Meeting Isabella Akinseye for the first time, you’re drawn in by her gap-toothed smile, infectious energy and friendly aura. Called a ‘chatter box’ by her primary 3 class teacher, she has turned her gift for the gab into a full blown media profession spanning television, radio, print and online. In this interview, Isabella Akinseye shares with us her journey into media entrepreneurship, her love for education and her vision for Africa. You certainly will be inspired.
Who is Isabella Akinseye?
A child of destiny. My birth might not have been planned but looking back over the three decades of my life, I know that my being on earth is destiny. To answer your question traditionally, I’m a media entrepreneur and educationist. Growing up, we’re expected to be just one thing. I’ve accepted that I do several things that nicely fit under ‘media’ and ‘education.’ I currently run my own media and PR firm, Yellow Tamarind Productions which I founded in January 2016. Our portfolio includes Africana Literati, Nolly Silver Screen, Correct Student and The Movie Buff Show (in conjunction with G-Cue Studios). We have also done some PR work for multinationals, SMES and social enterprises. I am passionate about creating content that has educational value and Africa as its focus.
Did you always want to be in the media?
As a child, I wanted be on TV. I was and I am still very inquisitive so I thought you would enter the TV from the back. The content I grew up watching provided some answers. The older I became, the more the questions continued and this drew me into reading, writing and performing. I always loved to tell and listen to stories. My primary 3 class teacher labelled me a chatter box. Many years later, her daughter and I laughed over it.
What led you to start your media and PR Company, Yellow Tamarind Productions?
God. He put all the ideas in my head. I would tell people about them, ruminate over them and dream about the future. I would see people following their dreams and wish the same for myself. After years of running from what I knew I was born to do, I finally took the leap of faith and registered my company in January 2016 while working as a part time teacher. Leaving Nestle Nigeria PLC after over four years was not the easiest thing to do but when I did, I felt a peace and a lightness in my spirit. Of course, I did worry about where the money would come from but that was not enough to stop me. I had put my hand to the plough so looking back was not an option.
What do you hope to achieve with Yellow Tamarind Productions?
I initially started this company as an outlet for my creative pursuits but that is now changing. I see Yellow Tamarind Productions as a company that is charged with the responsibility of doing African media content right. We have to tell our own stories and the media is a vehicle. PR is the amplification of the stories being told. So our aim is to create and promote content specifically, African in a positive light. It could be our own or our clients or a hybrid, it doesn’t really matter. Business wise, I look forward to the company growing, employing people and making real impact – and you need to scale for that.
What have been some of the highlights of your business in the past two years?
The highlights will be getting our work out there – from TV to radio to print to online. Nobody wants to support an idea. Truth is, we all have ideas but that is never enough. So being able to give birth to these ideas is one of the major highlights. Another would be the steep learning curve. Failing, taking lessons and getting back on one’s feet. And the businesses we have been able to support with our services.
And the lows? How have you dealt with and overcome the challenges?
Entrepreneurship can be such a lonely journey especially in the beginning when it is really only you who gets it. So I’ve had my fair share of lows. I’ve had rejections, disappointments and days when I just wonder why. The poor state of the economy also did not help things. Another issue is when you’re working with people who don’t have as much at stake, it shows in their attitude and commitment to your work. Also, I have a support network of family, friends and well-wishers. Their encouragement goes a long way on the days when things are not going to plan.
What has the reception of your art, book and culture TV show, Africana Literati been like?
Very positive. In less than two years, our viewers have come to love and accept the show. We were very blessed to have premiered the show on the Africa Magic platform. This meant, we got feedback from different people across the continent. We have tried to incorporate this feedback in our subsequent productions. We have people constantly reaching out to us to be on the show or have their book reviewed. Parents send messages to us thanking us for what we’re doing. We also have the odd, ‘You’re beautiful’ messages.
Earlier this year, you were recognized as one of LLA’s 100 most inspiring women; how was that for you?
I honestly didn’t see that coming. It’s funny because you read about all these people but you never really think that one day you’ll be one of them. It was like joining the “IT” gang. I mean, I was just doing my passion in my own little corner. To get recognised so early on was a much needed pat on the back and reinforcement that I was on the right track. One of my producers, a man, actually said that with the recognition it is beginning to look like quitting my job for media was the right thing. One of my high school friends said she recommended me for a gig (which I didn’t get) and that I should keep it up. She mentioned the LLA 100 specifically. And having my work in the papers, thanks for the free PR. On a serious note, to whom much is given, much is required. So, the pressure is on.
Would you ever consider acting?
Yes. I still went for an audition this week. Drama was part of my degree and the plan at the beginning focused on me getting into Nollywood. I am already a part of the industry but as a film journalist. So back to the audition, one of the casting directors saw me and asked me my name. She was like what are you doing here? I had interviewed her in the past. I have acted in a low budget film in the north and I also played the role of Jessica in Alison’s Stand (Season 2). I do have an idea for a film and TV series but that would cost money and time, things I don’t have so much these days. Let’s hope the phone eventually rings and I get the part.
Where does your inspiration come from?
God. People. Experiences. There are stories everywhere if only we’re patient to listen and watch out for them. I am also inspired by my rich cultural heritage. My mum is half Igbo, half German while my dad is Yoruba. I’ve lived in Lagos, Abuja, London, Cambridge and Tulsa. All of these experiences have enriched my life on so many levels. They have shaped my outlook on life and my values. I am still on a path of discovery – of myself and the world around me, so my inspiration is evergreen.
How has your educational background informed your creative direction?
I studied Education with English and Drama at the University of Cambridge. It was the one course in the UK that allowed me to follow my different pursuits. We like to describe the content we create as edutainment; a blend of education and entertainment. We want your brains stimulated as you engage with our work. So our flagship radio show, Correct Student on City 105.1 FM aims to inform, educate and entertain students on their journey to success. Africana Literati promotes language, literacy and literature with a focus on Africa. One of my projects in uni examined reading habits of students in a Nigerian private and public school. So yes, you can say my degree is really working.
In addition to TV and radio, you also write, edit and do PR. How are you able to balance all these things?
You can add voiceover, compering, modelling, graphic design and acting to the list. I am not sure I am balancing all these things. Thankfully, some jobs are seasonal and have a very short life span, for example, doing a 30 second voiceover. I’ve always done multiple things as a child and right up to my uni days. So, it’s a natural progression. Right now, I am enjoying the variety or should I say the spice of things. I know when the money and family commitments eventually come, some things will just have to go. I would be able to look back without regret and cherish those memories.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Doing what I love on a global scale. Edutainment is big business and technology has broken down geographical barriers. I look forward to setting up an educational radio and TV station in addition to education apps, books and magazines. I also hope to be back in the classroom teaching and still be a part of the production process. A tall dream, right? Thankfully, African media mavens such as Bola Atta, Biola Alabi and Mo Abudu are showing us the way. And with God, all things are possible.
Any new productions to expect?
Yes, Nolly Silver Screen TV show. It is a magazine show that celebrates and promotes Nollywood. I started www.nollysilverscreen.com while I was still in paid employment in 2013 and I knew that I would do a TV show one day. So this year, the idea crystallised and we went ahead to shoot. I am grateful to the team and the actors who agreed to come on the show without knowing when and where it will air. I am passionate about our stories and Nollywood, you would agree with me, is a big one that is worth telling. Right now, we’re in post-production and shopping for buyers. But things are looking very positive…they have to.
What sort of advice would you give younger women who want to follow your footsteps?
Start with a plan. No matter how rough it is. Pray about it. Discuss it with people. Refine the plan. Do your research. Ask for help. In the beginning, things won’t be so clear but that’s fine. Then have that long and hard conversation with yourself. You will be making sacrifices. There will be hard days. Are you ready to go through with that? Or do you have a back up plan to chicken out when things don’t work? These are questions you must be willing to answer honestly. If and when you do finally decide to go through with it, please have some savings. You are the one who will be funding things in the beginning. No investor wants to put money in a business that your own capital (real and sweat) has not gone into. Go for it and I mean really give it your all because it will really show.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series which focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent. Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to [email protected] and we just might feature her.