Last month, with this feature we placed special emphasis on the women championing the creative arts revolution taking place in Afrika and the Diaspora. Naturally, we balance things this month with a focus on the exemplary men of this movement. From the more popular faces of Akin Omotso and Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen to the lesser known names such as Kene Mkparu and Panji Anoff, #ThinkPositive seeks to highlight both those on the forefront as well those pulling crucial strings behind the scenes.
Much like the development of the African film industry, Akin Omotso established himself with little or nothing readily at his disposal. After completing a diploma in Speech and Drama at the University of Cape Town, Omotso was cast in the play “Sunjata”, a performance which won him The Fleur du Cap Award for Most Promising Student and launched his career in the performing arts. Shortly after, he directed three short films before going on to create his first feature film, God is African. Having limited resources at the time, Omotso was forced to make it a low budget film. After premiering the film in 2003, Omotso along with two partners started a production company T.O.M. Pictures.
The first project for the company, Craig Freimond’s Gums and Noses went on to win Best South African Film at the New York Independent Film Festival in 2004. Other notable works created by Akin include Gathering The Scattered Cousins, a documentary made in tribute to his mother which was screened at the acclaimed Toronto Film Festival. Omotso has also made a name for himself with his work in front of the camera, appearing in Operation Delta Force 5, Random Fire, Lord of War, Blood Diamond and Shake Hands with the Devil to name a few films. He is also no stranger to the South African small screen having starred in Isidingo, Generations, Double Shift and Jacob’s Cross.
Founder and CEO of Ghana’s Pidgen Music, Panji Anoff has seemingly done or tried it all. After graduating from the University College London with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Anoff went on to professions in; journalism with major media houses, scriptwriting and editing in the UK, film directing and currently music. He has long been a vocal advocate in the call for greater support of Ghanian popular music and apart from being the head of one of the most successful artist management companies in the country, Panji also serves as a producer, songwriter and sound engineer. Outside all of this, he has also worked as tour manager, promoter and club operator in the US. Even with all his contributions, Anoff remains devoted to building Ghana’s music industry.
Gyedu Blay Ambolley
It seems Gyedu Blay Ambolley was destined to become a musician, when at the tender age of eight he taught himself to play his father’s flute and at age fourteen he became quite adept at playing the guitar under the tutelage of his uncle. Influenced by the popular jazz sounds emerging from the US in the sixties, he honed his talent and crafted the unique highlife sound called Simigwa Do, earning him the title “Simigwa Do Man”. After recording his first hit single in 1973, Ambolley went on to lead and tour with many bands, his unique style winning over fans across Afrika, the US and the UK. The hiplife musician has seventeen albums to his name and countless accolades including the prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.
Clairmont Chung was born in Guyana attended high school there and then emigrated. He received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and attended that school at the same time as Barack Obama. He does not recall the President. After 5 years of teaching in Bronx, NY, he entered Rutgers University School of Law. He graduated in 1994 and is admitted to the bars of New York and New Jersey. While at Columbia he completed a course in film and another in television in an attempt to graduate with his class rather than any interest in filmmaking. ’.
This film took him across the globe with trips to Afrika being the highlights. He claims to practice very little law or anything else. Instead, he blogs on African and Caribbean Diaspora issues, produced and directed this film, and works on assorted visual media and arts projects. He hosted two segments on local cable television in New Jersey. One covered the “law’ and the other mimicked a ‘Larry Kinglike’ talk show that included highlight interviews with Marcia Griffiths, Bounty Killa and Sizla. His blog is at www.rootsculturemedia.com. He complete a book featuring some of the interviews done in making this documentary film, Walter Rodney: A Promise of Revolution, Monthly Review Press, 2012. He has another in manuscript tentatively titled, Taken: African Descendants as Prisoners of the Wars on Drugs and Terror also in the pipelines.
Patrick Eritobor a.k.a. Patrick Elis has quickly emerged to be among the top music video directors in Nigeria. Born and raised in the Delta State, Elis completed primary and secondary education in Warri before migrating to Lagos to attend film school. He then moved to South Africa to further his training in filmmaking. During his time in South Africa he briefly took up modelling while in film school, working with many top fashion outfits. In his relatively short career, Elis has directed over 30 top of the line musical videos, establishing his name with his unique visuals.
Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen
With over 300 movie credits to his name, Nigerian director Lancelot Imasuen is undoubtedly one of the most iconic figures on the Nollywood scene. Nicknamed “The Govenor” for his directorial dexterity, Imasuen was a key figure in the genesis of the Nigerian film industry. Born in the Western Nigerian Edo State, Lancelot’s affection for the arts started in childhood when given the opportunity of being in theatre troupes at primary school and later at the secondary level becoming a member of the school’s dramatic society. While studying Theatre Arts at the University of Port Harcourt, Lancelot worked at various media organizations such as Edo Broadcasting Service, Radio Nigeria and Nigeria Television Authority. It was during this time that he got his first taste of photography and production. After completing his studies in 1994, he directed his first film Adaku, an Igbo language film, the following year.
Known for his ability of bringing the best out of any actor he works with, “The Governor” has been nominated on multiple occasions for Director of the Year. Works that have won him such recognition include Yesterday and Harbinger, both of which produced Best Actresses for the years 1999 and 2000 respectively. In 2001, he directed 29 movies, 26 of which were hits, becoming the first Nigerian to accomplish such a feat. Imasuen remains dedicated to the cause of having African stories told by Africans in an effort to bringing light to many concerns on the continent.
Having done extensive work with Europe’s largest cinema chain, there’s no questioning Kene Mkparu’s ambitious visions for Nigerian cinema. As Managing Director and CEO of Nigeria’s fastest growing cinema chain, Filmhouse Cinemas, Mkparu hopes to open at least 25 cinemas over a 6 year period, 4 of which have already been built. There are many elements contributing to the ongoing Nollywood expansion behind the scenes. Outside of the directors, producers, actors and others on set, there are those pulling strings and signing off on important deals on the entrepreneurial end of the spectrum. It all started for Kene, after accessing the 200m entertainment fund provided by the Federal Government through collaboration with the Bank of Industry and NEXIM Bank. This agreement will not only bring more cinemas to Nigeria but will also keep the country up to date with the latest technological innovations of the industry. Filmhouse Cinemas has led the digitalization efforts of Nigerian Cinema, bringing 3D and 7.1 digital surround sound to Lagos, Calabar and Ibadan and according to its CEO “The days of low quality Nollywood Films are soon to be a thing of the past”.
Creative Director of the Nimbus Art Gallery in Lagos, Chike Nwoagbogu is helping to take the Nigerian arts scene to newfound heights. The gallery has become a noted breeding ground for emerging artists, facilitating the coming together of creative minds from various disciplines within the arts to work towards a common goal. Just a few blocks down the road from Chike’s art gallery one will find the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), led by his brother Azu Nwoagbogu, created to provide additional opportunities for exposure and advancement for the budding Nigerian artist. Chike feels the booming creative industries in Nigeria is borne out of the hardships and oppression which forces people to find inventive ways of expressing their frustration through the arts and he wants to “give a prodium to the most angry, creative, fearless artist out there. We need change now and art can do that.”
Written by: Learie Holt