Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Facebook profiles tell the story of Obama’s Inauguration


As many people worldwide watched with glee the inauguration of 44th US President Barack Obama, the world of online netizens or net citizens left their mark on the day with their profile comments. Users of the popular networking site Facebook were some of the most active. Their profiles spoke of admiration and joy to unbelief and awe.
Eric Tenin, a Paris-based photographer and founder of the online City Daily Photo website had in his profile the sentence “moved by the Obama inauguration”. He had followed the events on CNN earlier in the day. Aderemi Adegbite, a Lagos-based poet and convener of the monthly Poetry Potter was more emotional. His profile comment read “Gbabe OBAMA ni BABA. Filee! Don't touch it! Welcome OBAMA...we are proud of you!”

For Ameyaw Debrah, top celebrity journalist in Accra, Ghana, it was more down to earth as he could relate with Obama’s little glitch in his oath taking. “Obama is too much! Flops on his oath to redeem Mills and Says America must move forward...Is Obama really Not Ghanaian” Debrah asks funnily.

For others it was more of prayers. Eniola Otokiti, an Abuja based Facebook user said ''GOD SEE OBAMA THROUGH''. Kite Ade in Kent, United Kingdom wrote “GOD BLESS OBAMA AND GIVE HIM LOTS OF GODLY WISDOM ESPECIALLY AFTER TODAY”.

Many others were just awed about the moment and the importance it held in time. Tosin Adebisi in Portsmouth, England described the urgency of the moment thus by saying he was “barack-ing his way home to watch history in the making”. This writer would not be outdone as he left his own mark on the day albeit in Yoruba thus: “oju mi ti ri ogo Oluwa ninu aye Obama, Oluwa na yio se temi ni asepe ninu odun yi” meaning my eyes have beheld the glory of the Lord in Obama’s life, the Lord will also bring completion to my life this year. Simply put, young and old, black or white, we all left our beautiful remarks as memoirs for the day America got its first African-American president.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rachel Watanabe-Baton makes Shell's video with Tinny

Rachel (m) gives last minute direction to Tinny and an actress

Women have generally been relegated in the world of hip hop music to the background, and when they take centre stage, it is either as hos for the pimps or as video girls who shake their behinds for the rap stars. Hip hop has traditionally been uncomplimentary of women; it denigrates the female sex and calls it all sorts of names. And when women get involved in calling the shots, they either do it as foxy vixens that mouth foul words and proclaim their ability to match the male folk in their sexual escapades.

Not often does a woman come in the mould of music video director in that male-centric industry. But when one finds a Harvard graduate who has spent almost twenty years in the industry as a producer, writer and director, then one knows you have gotten an unusual woman.

When Rachel Watanabe-Batton stepped into the conference hall at Alisa Hotel on Thursday in a short navy blue dress and was introduced by MTV Base as the international music video director for hip life star Tinny’s new song “Incomplete”, not many people hailed her as a star. The director who stands at about 5”5 in tall entered the hall with a smile on her face. And when it was time for her to give a little speech, she spoke about how she was happy to be in Ghana, and back home in Africa, land of her father’s family. She intimated everyone about her plans for the video and how tight their schedule was.

At the end of the press brief I walked up to her to get a little bit of information about her job and how she had mentioned having Nigerian roots during her speech. From the very first instant I saw her I could tell she had Japanese roots. And seeing her name written on the file folders that were distributed, I could confirm she was really oriental but when she mentioned her African roots, she became more interesting.

And then she exclaims; “I’m an Ibo girl o”, in an unmistaken American accent. “My father is a professor at Nsukka (University of Nigeria) and he hails from Awka but my mother is Japanese-American”, she quickly adds.

Her infectious nature takes over and we talk about her family and how she was in Africa as a kid but has not been back for a long time even as her father visits the US often when he comes to see her and her six sisters. I ask if she’s ever thought of coming to do more work in Africa and she says she would love to come more often and came this time because of her deep interest in giving something back to Africa when she could have been doing some other jobs.

I then ask if I could get the opportunity of seeing her work behind the scenes on her video shoot. She says it will be okay but directs me to get permission from the MTV Base management who were calling the shots for the project. I speak to Jandre Louw, events manager for the channel and he says it will be good and that they’ll give me a call next day when they are set.

On Friday, I get a call from Dinesha Moonsamy, publicist for the project and she tells me to head to the La Pleasure Beach where the crew was having an afternoon shoot. I arrive the set just in the thick of business and meet the star of the day, Tinny, who seems to be enjoying it all. I meet Rachel, now dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans that float on top of her ankle, and she says she’s been trying to get through to me all day but unfortunately misplaced my card in the hustle and bustle of her work. Here on her work turf she doesn’t look anywhere as elegant as she did the previous day. She looks the perfect part in her work fatigue.

She introduces me to the production manager, a lady who asks me to make myself at home but not to get in front of the behind the scenes camera. I nod in agreement and take out my camera to take shots.

“Action” and then “cut, lets do that again”, she calls out. The scene is set at a bar where Tinny is surrounded by a bevy of beauties. He seems to be enjoying all the attention until he makes up his mind to walk away from it all to go back to his true love without whom he is incomplete, the title of the song.

I watch in excitement as she directs every scene from her story board with a practiced eye carrying everybody along with an aura of respect. Her energy and commitment to her job was second to none for that period of time. She makes Tinny do the bar scene over and over before she finds a perfect flow.

After a while, she goes over to the make up artist to monitor her as she applies some foundation on the lead female character’s face.

“I would like to see the colour on her face”, she tells the lady with candor. She hangs around awhile watching every stroke of the brush as it leaves mascara on the young actress’s face.

Once or twice I catch her gaze, she looks away and continues with her work. I then seek out a member of Tinny’s management who tells me how “tremendous” her work has been. During break for lunch I catch up with her and she gives me a few minutes of talk time.

I ask about her experience and the difference for her working on that set and working on a New York set for Nas or Jay Z.

“The issues are the same,” she says. “Some things are not working, whether it’s the art department or some people are being late.

“The difference is really that we’re also working as a workshop and some of the people are students. So you want them to have a chance to learn so you have a difficulty of professionalism, of them knowing what their job is.

“My camera men and electricians have been really professional and more committed probably. My DP grabbed his lunch and took his whole crew to set up another shot whereas in the US, people will be griping about meal penalties. The crew is more committed here.”

Then I ask about her challenging role as a female director in hip hop where women are not given much respect.

“That has given me an advantage, actually,” she replies “because when I’m working with the female talents, I’m able to relate with what’s going to bother them. In terms of what goes on set, I try to ensure that they’re treated with respect.

Has she had any problems with guys on set?

“No, I work with an all male crew all the time. Somebody shuts you up on the street all the time in normal life, you just need to know how to handle yourself”, she said.

“And if you carry yourself well, people treat you well. Some men are very sexist but in general I try to look beyond it and just do my work.”

Just as I’m about to ask my next question on equipment and other stuff, someone comes to drag her away. I hang around awhile and see she’s not coming back, work had begun in earnest. And they would continue shooting the video till past 1 O’clock a.m. Everybody is exhausted when they arrive at Aphrodisiac for the after party where DJ Prince Charles from the UK rules the turn table.

But in true showbiz fashion, we all party into the wee hours of the morning, drowning out the stress in booze and heavy music awaiting the outcome of Tinny’s eventful video shoot.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting the African experience

Two sisters who embarked on an eye opening journey by road across West Africa tell their wonderful story.

Chioma (left) and Oluchi on a ferry ride in Senegal during their West African tour.

The lure of the open road consumes the weary traveler a philosopher once wrote. But these two are different. They didn’t look like weary travelers when we met for a drink and an interview at high brow Rhapsody’s, a joint in the Accra Mall, Accra, recently. But the truth of the matter was that the two young ladies had been doing what many people fear to do in this part of the world; they had been traveling across West Africa by road in the first phase of a proposed trip across the entire African continent. And what a marked difference that long journey has made upon the lives of these two young Nigerians. Chioma Ogwuegbu, 29, resigned her job as a programme officer at Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, KIND, Lagos, in June and set out on a 12-country trip across the sub-region.

“I’ve always wanted to travel” she says “and I told myself I want to see the world before I turn 40. So this is the first leg of my trip”. Chioma set off for Accra, Ghana in July after a send forth party from her family and friends. If you think they were not apprehensive about letting her go on a journey into the unknown, you should think again. “Everybody said I was crazy or something” she says laughing and this writer once made a joke about her having probably suffered a recent relationship failure to have caused her to want to leave behind a good job for an uncertain future. She would hear none of that.

On that trip to Accra in July with Chioma was her sister Oluchi, who only wanted to see her off to the beginning of the journey. Even though they had planned it together, Oluchi developed cold feet midway and bade Chioma bye at Cape Coast. From there it was a long journey for the petite, twist-braids wearing Chioma who traveled to Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal alone writing several stories and blog entries on her website with photographs of the enchanting places she was seeing and the beautiful people she met.

“Africa is a very beautiful continent”, she says. Unfortunately, many Africans are too prejudiced about one another to think of traveling their own continent. When they are not prejudiced, the fear of the unknown conspires to discourage them from traveling. “We were told that we would be robbed in Mali but nothing like that ever happened” says Oluchi who later joined up with her sister by flight in Dakar, Senegal when she couldn’t hold down the excitement any longer. She resigned her job at a shipping company in Apapa and set out on the remainder of the journey with her sister. “The misconception about Africa is so much among Africans that we were told not to go to Timbuktu because of armed rebels in the desert but we later met a European woman who had driven herself through Timbuktu and told us it was safe. It was sad that we couldn’t see one of Africa’s most prestigious cities” she laments. “Africans don’t trust themselves but its all lies. We need to experience each other better”.

As the ladies traveled and wrote their stories on their website, so did goodwill messages come their way. “Many people who had said it was crazy now started praising us” Chioma says. The fun they had and the knowledge they have gained was not without perils. They had to sleep on the roadside in the middle of the Sahel in Guinea Bissau when the bus they were traveling in decided it was too long a journey and that the vehicle needed rest. Was there fear in them then? “There wasn’t any fear as everybody else did the same” they reply. Their journey has gotten them some measure of fame and new friends. Wherever they go they do get some recognition. Nii Obodai, a photo artist in Accra recently introduced them to the audience at the Base Lounge’s Bless The Mic, an artist’s underground rendezvous. This got the attention of a few media personalities who quickly sent in offers of interviews.

And they never shy away from telling their story. It was one of the reasons they decided to embark on the trip in the first place. They could have gone to backpack in Europe but Chioma says they decided to begin from Africa. “We don’t have to always go out to Europe for vacation. Africa is beautiful and open to exploration because its people are its biggest assets”, she says. “Strangers just come up to assist you from nowhere”, she recalls about the wonderful people she met across the land. In Tambacunda, Senegal, Chioma met a pleasant family called the Diallos who took her in as their own. She was well treated that at night the family’s matriarch turned over her bed to Chioma and slept on the floor instead, a sign of respect for guests. She remembers vividly the Diallo family’s communal dinner where the huge 15 person household was always divided along sex lines; the women ate alone as did the men, all in a big bowl after washing their hands. “It showed me the essence of family as everyone had to be accounted for at dinner” says Chioma. And there was no shortage of culture shocks. From the youngest child to the oldest adult, everybody was addressed by their first names, she says, and young children could request for handshakes from adults without any rudeness been attached to it.

“Mali is the most beautiful place for me in West Africa” Chioma says “because it is picturesque”. Oluchi chooses Senegal. “Dakar is surrounded by beaches and the women are very elegant” she confesses. But by far the biggest challenge has been the crossing at the different border posts. Much of the hassle is due to corruption among border officials who demand for bribes even though the ECOWAS Protocol states that there should be free entry and exit for all ECOWAS citizens. Much of this is due to lack of control. But that will not dissuade the sisters as they have decided to continue their trip to conquer Africa by land. After traveling 12 countries in West Africa namely Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Togo and Benin, their next focus is on 30 countries in central, eastern and southern Africa. This they know will be much tougher because of visa requirements but they have made up their minds. The second phase of their journey begins in February 2009 when they must have made a restock. They also hope to get more people to join them and have already advertised openings on their website. For them, money is not the major issue but they hope to secure sponsors for the next trip in 2009. Nothing can stop them now, as they say, the lure of the open road consumes the regular traveler. But most importantly, their journey is to draw the attention of young Africans to the beauty that Africa holds.