With each year, it becomes clearer to the editorial board at YNaija, the premium our annual New Establishment list places on the work of young emerging players in diverse field within Nigeria.
Providing that first wave of recognition for the work that the men and women of our annual lists do in the communities is important for their growth and for our commitment to support innovation, courage and personal excellence.
Many of the alumni of our lists have gone on to do fantastic things, proving yet again, that our lists sieve through the morass of activity and nepotism that clog our creative industries and highlights the hidden gems within.
Categories: Entertainment, Culture, Technology, Advocacy, Media, Politics, Enterprise, Fashion
Quddus King (Grand Master King)
Asides from the often bandied inside joke about Quddus King bearing a close resemblance to Nollywood actor Tony Umez, little is known about the wunderkind behind many of the sleeper hits from what is today referred to as the core of the Nigerian Alte scene (Odunsi The Engine, Santi/Ozzy B). The producer is responsible for many of the distinctive traits of the current alternative sound and has been working on projects for many of the alternative artists including BOJ DRB. He has also released a number of personal projects including a 2018 EP, all while studying medicine full time abroad.
In 2018, GMK was conscripted by the Universal Music Group Nigeria to mix and master Odunsi The Engine’s debut album rare. The album would turn out to be a critical success, winning over many of the artist’s critics who worried their very unique sound wouldn’t survive the transition into popular music. GMK’s expertise as a producer and sound engineer continue to speak for him in the industry and guarantee that he will be a part of the conversation for a long time.
Ade Laoye (Knockout Blessing)
Ade Laoye’s first big break as an actress came on the Ebony Life TV’s soap serial Dow.ry. It was one of many ‘breakout’ roles for Laoye, who has proven time and again that she is a true acting chameleon, taking on different roles and contorting herself to express the complexities and layers of the characters she is tasked to portray. But she has also struggled to break into the mainstream, restricted by Nollywood’s preoccupation with typecasting and the Nigerian TV audiences’ paradoxical aversion to and fascination with actors with a distinctly western accent.
When the first trailers for Dare Olaitan’s Knockout Blessing were released to the internet, they teased a side of Laoye her audience had never seen, and she did deliver, on a career-defining performance that saw her shed all the markers that have come to define her as an actress and truly lose herself in someone else’s story. We are truly excited about this new phase of Ade Laoye’s evolution as an actor and curious to see where it will take her.
Killer Tunes (music)
There are few events as aspirational in the entertainment industry as a comeback. When Killer Tunes left Benin City to start his career as a music producer in Lagos, he came with the same promise of success that inspires millions of young Nigerian to make the move. As one of the first producers to popularize the ‘free beats’ phenomenon, Killer Tunes is one of the pioneers of the explosion of independent music.
Active since 2011, it took a collaboration with Dj Spinall in 2017 to reintroduce him to the music industry and Nigeria’s massive Afrobeats audience as a veteran ready to make a second stab at mainstream success. In 2018, he truly came into his own, engineering the hit success ‘Fake Love’ by Wizkid and Duncan Mighty, the song that would begin the veteran Port Harcourt singer’s own come back. Songs like ‘Nowo’, ‘Baba’ and ‘Free Me’ by Major Lazer, Rudimental and Anne Marie, all international stars in their own right.
Killer Tunes is only beginning this new reign and he has no plans of slowing down.
Sess The Prblm Kid (music)
Sess The Prblm Kid has been making music for a few years, but he did not come to play in 2018. Touting 2018 as his breakout year, Sess began enlisting musicians, artists and other producers to work on his debut solo project, Omo Muda, an amalgamation of all the influences and ideas he had toyed with since he first gained recognition for his ground-breaking work on Falz The Bahd Guy’s debut album, Stories That Touch. Omo Muda was released to critical acclaim and commercial success, cementing Sess’s place as an artist on the rise and one of the country’s most prolific producers.
Sess is the brain behind the sound on all of Falz’s albums, a collaboration that has seen him nominated for several awards. He surprised everyone in 2018 when he produced not one but two major soundtrack songs for some the year’s biggest films, first the Reminisce and Adekunle Gold helmed ‘Original Gangster’ for the Kemi Adetiba film King of Boys, and ‘Who’s your daddy’ performed by Falz for Mo Abudu’s Chief Daddy.
From floating his own label to releasing his debut project and conquering film; who has had a better year that Sess the Prblm Kidd, we’d like to meet them.
Teni The Entertainer (music)
Teni Apata’s rise to the top of the Nigerian music industry is the kind of fairytale we scarcely allow ourselves to indulge in. While still in University, Teni began to busk around her university, preparing herself for a career in entertainment. After signing with producer Shizzi’s Magic Fingers Entertainment, she released her debut single ‘Amen’, which was a decent debut but didn’t really break the singer into the public’s consciousness.
What would eventually do this was Teni The Entertainer’s inimitable savvy with social media. Refusing to conform to the sexist expectations for women in the Nigerian music industry, Teni chose instead to express herself through Instagram, releasing funny commentary on her personal life and singing freestyles for her growing fanbase. One of those freestyles, about the predatory nature of older men in the country, quickly went viral, spawning a push that saw Teni switch labels to Dr. Dolor Entertainment and release the freestyle as ‘Fargin’, her first single with the new label. ‘Fargin’ became an instant hit and started the wave of interest that would peak with her winning the SoundCity MVP Awards Rookie of the year over Peruzzi.
Teni The Entertainer is important to the Nigerian music industry and youth culture as a whole, because she subverts the gender standards placed on women as a pre-requisite for success. She is the start of a new and much needed wave of the craft superseding marketing and societal expectations.
Hannah Remi Oghene
When Hannah Remi Oghene returned to Nigeria after earning a degree in Art Management from the prestigious Cambridge University, she took in the current state of Nigerian art curation, management and exhibition, first as a casual observer, then as a Development Assistant at the African Arts Foundation, mentoring under the revered art curator and critic Azu Nwagbogu. After her time with AAF and a couple of freelance opportunities curating exhibitions at the National Museum Onikan and LaFarge Africa, Oghene decided it was time to strike out on her own.
She became the gallery manager at MyDrim Gallery in January 2018, a pedigreed Nigerian gallery with 25 years of experience and a seasoned clientele of collectors and veteran artists. Her position at MyDrim is ground-breaking because she is one of the youngest curators to ever manage a gallery of this scale and pedigree and through her position was able to influence significant change in how exhibitions were organized, opening avenues for younger artists to reach new audiences. Hannah Oghene is a trailblazer in the visual arts and proof that there is more than one way to change the industry.
Emil Garuba (Lionheart)
In 2018, Nollywood’s biggest film was a surprise hit from an actress that many had all but ruled out. LionHeart was such an cinematic triumph that it was snatched up by movie and television giant Netflix for an impressive $3.8 million and returned Ms. Nnaji to the conversation about the future of Nollywood. And the film was a success in large parts to the stellar writing of screen, director and producer, Emil B Garuba.
This wasn’t Emil’s first time of making magic with Genevieve Nnaji either. Garuba co-wrote Road To Yesterday, Geneveive seminal project and has worked on other award winning projects including the AFRIFF winner Silent Tears and the long standing Africa Magic soap opera Tinsel. He was also a major screenwriter for Son of the Caliphate, one of the first soap operas from a major Nigerian media company to focus on Nothern Nigeria. Garuba runs Rated E Productions, his own own production company where he develops film and television projects.
Bunmi Ajakaiye (Anthill Studios)
Few women have been as prolific behind the lens in Nollywood in the last few years as Bunmi Ajakaiye. The self-taught director transitioned into film after a stint working in media at Hello Nigeria and joined Anthill studios in 2014 where she learned the ropes under director Niyi Akinmolayan. With sufficient grit and an unshakeable will, Ajakaiye began to take on projects, working on successful films like My Wife and I with Omoni Oboli and The Arbitration.
But Bunmi really became the darling of Nollywood when she was conscripted to take on the directing of Nigeria’s most endearing web soap, Ndani TV’s Skinny Girl In Transit. Under Ajakaiye’s seasoned hand, the show veered away from its bubble gum aesthetic, tackling more realistic issues like blended families, personal trauma and how it affects relationships and even the friction that can come in sibling relationships when the dynamics of those relationships are threatened. The show’s increased fandom is testament to the great work that Ajakaiye is doing and the story she has the range to tell. We cannot wait to see what she does next.
Lota Chukwu (film)
Lota Chukwu became 2018’s breakout television star when she won a leading role in Africa Magic’s epic soap opera Ajoche, but her star had been on the rise long before that. Chukwu first gained the attention of the Nigerian film-loving public when she became a series regular on the much beloved Funke Akindele comedy soap ‘Jenifa’s Diaries’ as Kiki.
Lota Chukwu’s first big role came in the independent film ‘The Arbitration’ alongside Adesua Etomi and since then she has appeared in ‘The Royal Hibiscus Hotel’ and ‘Dognapped’. Able to convey a spectrum of emotion with minimal and best suited for long form, Chukwu’s ability to endear an audience to a character has distinguished from the new class of film starlets bursting onto the scene and distinguished her as one to watch.
Michael ‘Psalmist’ Akinrogunde (film)
Film in Nigeria has long suffered from an acute shortage of directors. Directors are the very soul of any project, translating the ideas of the scriptwriters and drawing out inspired performances from the cast and crew. When Michael Akinrogunde was chosen to participate in the 2017 Accelerate TV Filmmaker Project, it was because he had shown he had that spark that makes a great producer, he only need a platform to prove it. With funding from Access Bank, Akinrogunde created ‘Penance’ the short film that would introduce him to the Nigerian film industry and earn him a coveted nomination for Best Short Film at the 2018 Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards.
What no one expected was that Akinrogunde would actually win the award and become one of the youngest awardees of the honour. ‘Psalmist’ as he prefers to be called, understand the power of storytelling and has created films for the non-profit festival We Are Water, run by UNICEF and ROCA, a competition where his film was shortlisted for the final, the only Nigerian to achieve that in his year. Psalmist is also a motivated social justice activist, partnering with the Youth Bridge Foundation funded by the Open Society initiative of West Africa (OSIWA) to create Puzzled, a drama targeted towards the education of at-risk teens.
Film has the power to save and transform and Michael ‘Psalmist’ Akinrogunde is a modern-day super hero.
Dare Olaitan (film)
When Dare Olaitan put out his seminal project ‘Ojukokoro’, no one knew what to expect of it. New Nollywood was beginning to gain traction both online and in cinemas but it seemed filmmakers who defined this new epoch were struck in a creative rut that saw them sending recycled versions of 90’s Hollywood plots or low hanging comedies that demanded nothing of their audiences. With his debut film, Olaitan promised and made good on his promise to expand the canon of what was possible in Nollywood.
‘Ojukokoro’, while heavily inspired by pulp fiction action thrillers and the cerebral work of Quentin Tarantino, stayed in touch with the director’s very Nigerian heritage. The film was critically received, making a decent run in Nigerian cinemas and introducing Olaitan to a wider audience and the recognition and respect for his peers.
Since the success of ‘Ojukokoro’ (including a limited release in New York) Olaitan has thrown himself headlong into directing, creating series for online media enterprise Ndani TV and releasing his sophomore project, ‘Knockout Blessing’, which builds on his penchant for layered crime thrillers. He has become an important part of the movement advocating for younger directors and filmmakers to be given career defining projects to helm. Not bad for the guy who left a degree in business to pursue his passion for film.
Ema Edosio (film)
When Ema Edosio began work on what would become Kasala!, she was motivated by the simple fact that there were simply no spaces for young female directors without the privilege of a well-known family name or an extensive social network. But Edosio was not going to allow anything deter her from making her films. Edosio left positions as a stringer for the BBC and head of video content at Konbini Nigeria to pursue her dream of making a feature debut project.
Kasala! proved to be greater than the sum of its parts and helped spotlight the careers of its relatively unknown cast. Working entirely with a relatable story that centred Lagos and didn’t exaggerate its poverty or grit, Edosio tells a compelling story about motivations, LGBT representation and how Lagos itself is a sentient, active participant in the lives of its residents. Edosio’s daring was rewarded with invitations to show the film at 30 international film festivals, several dozen awards including the Africa International Film Festival’s Jury Award prize for best film.
Edosio has become an important part of the conversation for more visibility for female filmmakers and is a star to watch in the coming years.
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Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.