Skepta, Grace Ladoja, Odunsi and more on why Lagos is having a cultural moment, and the significance for the diaspora
Today we explore Nigeria’s youth culture community, through the lens of some of the country’s most influential young thinkers
Everything about Lagos is loud. The hum from the generators is constant as they ward off the rolling power cuts caused by the city’s unstable power supply day and night. Each road is clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic and bleating horns. There’s passionate conversations that are hard to decipher if you’re not fluent in pidgin – which also means you can never tell if they’re heated or just animated. As soon as you arrive you can feel the chaotic energy, and even though I had never visited before, when I arrived on Easter weekend 2018, I instantly felt like I’d come home.
That feeling of returning back to your roots is what powers Homecoming, an ambitious three-day event conceived and organised by Skepta's manager Grace Ladoja, and Greatness Dex of BBK Africa, featuring Skepta, and scores of local creatives. As Skepta told me, Lagos “has been ignored for too long”. Before darting off to roll a spliff, he said it means “everything” to come back and hear Nigerians recite his lyrics passionately. “I’m just performing; it was all Grace and (Greatness) Dex.”
When I met Ladoja by the pool on the final evening of the mini-festival, she was elated. “I’ve just done the most epic shit in the last few days”, she said. Her voice was hoarse, as we’d just seen a live show that put rising British artists like BBK, Lancey Foux, Not3s, and J Hus on the same stage as local game changers Wizkid, Davido, and Odunsi. The idea for the event struck Ladoja two years ago. “I was having a conversation with Skepta, Greatness Dex, and Wizkid, we had just played a show in Nigeria but it wasn't right. So we were like, you know what, we should come back and do our own show. That's when Dex coined the name ‘Homecoming’. He’s great at words – it just felt right.”
Their vision was realised as models, music industry heavyweights, designers, and artists converged over the course of the weekend – most of them almost constantly tipsy on the cocktails provided. Patta presented an exclusive Lagos 2018 collection at the Homecoming pop-up shop. OFF-WHITE, Patta and the up-and-coming local streetwear label Vivendii created custom alternative football jerseys which were worn in a star-studded football ‘Friends and Family’ tournament hosted by NATIVE, a local youth culture magazine – Skepta’s team lost. Nike reps who were debuting the Nigerian football kit for the world cup handed the jerseys to excited children and teens, and played football with them on Tarkwa Bay Beach. It all culminated with a sold-out show at the Federal Palace.
“I've always taken people across the world to celebrate identity”, Ladoja said of her vocation. “Skepta and I work together on helping to break a genre of music worldwide – obviously along with a lot of other people, but we definitely spearheaded that. But it was about the genre and not about Skepta. It was about breaking the British genre of music worldwide, and the London lifestyle, and showing people what that was without explaining it to them, and feeling proud to be British anywhere in the world.”
“We’re in a movie about elevating youth culture in Africa. We’re British-Nigerian and not one more than the other and we all have a role to play” – Grace Ladoja
Ladoja thinks of her life in terms of storylines in a film, and her Nigerian patriotism is just another sub-plot. “I started making films, and mainly documentaries, so I've always thought about storytelling”, she explained. “Before, we were in a movie about making grime global. Now, we're in a movie about elevating youth culture in Africa. We're British-Nigerian and not one more than the other, and we all have a role to play.” If this era of European/American-Nigerian relations is a film, then our own ancestry is the prequel. So many people on the trip were reconnecting with Nigeria as a way of getting to know themselves.
The 32-year-old spent her adolescence feeling like “it was hard to be Nigerian as it wasn’t celebrated”. She echoed my own past habit of trying to assimilate. However, as white nationalism is on the rise, black British identity has been undermined. There is a direct correlation between growing up in an increasingly hostile western environment and yearning to reconnect with your heritage. We’ve all been forced to ask questions like: what does it mean to be a part of the African diaspora? This question reverberates through popular TV shows like Chewing Gum, films like Black Panther, and the sunnier sounds of British Afropop records. It led me to track my family down during the weekend to enjoy pounded yam and stew – just to find a part of myself in a place I’d heard about, but never seen.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell (Skepta’s rumoured girlfriend) recently said that each job she does at this stage of her career is less about fame, and more about helping black people. Fittingly, she split her time between turning heads at Arise Fashion Week and spotlighting fresh talent at Homecoming events. She also introduced Skepta’s performance onstage. Her presence in the city garnered a lot of media attention, especially when she walked the runway for former Givenchy creative director, Ozwald Boateng. When I met Boateng he was with his fresh-faced children, who were both excited to be in Lagos for the first time. He wanted to show them that the city is “New York on steroids.”
“If I think about the first time I did a fashion show in Lagos to now, in terms of the people and the attendance and the attitude towards fashion, it's alight. The youth here are getting a voice like I can't imagine. For example, the success of Wizkid is now on the global front,” he said. “As a designer you learn to look into the future because that's just how we operate, designing a collection two years in advance, so you're never living in the present. I've been feeling that change for a long time. It’s key to be able to embrace your culture in your creativity, to go back to your cultural roots.”
If Nigeria’s population continues to grow, and people move to cities at the same rate as now, Lagos could become the world’s largest metropolis, home to 85 or 100 million people in the next 60 years. It’s no wonder then that it is establishing itself as the beating heart of African pop-culture. Lagosian producer Odunsi is one of dozens who were eager to show me that Lagos is about to become a “hot city.” “Now with trends, social media, and our heavy and intense nightlife, people can see themselves coming here more”, he explained.
Before the Homecoming live music show, stylist Irene Agbontaen and I swapped stories of how views of Nigeria are changing, while drinking out of coconuts. “Everybody is embracing it. I’ve had people DMing me for time like: ‘I'm gonna come Lagos, I wanna come (to) Lagos with you’”, she said. Agbontaen owns TTYA London, a boutique of staples for tall women. She hosted a panel talk during the weekend’s festivities, and is also a long time friend of Ladoja. “We've been coming for years, we've been building this and now we're at the level where we can bring our family, friends, and other people like you to show what our country really is. That’s some next level spiritual shit.”
“Everybody is embracing it. I’ve had people DMing me for time like: ‘I'm gonna come Lagos, I wanna come (to) Lagos with you’” – Irene Agbontaen, TTYA
Homecoming is as educational as it is hedonistic. Nightlife expeditions to Fela Kuti’s shrine, to dance as his son played pioneering afrobeat sounds, showed us what inspired the Wizkids of today. Through fashion collaborations, Lagos designers were mentored by major brands. Fashion met music, music met sport, dancing with locals and dancing next to Skepta felt the same – all of us just soaking up the energy Lagos has to offer, and retracing our roots at the same time.