Access Bank took that risk firmly after Herbert Wigwe took over the reins, and is reaping the benefits of understanding how central the culture would be to a country in this decade and the next one to come. But it’s the uniqueness of the vision that sets him apart, and makes this authentic. Others choose the low hanging fruit of entertainment, he goes beyond that, embracing and enabling art in the most significant way – captured with the single campaign theme ‘More.’ Between award-winning talent, a playing ground for Kemi Adetiba to experiment with genius, and groundbreaking investment in creators (without needing to own the creation), you can legitimately call him and the bank he leads patron of the culture.
How do you come back like a boss? The way ‘Funmi Iyanda did. There’s a lot of back story that I have access to but can’t share, but that backstory makes this comeback, such as it is, even more compelling, even more inspiring, even more breathtaking. Of course, it helps if you never left. Yes, ‘Funmi left TV as we know it, and yes new material didn’t quite catch fire. But all of that doesn’t matter because magic can’t be limited by content or platform. Her magic shone so incandescently from the work she did over a decade and a half ago, that she continued to fascinate the culture for years: a generation that didn’t catch her on TV able to know she is a legend, even if they didn’t know why. Well, they are in luck. She is back with a film, a media company, and genre-bending offerings. I can now exhale.
Olumide is one of my best friends (or, as others will say it ‘full disclosure’), but I still hold him in awe, and not just because he gives the best darn advice in the universe. It’s because he is lethally effective as a human being and as a leader, without making any effort to take the glory. Well, it is his to take. Whenever the history of how LGBTQ stories actually penetrated the Nigerian cultural consciousness is told, credit will have to be given to the lone visionary who figured it out before anyone did – this man. And he has churned talk show, short film, series, and media content that ensures no one will ever pretend gay people and other sexual minorities don’t exist. Walking With Shadows, the movie with ‘Funmi Iyanda that wowed film festivals in the UK and Nigeria this year, is just the beginning of a ramped-up mission.
If you see everyone (well, not everyone, but you get the picture) investing in online television, know that it is because of Jade Osiberu. After leaving our magazine Y! (we can claim no credit for anything; she was born with that brilliance) to go start up Ndani TV, she took nothing and made it a cultural phenomenon. She hasn’t yet gotten the credit she is due for that. For taking talent no one would have banked on – Ayoola Ayobali, Etim Effiong, Deyemi Okanlawon, Abimbola Craig, Sharon Ooja – and making them stars. Gidi Up is still the origin story of well made online series in Nigeria. But Jade is still writing her story – with a distinctive aesthetic clear in the incredibly well made Isoken, and now Sugar Rush. No one has yet done a story calling Jade ‘Nigeria’s Shonda Rhimes.’ She will hate it when it is done because she is Nigeria’s Jade Osiberu. But it’s a story worth writing.
The things Fu’ad is doing and trying to do at Zikoko.com are the stuff of a storyteller’s dreams. I tease him often that he is wasting his time, but perhaps only because I wish we were doing it together. His experiments with telling authentic Nigerian and African stories that immerse him in the culture and lifestyles of a people who don’t look at themselves enough in a mirror crystallised with Jollof Road this year, but there are other small experiments that deserve praise, and that deserve attention. May the force be with him.
He created TechCabal from nothing and made it for more than half a decade yet the most influential tech journalism platform in the country (still leading after half a decade), and one of the first few niche successes in. Nigeria’s media space. Then he co-created Zikoko and confirmed what I already discovered from those three weeks we spent co-reporting #OccupyNigeria in 2012: this young man is a storytelling and brand building genius. Those two brands turned out to be so resilient, not even a financial crisis could stop them. Now, it appears that Bankole is still in the creative wilderness he literally embarked upon a few years ago when his company Big Cabal Media took a break, but he has done enough for the culture – and he still has yet more to deliver.
I cried during Moremi The Musical at the beginning of this year, because how can you not be brought to tears by the sheer beauty of it? The woman they call BAP has always been a gift to the culture with a focus on stage with Terra Kulture, but when she took a dip by herself with producing and directing, she really brought it home. And to watch her in action as I was lucky to do during rehearsals for her latest Man Enough was to watch a person who is deeply enthralled by cultural products everywhere – music, slang, dance moves, trends. BAP loves the culture, she gets it, and she wants to direct it. Now that she has conquered brick and mortar (Terra Kulture) stage (Waka, Saro, Fela, etc) and screen (Bling Lagosians, which I utterly loved), it’s safe to bet she won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Whenever you succeed, you want it to be like Burna Boy’s. You what it to be that everyone left you for dead, you had enemies and ‘haters’ strewn all over the place, and there was no precedent for recovery. And yet. You clawed and pulled your way back up, with the same powerful voice and by being truly and fully yourself without toning down or dumbing down for anyone. And then you won. And you won in the most dramatic space possible – the global stage. Just as you are. The world bowed at your feet. To call you king, even though more than once you stared the world down.
I doubt that I have seen an Ozzy Etomi tweet that I agree with, but since when has that ever truly mattered in the world? What matters is that a person finds their voice and uses it in the way they consider to be most important. And the ability to keep going even when a plurality of people have turned you into a living, breathing totem of everything they believe in the world is especially courageous. If you don’t pay attention to Twitter, none of this will matter to you. Yet. Well, as long as you are aware that the next generation of intellectual leaders are crystallising their opinions and worldviews in the glass bowl called Twitter.
There’s an entire generation of young people who are unaware of what makes Elumelu a legend. He knows this, but he doesn’t mind. Instead, he wants to understand them, and he wants them to connect him. That is how he has become a figure of admiration in the imaginations of young people across the country by a close involvement and fascination with the leading lights of the culture. So that’s him on a yacht with Banky W and others. That’s him deep in conversation with Adebola Williams at a movie premiere. That’s him clubbing with Wizkid just by the bar. And then that’s him comparing luxury watches with Zlatan – who he invites to perform to about two dozen staff of Heirs Holdings, his investment network while adoring millennials hail him organically on Instagram Live. And that’s how a billionaire international businessman who spends half of the day everywhere from China to Davos, also ensures that his dominance spills over to a new generation. Take notes, guys.
To see Iya Rainbow melt your heart with spunk and tears doled out in equal measure in Sugar Rush is to witness the magic that has made her an everlasting talent in Yoruba movies for enough decades to build a nation. She belongs to the last set of the legendary Herbert Ogunde cast, and at 77 she has that magical aura of a person who never left the stage. So of course now you see her seizing your attention with once-in-a-generation skill every day on that Airtel ads. But the real skill that she has is to remain on top of the culture, wherever it chooses to go.
Doesn’t Mike Adenuga fascinate you? He certainly fascinates me. He has always fascinated me since he introduced brand ambassadors to the Nigerian consumer space with an intensity no one else had envisioned before then. And it wasn’t just that he introduced it – it was the kind of brand ambassadors he introduced. He dug deep into the culture and emerged with a breadth of authentic movers spanning from Lagbaja to Sunny Ade, Wole Soyinka to Richard Mofe-Damijo. Then there is the French Cultural Centre that he just built, and that has quickly become a cultural touchstone. It’s chicken change for him sure, but when has that fact ever stopped our billionaires from ignoring what matters? Adenuga gets something deep within his soul.
There is no clear profit-driven reason why Access Bank would focus so keenly, resolutely on sustainability, almost as a religion. But then here we are. The bank is strong in local and international conversations about how to save the planet, about the future of humanity and about how the actions we take in community can have a long term effect. The woman behind that, in a company buzzing with visionary leaders across its consumer-touching points, is Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan. Irritated by frivolity, unnervingly straight to the point and clear about why she is doing what she is doing, she might just be the woman who forces Nigeria to pay attention to its long term future. And she is clearing a path that her bank will reap from when the future shows up – because sustainability will be the standard within which everyone’s corporate activities will be judged, in a matter of time.
“You’re going to be a star Temisan, don’t worry.” I can’t remember how many times I had this conversation with a person I was certain was destined only for front rows and blinding lights. Alas, it appears that the brightest lights are most incapable of seeing themselves. Because how could he not have known that he was born for this? How could he be surprised that #TeaWithTay, a powerful social-driven media product founded on Instagram but destined to go beyond it, would become a sensation that would launch him into the orbits? Temisan is endlessly interesting, and when you realise he is barely 23, then you understand that this tape has just begun to play.
Kemi was the queen of the ball in her first act – when she hosted Nigeria’s biggest shows on TV and radio. Then she took a break and went behind the scenes (when she had the opportunity to stay in front of it with King Women, she had the courage to choose differently), and even there she has become again the queen of the ball. We aren’t even worthy. King of Boys was a smashing success – one that she took great risk to present in spite of the rules she deliberately broke, as she chose to listen to her instincts far above the snickering of a film-making elite. The awards, the commissions and the big deals this auteur has just signed are all the conviction that she needs that she has always been right.
We live in interesting times when corporate brands drive the culture, yes, but anyone can follow a trend. What about those who buck them? The head of corporate communication at Union Bank is doing exactly that. Everyone has faced entertainment squarely, but she understands that culture goes beyond entertainment; it’s about what moves people. And so she has gently but firmly directed her bank in another different direction – issues that matter. Everything from the viral Andrew TV ad to edu360 shows that she is driven by conviction. Vibrant cultural spaces require diversity, and funding for that diversity. Thank God for Ogo.
Just because her magic from the very first day she burst into the stage at The Experience is the same magic today, and it hasn’t dimmed one beat. And she is a reminder that anything is possible, even in a space that often rewards only a certain type of person. Chioma Jesus is the avatar of a gospel music-driven culture that remains ascendant.
Doesn’t the entire gospel music space in Nigeria resolve around Nathaniel? Probably not. But it sure feels like it. He is the real deal, that gospel act that follows all the things you would except – a distaste for financial conversation, a disinterest in acclaim, and consistency of inspiration. A man who looks in constant communion with spirit, he is a deeply compelling character.
He apparently figured it out at the same time that global business leaders did: that businesses were transforming, that consumer interaction with finance products was evolving and that the meaning of certain businesses – for instance ‘bank’ – would be changing irretrievably. And he set about disrupting his own business without making too big a deal about it. The food festivals, fashion festivals, and technological breakthroughs that his brand has stood at the front of are evidence of that revolutionary thinking. And they are transforming the way the entire culture, and with it whole industries – media, food, fashion – functions.
You respect Lala, I know. But you are respecting her acting talent. Which is fine. It’s just that her acting talent is not the thing you should be respecting at this point. It is but a very minute part of a big story. And that story is about Lala the stage producer and director – including lately of The Wives, and now of Ada The Musical. You should also be respecting Lala the casting director and associate producer, who this year alone delivered the magic of several movies including The Ghost and the House of Truth and 4th Republic. Is there anything Lala cannot do?
Whoever is behind Instablogja
Because you think that thing is gossip, but it is not gossip, it is master curation. You might even miss the point and call it news, but it is not news, it is creative direction. This platform may not be here for a long time, but that won’t matter at the end of the day, would it? Great comets matter precisely because of the intensity that comes with brevity. And while we are able to witness their mystic, they fascinate us to no end.
Because how can she not be here? Have you seen Ebonylife Place? Whenever you think she has gotten boring, she moves on to the next level and continues to pioneer in the Nigerian film and media space. Mo is an artist, and her business is her canvas. She is the belle of this ball, and you can see her having a blast, even as she is incredibly hard at work.
The guy who brought Amber Rose to Nigeria a few years ago, and is reliable for bringing the most exotic play experiences to the rich and famous in Nigeria was also (financially) responsible for the most significant film experience we had this year: Living in Bondage. Go figure. The chief executive of Play Network is a complex figure, but his complexity always bends towards value. And you know he just bought the rights to that other old-school blockbuster Glamour Girls, right? I am liking him very much.
It’s the stuff of dreams, yes. A young boy who grew up in Ikorodu and went to school at the University of Lagos became the most sought after photographer from Nigeria, working for everyone from Vogue to the New York Times. And if you’d known Stephen from even when he didn’t know this could happen, you wouldn’t be surprised at what compels the world to come to him. He owns himself fully and truly. He has always be unafraid of the unexplored, and unashamed to be different. That rawness pours forth from his aesthetic, and his invasion of the posh and the premium with vehemence from the streets is delicious. Delicious, I tell you.
If you pay attention to Nollywood gossip, you know there has been a bit of drama around Mrs. Stephen this year. Who cares? Who cares when you make the kind of soulful fare that bears her name as producer or director. I was introduced to her this year with the movie Joba. And then I began to look for her everywhere. Then I saw Glimpse, where she took very little resources, but a fantastic theme added to it the phenomenal acting of Bisola Aiyeola and a host of others you don’t really know and delivered stardust. If you like the simple and the powerful, you will love her.
I doubt he (I have seen his pronouns as both ‘he’ and ‘they’; so for purposes of simplicity, I will use the former since I am not sure how he prefers to be addressed) knows it. But he appears to pay careful attention to symbols and meanings and so he probably does. February is an emblem for the generation whose stories he tells. A poet and a fiction writer with the right mix of appeal and complexity, he has taken control of his own personal narrative – student of psychology, person who is on the bipolar spectrum, non-binary – wielding it as axe to disentangle the branches of a complex world, and at the time build a career for himself. Beneath what looks like quiet and nervousness is a roaring mind that looms large and wide across topics, and planes, and locations. February is going to be a huge star. I think that one he certainly knows.
From public servant to Twitter’s most influential non-entertainment voice, that’s how Joe Abah has taken charge of his own narrative and made himself a force not to be ignored. To watch him take on fans and foes is to watch a performance of gravitas, with a little drama to boot. Whatever you think of that performance, he is doing all of us a great service by giving us insight into how the corridors of power work. And it helps that he is always on the right side of history.
There is nothing not to like about Joeboy. He is talented. He is personable. He pays attention. And his entire career is like a slow-burning fire that’s only going to keep growing. And he is lucky that he is easy to ignore. That means he can hone his craft far away from prying eyes – doing substance when others are doing noise, and showing up at the exact moment that you can’t see him coming.
Hit after hit after hit – that’s what this singer and songwriter has been offering, effectively blending soul and that thing that ‘oyinbo’ people have taken to calling afro-pop and weaving it into a difficult-to-define sound that has made him a star. And he wears stardom efficiently. And he continues to churn out hits. And he is going to be a superstar, as far as anyone can tell.
Of course. I resisted the appeal of this talent for a long time because, before I could hear one sound, everyone close to me was raving about him. I resisted for many months, insisting I couldn’t see what everyone was so excited about. And then I had to give in, of course, because Dumebi might have been the introduction, but Corny is where the evidence of skill lies, and by the time he arrived at Lady and Bad Commando? Lord have mercy. Don Jazzy has eyes and eyes abeg.
Another one on whom arrogance looks good, no? Also because it looks like a performed arrogance, not an actual one. Whatever it is, he has the goods to show for it. I don’t know how long this act will last on the stage, but the rapper has earned his turn.
When 7 acts leave your label in quick succession, it can feel like you have lost your shtick, whatever it was. Especially when it seems to come after your big filling-the-stadium project didn’t quite pan out. But whatever skill Olamide has, it clearly runs deep – deep enough to continue to churn out hits this year, and to find other artistes that are wide enough to cover up the gaps the others left behind. It’s no mean feat. You say this hasn’t been his year? Whatever. He will be back.
I almost couldn’t wait to get to this point. Bisola is such a talent. Such a once in a generation talent. Music, movies, television, and life. She is a star in the deepest sense of the word, and every creative thing she touches turns to gold. She shone in a big project like Bling Lagosians and shone in a small project like Glimpse. She glides across the culture, assured but grounded, in a way that calls to mind the Jennifer Hudson we fell in love with. An have you seen her in Sugar Rush? Kai. She will exist forever.
The Dame arrived this year with her first feature film role. Bow down, bitches. She owned it, she seized it by the throat, she dragged it about, and then she killed it, Killed it. One of the most unforgettable roles of the year. She climbed on it as if she has been waiting for it. And she delivered. So now welcome, you strangers, to what many of us who have been watching her for years already knew: she’s brilliant! Please give her more roles. Allow her dance. Her full, joyous dance of glory.
Yes I know she hasn’t done that much this year, save for Gold Statute, in which she was brilliant (even though the film establishment insists she ‘screams’ too much – as if it matters), but Sola Sobowale is a stemwinder of a talent, and even the relative silence of the past few months can’t contain that range of talent. So she stands in my imagination, and ours, for as long as she exists.
What makes Broda Shaggi stand out is his consistency: the disciplined generation of compelling content. He has a rhythm and a cadence that prizes delivery over anything else, and it’s that amount of creative output that makes his talent truly indispensable. His skillful connection of Instagram to YouTube is creating a value chain that many are not paying close attention to. His crossover from social media star to acting, I think, was also completed this year. And he is actually very funny.
Whatever else is happening with other acts, Falz doesn’t care. He dances to his own beat. Releases albums when others aren’t, invests in videos when most are skimping, and is doing social consciousness at a time when many don’t even know what it means. The result is relevance that hasn’t wilted, even if it hasn’t exactly expanded.
Johnny Drille is just right there doing his thing. He goes beyond categories, and labels and boxes, just trying to do something that’s not immediately clear to the eye, but I think is going to pay off. His concerts in at least three states of the country, for instance, are a clear statement that he isn’t going anyway. And his music continues to compel attention, even if it isn’t your usual fare.
When Bankulli tells you the story of how he turned out in three of the songs in Beyonce’s Grammy-nominated The Gift you will keel over in laughter and awe. Not just because it’s a miracle. But also because he is a damn good storyteller. And years of enabling talents across Nigeria with an international flywheel are finally delivering deserved dividends. His cross-continental moves are sure to deliver even more miracles.
All the time I was watching Merry Men 2, all I was thinking about was ‘Was this young man not supposed to be finished after the entire scandal with the United Nations that he never answered satisfactorily?’ Well, he survived. And he is thriving. With his deep industry contacts still strong, and a prominent turn in two of the year’s Christmas blockbusters, the aforementioned and Sugar Rush. It will be interesting to see how it all goes.
D’banj just refuses to go down. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t deliver hits, or if in fact he keeps delivering hits (I like many of his new songs) but you just aren’t acknowledging them. He just keeps moving, just keeps creating, just keeps delivering. It’s impressive to watch. And inspiring to boot. Out of all that relentlessness, something is almost certain to jump out. And then everyone will be surprised. But he won’t be. Because he has been putting in the work.
The stunt she apparently pulled on top the entire Tacha drama at Big Brother Naija was disappointing for me, especially for a woman whose brand appeared to me to be about being authentic. But still, she is a compelling character – this merchant of sex toys who excites her base through a delicate performance of irreverence and business savvy. I am here for it any day.
She is more known for her marriage than her for her acting. For some people that may feel like a burn, but it isn’t. Marriage is as much an important part of living as a career. One can choose both, either or the other, or pay more attention to one or the other. In this case, she is paying attention to both. Behind that across-generations marriage is a behind-the-scenes desire to build a sprawling TV and film empire that those in the know are intrigued by. I don’t know how that’s going to go, but I know she has enough fearlessness to make it one hell of a ride.
Teni the Entertainer
As a full-time Teni fan, I won’t lie, I have been underwhelmed by her career this year. But it’s no fault of hers, I guess. It’s more a function of my expectations. Teni’s talent is so big Nigeria should not be enough to contain it. The world should be lying flat at her feet. But we will take what we get (and what we get is a lot, make no mistake; she remains a huge success) – a continued relevance, a churning of hits, and an unending hunger from the audience for what she has to offer.
When I ask: What makes Kwam 1 such a relevant force every day still? people jump to give answers. And their answers are sadly too blithe and based on too many surface assumptions. As far as I am concerned, the questions remain unanswered. Yes, he is incredibly hardworking. Of course, he is a skilled entertainer. He runs a disciplined business. And he, at least for the first two decades of his career, understood the power of re-invention. But this level of relevance after so many decades, in a day to day way rather than a times-and-seasons cycle, is truly impressive. It is not to be taken for granted at all.
Because neither her photos nor her music ever get old. Her photography continues to be a gold standard, and her music continues to present new forms to a social audience. It’s frankly remarkable how many years TY has remained at the top of her game. And all without looking like she is making any effort.
Someone should inform Nigerians that the more they try to silence the voices of people who are screaming for equality, the bolder the voices become. And they don’t come bolder and louder than Vincent Demond, a 20-year-old who is relentlessly focused on the stories he chooses to tell – about difference, about minorities, about identity. Openly and visibly queer in Nigeria means he deals with a homophobia that must be horrendous, but he continues to write, and he continue to speak. His online platform Dear Queers is absorbing to watch. Yes, it is easier now for minorities to find voice in a global media landscape, but the social price he must pay for that while living in Nigeria can be no small thing. I am impressed.
We use the word ‘enigma’ for too many people in too many ways that it’s one of those things that have lost their meaning. But not with Toke. Toke is truly enigmatic. The amount of pushback and blowback she has received just for choosing not to fit within the boxes of a conservative audience, and that she has both ignored and survived, shows what exactly she is made of. That is apart from the fact that she continues to meet her responsibilities to her primary employer, Rhythm FM – a kind of discipline you don’t buy in the market. She looks like she is living her best life. And since that is the brand she has chosen to build, she must be having a blast. (The producers of Sugar Rush and Love is War, who gave her roles to fit, certainly agree).
One year ago, if you asked anyone to recommend the brightest young journalist on the scene, they would uniformly respond with Aisha’s name. At some point, it actually became a little grating. But such was the power and quality of her work over a very short period of time. It was inevitable that her career would continue to go up – and soon she had moved from the niche finance site she was tending to CNN where the important stories she has a nose for can now find an African and perhaps global audience.
Richard was already pushing the boundaries of the culture through ANastyBoy.com before he left the country and started a new life in the United States of America. A few people knew the story of why he left, but not a lot of people had the full detail until he wrote the haunting piece of the New York Times that told of the abuse he suffered in Nigeria for being gay, and how he had to run for dear life. If he is going to keep telling these kinds of important stories, then more power to his hands.
The board of Punch Newspapers
It was just a week before that I was asking the management team at one of our companies why they thought Punch Newspapers continued to be deeply relevant over the years without doing any more than its primary newspaper journalism – no events, no special pullouts, no video (yet), no jostling for trade union positions. And then what happened? They released the scathing editorial that had the country cheering and cut Muhammadu Buhari down to size. It was exactly what makes them so indispensable. A clear, bold, uncorrupted, unquestioned voice. And just like that, another generation, and the culture, was reintroduced to Punch.
Joey was never to let anyone silence his voice. Not since he began to speak, loudly and insistently, on the pages of Pulse’s Music section. And he began to aggressively deploy both that platform and social media to drive his sharp opinion. It wasn’t going to be long before someone heard, and more than one person has heard – at the last count, Fader, CNN and the New York Times. He is on a roll.
It’s okay to praise the loud and the boisterous. But then the quiet and steady are no less bold for their sure steps. I first came across the writing of a young intern called Samson Toromade about three years ago. I was immediately certain that this one was going far. And three years after, he is the Editor of Operations for Pulse in Nigeria, a stunning rise for a 20-something-year-old who didn’t even live in Lagos or have any experience in the media less than a decade ago. Yet, he is now responsible for the voice and tone of one of the most powerful online media platforms in the country. The world has really changed, people. Pay attention to those young people on the ground floor of your office. They are hiding a massive groundswell of possibilities.
When this platform began to commission Eromo’s long reads more than five years ago, it was like finding a diamond in the rough. The kind that people don’t often notice when they look. But it was always apparent – this was a journalist who was ready to go to the ends of the earth to find a story. He was hungry for the most challenging, most difficult, most groundbreaking stories. The kinds that make a difference. It has served him well in a career where he has broken, investigated and told some of the most striking stories from Nigeria to an international audience. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Eromo is the most commissioned international writer from Nigeria today. And with his documentary on Jesse released this year, it is obvious his hunger isn’t near satiated.
What Wale is trying to do has been done before, with perhaps more range and more financial muscle than his online magazine, The Republic has deployed so far. Farafina has explored that milieu, taking the time to invest in deep cultural investigations into the Nigerian and Nigerian experience. Which doesn’t say anything about the quality and depth of the work that Wale is trying to do. But Farafina – which was a gorgeous gift to the culture – eventually had to fold up. So that makes the challenge of Wale’s ambition apparent. You should check out the site. It is well-curated journalism. It needs all the goodwill possible.
While you weren’t watching, BusinessDay moved from a newspaper to a full business platform, offering research, events, recognition, data, and journalism to a data-starved business community. It’s a truly remarkable vision that its publisher has laid out and is now pursuing. It is a model many others are considering, especially online with niche communities. But his, is paying off. These new online publishers probably will pay more attention to established tech companies than they would to media companies. That’s a mistake. BusinessDay is the model.
Whatever is in the water at Noah’s Ark, Nigerians approve. Its series of short films (they are not, in fact, ads) for the Airtel brand have captured the attention of the Nigerian viewing public via storytelling intensity and made advertising sexy in the public imagination again. More importantly, it can lay credit to the rapid number of new subscribers Airtel has been gaining, to lead the market in the past year. That’s very impressive.
The Ake Festival has become a safe space for a community of literary, art and ‘woke’ people, who often feel like they are screaming into the dark. This is not an exaggeration. For many of them, the one-week conversation is cathartic: they are in a place where they are understood, accepted and fully connected. Considering that these are the people who finesse the edges of any civilization, it’s crucial that such a space is held open. And Lola Shoneyin has delivered year on year. Conjoined with her Ouida Books, and the Kaduna Book and Art Festival, Shoneyin has become indispensable.
RED TV was rudderless until Bola Atta returned to Nigeria, even though there was always the seed of greatness. But she seized it with gusto, steadily transforming it from an evident corporate vehicle into a pop-cultural force, laser-focused on young people and able to finally compete. It has now become an entire ecosystem – tech, events, and media. It is of course not surprising considering she once ran the culture with the most powerful magazine brand in the country – True Love West Africa. Her bank has a lot to be thankful to her for, as does the culture, not least of which are the consumers of the premium content given absolutely for free.
It can look like Landmark Lagos came ‘out of nowhere’, but that would be a significant misreading of this 23-year old business that now lies across 5 African countries. The sprawling Landmark Lagos has become a center space for the culture’s many manifestations, from its event center second only to the Eko Convention Center, its character-driven restaurants, its newly opened cinema that already hosts Afriff, and that gorgeous beach that finally figured out how to do what the Lagos government has been unable to do for years. The Landmark landscape is truly breathtaking. Lagos should be grateful.
Upon becoming managing director of Sterling Bank, it appears that Suleiman, leveraging his deep expertise in storytelling, decided that this bank could leapfrog over others with deeper pockets and wider stashes by using a media-first strategy. It was also a scrappy strategy that made up for what it lacked in market share with a lot of voice share. That strategy looks to be a success and also dictates the bank’s off-kilter sponsorships – including the Ake Festival and the EatDrinkLagos Festival. His clarity of purpose is a win for the culture.
Akinyemi Sebastian Akinropo
I don’t know who this storyteller is, but I am silently grieved that he didn’t get his due – especially for a movie that spent weeks in the cinema without any extensive media campaign, and without being associated with any big names. The one word with which to describe Coming from Insanity is ‘audacious’ – Akinropo goes to places and pushes boundaries we haven’t seen pushed in Nigerian films. And he builds complex characters – minor and major –with an expert hand. I can’t wait to see what he does next. For a first film, this was one of 2019’s best.
His star turns in Gold Statue and Coming from Insanity is worthy of a lot of praise and a lot of attention. But there is something about Afolayan’s work that somehow doesn’t get the credit it deserves even though everyone agrees its brilliant. We have to find a way to sort that out.
You should go to YouTube now and watch Tayo Aina videos. Like, actually, right now. I discovered him through a Falz video and paid attention to the vibe. He has since become one of the most interesting YouTubers capturing the skylines and streets of Lagos. He has also begun to venture more actively outside of Lagos – with images from Abuja, Kigali, and Nairobi. He is absolutely worth a look.
When a person signs up Mercy Chinwo and JudiKay, you know for certain he is going to be a force to reckon with in gospel culture. Or at least he has an eye for what matters. There is a distinct sound the label is curating. I am excited to see where they go next.
Last year was her coming out party, out of the Yoruba section into the mainstream culture, and I wondered if it was a fluke or if she was going to be a mainstay. It has turned out to be the latter. And we are just as excited about her today as those who have known about her for years have always been.
Quite simply the most exciting musical talent to come out of Christian pop culture since Nathaniel Bassey. ‘Dunsin Oyekan’s time finally came this year. He is an incredible worship leader, with a depth of soul. He deserves his turn under the sun.
Simply because of the work she did on The Ghost and the House of Truth – perhaps 2019’s finest Nigerian film – Ego Boyo deserves to be on this list. I hope she continues to push the envelope with projects like this. There is a minority of filmgoers, like me, for whom that is life.
Niyi’s visions are big. Huge. They show in the fact that he had two different types of hits this year – The Set Up, which was a big pop culture celebration of the biggest names, and Elevator Baby, where he stepped out of the way to light the candle of a brilliant new directing hand, Akay Mason. Then there is his steady building of capacity with animation – clearly a medium to long term vision that when (if) it takes off, will most likely make him master of the universe.
Elevator Baby is a masterpiece. I was very unwilling to see it for a number of reasons, but am incredibly glad I did. What this director managed to do with the quartet of Toyin Abraham, Timini Egbuson, Shaffy Bello and Broda Shaggi within the significant constraints of space and time, with what is apparently a small budget is the stuff of budding genius. This is an exciting new voice. I can’t wait to see more from him.
There is no role that has ever been given to Toyin Abraham in this life that she has not killed. That woman is an entire country of talent. And everything she touches turns to gold. I am very enthused about her and happy that she has returned back to work after a break to focus on her beautiful family; happiness that she richly deserves.
He is the best interviewer of politicians and government officials that we know on Nigerian TV today, and it’s not an easy talent to have; especially to gain the respect and confidence of that set. Seun handles them with flair, and he looks like he is having a blast while at it. Here’s to more spectacular interviews in the new year.
Victor has always been very interesting, and his mind has always worked in a million ways, none of them right here in the present – always playing in the future. The series, E.V.E was on AfricaMagic last year, but was re-run this year, and is hands down one of the best series I have seen anywhere in the Nigerian space in the past few years – complicated, nuanced and masterfully directed. It’s a tragedy more people didn’t see it, and I hope it doesn’t discourage him from trying on more of these complex experiments.
You don’t notice how good Helen Paul is because she is a comedian, and so she has to do a lot of slapstick to make money. But if you really look deeply at her acting, and not just in Bling Lagosians, you understand that there is a rare skill in her craft that doesn’t come from winging it. It comes from a deep understanding of the place and space of an actor – on stage and on screen. The fact that she completed her Ph.D. this year shows that she is taking all of this more seriously than we know. I hope she continues to soar.
4th Republic was a very impressive showcase for what Ishaya can do when he is left alone to do what he wants, and when he is able to find some resources to make it happen. This one was an important exploration of the Nigerian political space that should actually be a masterclass for those trying to understand how it works. Ishaya should take marketing his movies seriously next time. This kind of story shouldn’t have been lost in the din.
Kunle ‘Nodash’ Adejuyigbe
Nodash is a steady Director of Photography with a presence in some of the biggest blockbusters over the past few years. And the one thing to know about him is that he delivers. But that obscures the depth of his own ambitions and visions for storytelling in Nigeria. He finally showed how deep those waters run with The Delivery Boy this year. The universe responded with awards everywhere, making up for a shortfall in box office takings and ensuring he will keep producing fantastic work far into the future.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A certain someone came out a few years ago to try and shame Chimamnanda for supposedly calling him ‘my boy’. Well, I did say at the time and would like to repeat now that Chimamanda can call me ‘my boy’ anytime and anytime. Because she inspires the hell out of me. It’s almost like when you think she has hit the height of the acclaim possible, she moves to yet another plane, and then another one. And all of this without dimming her light for anyone for any reason. And still being as human as she ever was. Colour me Stan.
After many years of the most authoritative movie reviews on this site, this year was Wilfred’s coming out party, when the world began to recognize. Considering that I know many filmmakers who may pretend to ignore his stinging analysis but who have actually taken his feedback into heart and improved on their craft, you have to have to say his influence is being felt in this industry.
I read a deeply involved essay on The Republic a while ago about capitalism (I was actually two years late) and began to research what unknown writer had delivered this gem as I had never heard of him. But it should have been obvious that such a well-practiced voice could not possibly belong to a rookie. For good measure, consider that Ehirim’s debut novel The Prince of Monkeys was reviewed by the New York Times this year. To make things more interesting, the 27-year-old has an MBA grad, spends his free time as an investor, and has co-founded a renewable energy start-up. It’s the kind of profile that promises an interesting life.
That’s it. A twitter handle. We don’t know from whence he comes, and can only make guesses as to who he is (he identifies as male, or at least doesn’t disabuse notions that he is) or what his motivations might be. But he wields a voice so powerful on Twitter that he has triggered several trending topics (one of those involve a Twitter exchange with me about 5 years ago that I still stand by, but that also proves the power of his voice). It doesn’t matter that his influence is limited to that one platform. It is more than enough for the moment.
Hell hath no fury than ‘Fisayo unleashed. Already an impressive investigation journalist even on his worst days, now that he isn’t tied down to anyone establishment (post-ICIR, post The Cable, post-Sahara Reporters), ‘Fisayo is freed to pursue the stories that are dear to his intrepid mind. And the Nigerian prisons surely discovered that this year, in ways that they are yet to recover from. They tried to silence him. They will always fail.
Steadily, quietly, consistently, Morayo has built the most-watched and most influential TV talk show in the country. If you want to drive any conversation easily and quickly, just show up on Your View, and the next day the entire nation is likely to be talking about it. That’s no small power for a show that doesn’t make a lot of noise on behalf of itself. Morayo built this.
You don’t know Andrew, but you should. After spending 18 years in the Irish media, he came to Nigeria two years ago, seized a struggling (even if well-funded) media group that included TV and Radio Continental and while you were not watching, made it the most-watched TV station in Lagos, also steadily inching up every single rating you can find. Everyone left TVC for on-its-way-to-dying. Well, they judged it too soon. And this one man is responsible for showing them.
That was ended Ekubbo’s response to my feedback after being impressed by him in Bling Lagosians, via a character he seized by the throat. For an actor whose range had never been in view, this was an opportunity to burst out of type. And he did it. He did it so well Funke Akindele evidently noticed him and brought him back for an encore in Your Excellency. He was right. His time has come. Let’s see what he does with it.
Two weeks ago, Biodun Fatoyinbo and his assembly, COZA was in the news, and the backlash was swift. As it will continue to for a long time, courtesy of a brand eternally tarnished. And all because of the voice of one woman – Busola Dakolo. Without drama, without hysterics, Busola stepped up to tell a story of (alleged) sexual abuse in the name of God and unleashed both the voices of thousands of women and the spirits of millions across the world. She has said very little about the matter since, but her voice still towers, and her name will be history’s favourite. She will continue to matter.
You aren’t really hearing his name, but the almost-a-million views he regularly gets on his YouTube videos make it clear this is a force to be reckoned with. His Yawa series is a favourite, after his star turn in Fourth Republic. Guys, give him more roles. Or he will take the industry on all by himself. And considering what he has built outside of the limelight and with limited resources, he will win.
You don’t have to like the man they call SegaLink. You just have to respect him. And there is a lot to respect. He is truly fearless, even with his flaws. And that is the reason many young Nigerians look up to him. For standing against the menace of police gone wild, and delivering results day in and day out. He has earned every ounce of respect he now owns.
Because, of course. You can say whatever you want about Bobrisky. But you cannot say you don’t find h at the very least interesting. There are a million questions he leaves me with: Where does he find the courage? How does he walk around Lagos without worry? Who are the baes? How did he come about this persona? Is there an end game? Why is he ‘he’ on some days and ‘she’ on the others? Is this deliberate? Is he playing us? Is this an alternative reality? The questions don’t need to be answered. I just love that he makes us ask them at all.
‘Deji is one of the finest writers in the country, on any day. You can’t commission ‘Deji and not feel a sense of joy at what he delivers. He gets into the core of why stories matter, he asks the right questions, he follows the right trails, and he gets to the essence always. It is fitting that his byline is now strewn across a number of the best international platforms including the highlight, the New York Times. His journeys, tortured at times, have finally brought him home to the platform, African Arguments. And he still has lots of time to do important work.
Fashion is always sexy. But that doesn’t mean it’s always interesting. Here, many times, it drones on and on with the same influences, the same trajectories, the same stories. Enter Uchenna’s year where, with very little by way of the resources you’d expect, he placed six male models internationally in 2019. It looks simple, and in hindsight, it looks easy. But it absolutely isn’t.
I don’t watch a lot of Yoruba movies, but I still found them very gripping, not least because of the cast of characters that give them soul. And Nkechi is hard to miss. Hard to miss because of that delicious contrast of an Igbo accent and free-flowing Yoruba. It certainly is fascinating how she is not an Igbo movie star, or even that much of a mainstream English movie star. But over there at Africa Magic Yoruba? She rules. And it’s hard to take your eyes off when she is doing her thing.
A number of things are happening with Funke Akindele at the same time: She is building a real VoD business without talking too much about it – with real traction, real numbers, and a growing fan base. She continues to churn out the earthy series and movies that once made her a star. She runs two YouTube channels at the same time, as well as a music label. And on top of it had the time to produce the December certain-to-be-a-blockbuster, Your Excellency. Do I really need to say more?
Pastor Poju has become one of the coolest pastors around the block, especially for a generation that thinks for itself. His common sense teaching that betrays a rigour often absent from the pulpit has attracted if not the membership, then at least the respect of a new generation of Nigerians. It bears noting that the appearance obscures a deeply traditional understanding of the bible that would shock many 0f the people who call themselves his fans. But that is a story for another day. Today, it’s that his message resonates widely, and for all the best reasons.
Akah and Claire
Akah alone was always fun. Akah and Claire together were always appealing. Akah and Claire marriage has become electrifying. You need to watch their YouTube channel (he still has his individual one) to understand what I am talking about – they talk with such vulnerability about loneliness, fighting, sex, money, depression and all the other things that are tied around a modern marriage in a way that must be incredibly helpful to thousands of people. I really hope this one catches fire.
He is most responsible for the sounds we hear today on the radio. That’s not even narrative flourish. It just is. He has been said to be the king of the Lagos Mainland talent pool, churning out enough hits to fill a large studio. His hands have made magic for Zlatan, Olamide, Lil Kesh and of course Naira Marley, responsible for such club bangers as Am I A Yahoo Boy?, Mafo, Pxta, Bolanle, Yeye Boyfriend and of course smash hit, Soapy. I wasn’t joking: He is the one person most responsible for today’s sound in our resolutely follow-follow market.
After taking a break to tend to her family, Mercy returned with a very attractive TV show, Mercy’s Menu this year on Africa Magic and online. It’s a very watchable show, and it also showcases her family in a way that makes you want to hug all of them. I don’t know if she will be keeping this for a long time, but it is good for the here and now (and she both has a new movie and a new hotel to boot).
Of course, there are hardworking Nigerian executives, especially drawn from some of the most-talked-about tech companies, who are making this vision possible. But it’s too deep and too wide not to leave at the feet of the global chief executive of Opera. Its entire vista, now grown across media, technology, and finance in Nigeria has become one of the key drivers of lower-income culture, and a model for businesses trying to scale in this market. Opera News Hub, OPay (said to be – and this isn’t confirmed independently – the largest mobile transaction provider in Nigeria), ORide and OFood are distinctively powerful products that have captured the imagination of Nigeria’s audiences. It surely comes from the massive trove of data Opera has accumulated over the past many years. But it could have sat pretty and done nothing with it as many have. It didn’t. And here it is, so powerful, and with so much more room to grow and own the market. Forget. It’s impressive.
Obasi is a visual storyteller that is taking his cues from no one else. His only inspiration, it appears, is the way he sees the world. His two short films from last year already set him apart as truly edgy without really trying to be, and his photographic range can actually be called stunning without needing caveats. And I think he is still a student at the University of Lagos. Which to be honest is not surprising, because from Yabatech to UNN there is a wide range of Nigerian artistic talent that just needs incubation to explode. In 2019, his fashion photography also took center stage (including on the music video for All my Life, featuring Burna Boy), as well as exhibiting his art internationally, showing how much more he is capable of covering, the more he keeps moving. Keep an eye on this one.
What exactly is Chidinma doing? I am not sure. But I think I like it. Because she keeps producing good music, even if you’re not hearing her on the radio. And she doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to grab your attention. Almost like she doesn’t care what you think. Just to stay on her own lane, and do what she wants to do, just the way she wants to do it. Her EP with Flavour has that ‘my own way’ strain that is always irresistible in the best artists. If it’s all deliberate, then it’s deeply alluring. I hope this journey leads her to beautiful places.
He is the king of a new tribe of influencers, who are not actors or musicians or TV presenters. Influencers. That’s their identity. And they dare you to come for them. Pamilerin particularly dares you to come for him. Many have, and he brushes them off easily – no controversy too big or too dirty for him to roll in the mud with. It’s difficult to predict where all of this will take him, but he has already come far enough in a country that relentlessly mocks those who dare to follow different paths. And there is an entire tribe of young people who look up to him for light along this path.
You really have to love the fearless Kiki. Even as I write, she has owned the conversation for three whole days on Twitter, speaking truth to mobs about LGBTQ rights and freedoms. Like how does she even do it? To be able to stand in her own truth in a public space even if she doesn’t yet have access to the full elite privileges that her talent entitles her to, is a significant achievement. To hear her repeat ‘men are trash’ to easily triggered men on social media and stand firm whatever threats are thrown her way is to witness a woman who fully belongs to herself. #SexForGrades is only the top half of the story. The bottom half is the kind of woman with the courage to churn out more stories like that. And she will.
I am not happy that MI stalled the momentum of the triumphant victory in his war with Vector Tha Viper by emoting in the latter’s DMs. Didn’t he know he was in a war? You don’t step into a battle with no rules and complain that someone didn’t reveal their weapon of choice. Well, he did. And it made the whole thing an anti-climax. Which almost always seems to happen with MI, whom I am a serious fan of. If he would only just lean into the bravery that made him the Chairman in the first place, he would keep the sparks flying without stopping. He needs to stop being afraid of what people will think or what his legacy will be and just be. Just be MI. Please.
The writers at Africa Magic
There are a number of excellent writers who continue to make Africa Magic series very watchable – Jessica A., Lekan Olanrewaju, Pearl Osibu, Jason Abaga are a few from the revolving door – who have become experts at ‘telling the Nigerian story.’ They must be running a punishing schedule, but still, they manage to excite those of us who live on and for those series, and their characters and the words they speak are very relatable. Writers are often unsung. I can’t wrap up this list without singing the songs of these ones who make my evenings rock.
You know why. You know why he is on this list. And I am deeply grateful for his service. We are not even worthy.
He came fully into his own with Pop Central TV this year. If you don’t know Pop Central you should pay more attention to youth culture. It may not have gripped the mainstream’s attention but it is slowly creeping up the edges with a TV station that understands today’s hyphenated youth movers. It won’t be easy. It’s a tough market to try to reach the discerning. But I am rooting for them.
The guy(s) behind Cinema Pointer
I find Cinema Pointer reviewers way off the mark many times and had sworn off the platform in December of 2018 after one particular set of reviews that just didn’t make sense. But I returned to paying attention this year, and apparently those in the industry still pay close attention (while claiming vehemently that they don’t care). I still find them often wrong (how could anyone possibly call The Ghost and the House of Truth anything but brilliant?), but the fact that they continue to compel attention is very impressive. They must be doing something right. Well, he or she. Since people insist it’s just one person.
James finally came into his own with the ambitious project that was Ajoche this year. Ajoche went off the beaten track and won a lot of fans with its tale from the history of the Idoma people. It certainly won me as a fan and was impressive enough that the former Nigerian Senate President hosted a reception for the cast and crew. Ajoche was an abundant celebration of both a Nigerian story and Nigerian storytelling, and it has made Omokwe, a favourite producer for those who want to get things done, including being wheeled in by Africa Magic on a rescue mission this year.
It’s been a long time since such ‘authentic’ Igbo sounds have taken over the radio. Phyno is a bit of a genius, yes, but his sound is something modern and re-created. These guys, however, go back to the roots and sing music that calls to mind the very brightest of traditional Igbo music. Their collaboration with Flavour on Awele pulled everyone to pay attention. I can only hope this is just the beginning.
If anyone was expecting any or both of the Psquare brothers to go down after the split, well Paul wasn’t going to give you the pleasure. He has been hard at work proving the point that he is neither a fluke nor is he unable to stand on his own. He has a string of hits, minor or not, to make the case, including Nkenji Keke, Reason with Me, iFai, Double Double and the latest hit, Audio Money. Give him an A for effort.
She first burst onto the as the avatar for a fashion publication, Style Vitae. And if you had eyes, you immediately knew she was made to be a star. I was paying enough attention to invite her to host the red carpet at The Future Awards Africa in 2014, and to hand her the pilot season for a new TV show. After a while, she went into some sort of creative hibernation, and I wondered if this was a departure or an interlude. It was the latter. Ozinna came back this year in what they call full force, with a creative agency that has done viral work for brands including Delta Soap and Fayrouz. Nne, keep moving.
Temple Management Company, which Idris leads, has been snapping up talent from across sectors faster than you can spell its full name. It’s not the only management company surviving and thriving in.Nigeria, but it is certainly the more aggressive and ambitious in scope. It will be interesting to see where all this is going.
Everyone has always liked Timini. What’s there not to like? He is one of the most pleasant, most easy to work with people you could find. It’s the same with his sister, Dakore, and so something is obviously beautiful about that family (did you see his mother’s sheer joy when he won The Future Awards Africa this year). His career has always gone well enough, but it’s been difficult to shake off the ‘fine boy’ vibe that makes people not take talent seriously enough. Well, Elevator Baby shook all that up. He finally got a role that showed how seriously he should be taken, and he took it very seriously. Well done, sir.
Are you aware that Tacha has trended EVERY SINGLE WEEK since she left the Big Brother Naija house? Like, sometimes, multiple days per week. Like every other day, her fans wake up and decide together that their idol’s name must trend for something. It’s something stunning o. I have never seen anything like this. Yesterday, for instance, she trended twice or thrice. And this is not paid for. It’s completely organic. And it’s very difficult to find anyone else who even comes close to inspiring such dedication. Certainly not anyone else from that house.
Androgyny never looked so gorgeous. Uche is a model and a designer and he has worked with some of the brightest fashion names in the industry. But it is his look that first strikes your attention. Not just that he is stunning, which he is, but also that he owns it fully. He owns it fully. Fully enough that without having launched his personal brand in any official way, brands from Fayrouz to Budweiser have figured out that something special is happening with this one human being. The day Uche will become a superstar, it will seem as if he moved from 0 to 100, but it will be these days of courage that led him there. He has refused to let anyone dim his light or cramp his style. The universe rewards this kind of boldness bigly.
Before our very eyes, Sinach has become a legend. She is not just an African star, she has become an authentic international phenomenon, finally crowed by her appearance at one of the biggest churches in the world, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood. The same church that Kanye West just graced on his Jesus is King tour. To find Sinach at any Nigerian gospel church is to find the kind of reverence that attends international acts like Donnie McClurkin or Travis Greene. It’s something amazing.
Do you know how many stars Christ Embassy has churned out in the gospel space? Too many, to be honest. And not just random talent, but actual continental stars. Eben, Frank Edwards, Joe Praiz, Ada Ehi, Sinach. And they remain fiercely loyal to him because he takes care of them with an attention that is enthralling. They are Pastor Chris’ stars. And he has created a firmament for them.
She started in the media but has become an authentic Nigerian startup icon, with PiggyVest becoming an important part of elite Gen Z culture, using its finance solutions platform to drive conversation, create new habits and show how a business can create trends. If this business succeeds, it will create a model for many others to follow.
You take it for granted that DJs would be stars abi? That’s because you are not aware that Pepsi almost singlehandedly made it so. Taking a bunch of already solid talents and making them national brand names. Pepsi began to see the future of Nigerian concerts, global standard, before anyone did, and it continues to drive the best of the culture in intuitive, organic ways. They also understand how to do and maximise endorsements, integrating Teni, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid and a trove of DJs into a compelling ongoing narrative that is a masterclass for other brands.
Yemi Alade is just out there doing her thing, ignoring your taunts and heckling about the kind of music she sings – ‘meaningless,’ many say. In the process, she has attracted the attention of Beyonce, and toured the world. Across Africa she is sought after, with a successful foray into Francophone nations. The girl is a boss.
Adaobi is not ‘woke’ nor does she want to be. She is not part of the trends, she doesn’t want to be in the in-crowd, and she doesn’t join the dance of political correctness. Yet the award-winning author continues to capture the attention of the global literary and journalism gatekeepers, with star writing turns in the New Yorker and the New York Times that the very best writers anywhere give an arm for. There is something about Adaobi that feels destined. And her steps are sure.
Mariam is the face of the family that owns the quirky space in Ikoyi that houses the Danfo Bistro, and they have done good. The vibe of that space right in the middle of stuffy Ikoyi has brought colour and spunk. The food in the restaurant also delivers, making this an experience truly worth talking about.
His hands created some of the most dramatic sets for the biggest videos in the country this year, allowing him try everything from burning a car to that utterly delicious Fashion is Freedom ad. The works of his hands are very blessed.
In case you weren’t paying attention with Green White Green, Makama showed up again and showed up fully with The Lost Okoroshi, fully ignoring the prevailing trends in mainstream Nollywood, and the cinemas to boot, to focus on the stories he wants to tell the ways he wants to tell them. An international audience is loving it, and a local audience is cheering him on.
Methinks Uncle Bimbo Manuel is hands down one of the best actors the country has been lucky to play host to. And to still have here, despite its best efforts to underrate him. He owns the scenes in every film (and stage play, and series) he appears in – 4th Republic, Love is War, Castle & Castle, Wakaa. He needs to be given his due.
She has begun to get her due as a phenomenal actress. I think people finally began to see clearly from Isoken. But she really held it down with The Set Up this year, that won the hearts of Nigerians across the field. Here’s to more exciting roles for a woman who has more than paid her dues.
We need to see more of T0ni Tones! Her performance in King of Boys is still one of the milieu’s most memorable, all of this year’s movies considered. And you can still glimpse her in Your Excellency managing to steal every scene she shows up in. When are you guys going to start giving her more roles to do her incredible thing? (Meanwhile, I am already giddy as to what is coming with her lead role in King of Boys II.)
It’s no mean feat for your name to turn up in all the important conversations about public relations in one year, especially for exciting new brands. But Osho has parlayed an expert intuitive understanding of influencer marketing into a competitive niche for herself, and found her way through lifestyle brands to the halls of top corporates, proving there is always space at the front of any queue, if you know exactly what you are doing.
You may not be paying her heed because she is not exactly in cinema blockbusters, but anyone who knows how powerful Africa Magic and ROK channels are for a mass-market knows that Bimbo’s star power is no joke. She is the queen of the movie streets, with an uncanny ability to become one with any role you give her. I can only hope that Sugar Rush becomes the movie that makes her fully mainstream. I am rooting for her.
Tana Adelana was once the biggest female TV star in the country (and one of the biggest TV stars, period) back when you had to be top of your game to even be in the game. Then she left to build a family, and this industry waits for no woman. Well, she is back, and she is back as if she forgot that she left. In Bling Lagosians, she showed up. In Man Enough, she showed up. And if you pay attention to Africa Magic and ROK movies, you know she keeps showing up. She didn’t come to play. She came to take the crown she dropped for a while.
He is the principal figure for convergence in Nigeria’s tech industry. And with his expansion to Rwanda and his acquisition of Kenya’s leading hub, he has become the primary tech mover on the continent. No tech engagement seems to happen without Bosun, and often it starts at his space (co-founded with Femi Longe), the Co-Creation Hub. He will be here for a long time.
That is how Femi Otedola become a culture icon o – creating trends, controlling social media, and amassing fans. Who would have thought? He once appeared aloof and unaffected. And now he is fully involved and loving it. He is overseeing a family of stars in a way that calls Kris Jenner to mind. Only he already made his billions before showing up here. Is there a big plan at the end of everything? Those who know say there is. Whether there is or not, we are here for the ride.
Akin Lewis is a tractor of a talent. You most likely remember the characters he has played, even if you don’t remember his name. He loomed large in King of Boys, which was last year’s big film, and he looms large in another big film this year, Your Excellency. You make the request and he delivers. I find the effortlessness of his delivery a miracle.
To be relevant for decades is no joke. To be the one that all the young people call when they need to deliver a particular kind of character, and all of this without making any effort to be cool is no mean achievement. But it is easy for him to do because he delivers the goods. Jide Kosoko is the best kind of cross over talent – across languages, across genres, across generations.
She is a reminder that you have to stand in your truth, ignore the noise of the crowd and keep it moving. Tiwa is a phenomenon. She has survived too much and ended up on the other side, still relevant, still number one, still a queen. What is there not to admire about? What is there not to be inspired by? Long may she reign. She deserves to be a star for as long as she likes.
*For The Culture is Jideonwo’s column for profiling and interpreting the cultural trends that run the engines of Nigeria and Africa. It is curated with support from the editors at Y!/YNaija.com and Culture Intelligence from RED.