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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Friday, April 30, 2010

TWF diaries: Tarkwa Bay

Tarkwa was an experiment that paid off. I cannot remember if it was in our original show plan or not but it all started with a photo shoot. Eniola, our tireless PR and media lady had declared all my old pictures too psychedelic and wanted more “relatable” pictures. What that means of course is that she wanted my driven, determinedly single, opinionated, journalist/ media business owner, sinewy self softened into a more agreeable, rounder figured, homely, Ankara wearing, non threatening Nigerian woman. Poor thing, l only looked angry in most of the pictures we took. Must tell you my two-year attempt to be more “relatable” and the day I threw out the bullshit with the two faced plonkers who require it. Oh shit! I’m also not supposed to swear, good relatable women and stars do so they can get huge endorsements only to be caught pants down and then booed by the media, go into hiding, come out and shoot a creepy commercial. OK. I am PMSing. Where was l? Yes Tarkwa so the first pictures were so bad and so fake that Eniola decided to do another set with a different photographer. Bayo suggested Tarkwa Bay as a good backdrop and we got Musa Musa (so good they named him twice) to do the photography.
As we were discussing the shoot, Chris then had the idea to use our shoot as a test run for his TWF shoot.

So on the 19th April 2009 we all got into boats and went off to Tarkwa bay. Our man on ground was Eskay whom l had met through my friend and lawyer Morenike Nedum, nee Ransome-Kuti and my old friend Illemakin Soyinka. Eskay used to road run for Fela and is a fixture of the Ransome Kuti/ Anikapo Kuti families. Eskay is hard to describe, a slight wiry man with a sarcastic tongue and accidental humour, he is a survivor of many pro democracy rallies and a bit of an aging rascal.

On arrival, we were met by ‘Highest’, his tattoos and scars tell an eloquent story of his past. It was my first time at the village, l usually go to the beach and was completely oblivious to the community behind it. The village was tense and antagonistic; we only got by because we had Eskay and our bodyguard. After getting the communities cooperation, we settled at a bar where l was provided with a piece of muslin cloth to hand between two doors. This was my changing room. As Musa Musa set up, l was in hair and makeup and all sorts of characters stopped by to say hello.
There was the Rastafarian gutter man and the Liberian mama! With an exclamation mark please.
As usual l need to pee and soon found out that the toilet was somewhere right on a path between two villages. The stench and rot curded my mind.
Not that you could tell as l posed for photographs as the people watched, some scornful, some curious. The most outstanding thing was the loud sermons blaring out of the loud speakers at the nearby mountain of fire and miracles church. I cannot tell you how surreal it all was. I later found out the people were so unwelcoming because of a recent army raid and rumours that we were spying for Governor Fashola whom they hear plans to bulldoze the villages. It took a while to convince them otherwise.

After the shoot I interviewed a very intense bone setter’s wife who at over 50 and 6 children had the most toned arms, a result of decades of rowing and fishing. I was told she is the hardest working citizen of this place and for years would be up at 4am to fish with babies tied to her back. She now sells pure water, as she no longer has an engine for her boat.

I also interviewed her husband the bone setter and the Liberian Maama! Finally we moved to the beach where l did the second part of the photoshoot and then changed back into my TWF costume to interview a few beach goers before a race to interview Azeezat the music star by fire at dusk before we lose the sun. The idea was to have a picturesque beach fire setting. Well we lost the sun and almost lost our minds after such a grueling day.

Well, you know what? We had to redo it all again minus the shoot 4 weeks later after we returned from filming all the other editions. Why? There were unforgivable errors from some of the crew we were testing so Chris got on the plane to South Africa to find new crew to join the few on ground crew who made the grade. That was the crew we took on the road.

So it was that on 24th May 2009, we returned to Tarkwa, we had to recreate the same look and feel because we were mixing contents from different shoots. We shot every single scene and interview again; Chris is anal. In addition we shot good new interviews with the bonesetter’s son, the CDA chairman and new beachcombers.
For those of you in Africa, see if you can spot the difference at least on my person;-).

We almost shot at by the naval patrolmen on the waters as we rode back to Victoria Island at night but calmed our nerves at Tarzan jetty were Sunday nights are a ball.
Saturday, April 17, 2010

TWF diaries: Emotan's Daughters

Still hibernating far from home and without my diary so I cannot remember the exact details of date and order but I remember the day we shot the Oba of Benin, hey back off you proud Benin people l did not shoot your Oba o. Cheap, l know

As I mentioned last week, I and Bayo had found a simple lace and gele outfit for the visit to the Oba and everyone had conflicting advice about how best to approach him, greet him and generally conduct myself before him. One thing l can tell you for free is that the people of Benin revere their Oba. The reaction is the same from market traders to university professors; in fact if you mention his name, they automatically say “Oba Gha to Kpere . . . . Ise”! So much so I was tempted to keep saying it to get same reactions over and over again in his court.

We arrived the Palace and were received by Abdul Oroh and a few chiefs. The compound was large and unremarkable except for the diversity of people hanging about, some to see the Oba, some to sell memorabilia and others to curry favours.

I had been told there was a part of the palace women were not allowed to go which of course was where l wanted to go but I am not quite crazy or daring enough.

Whilst waiting outside, I noticed that a lot of the chiefs going into the palace were eminent Nigerians from all works of life; I was fascinated by their half-shaven head and was told you could tell the rank of each chief by the extent of shaving and number of beads on him. There were no female chiefs.

After about forty minutes we were allowed into the court so we could position the cameras and lights, a tough job in a place we had not been allowed to Reece before hand, which turned out to be a small poorly lit over crowded room.

I was anxious and tense, a little confused by all the rules, regulations, ceremonies and wait, and believe me wait we did. We waited so long some of the guys dozed off and l got more tensed especially with the testosterone overload. Once in a while someone would come in from the inner room and everyone would jump to attention only to find it was not the Oba.

Eventually, an emissary came in and announced that the Oba was coming out, we all sprang to attention and thirty minutes later the Oba, lead by a youth (he is said to be a eunuch) came in to chorus of “Oba Gha to Kpere . . . . Ise”.

I was enthralled, he looked older than his pictures and portraits but here was the famed Oba of Benin in touching distance. I had been told he would not speak to me in English but he began by belligerently asking in English that the boom mike (who dares put a body mike of him) be moved away from his stool and the light be repositioned and so on. My heart sank; this was not going to be an easy interview.

It was not easy, It was in fact a sparring match but I was determined not to back down so I switched into my dump blonde reporter mode, asking seemingly stupid questions with a bright smile and demure (I hope) disposition. He answered each question with a question or put down but as we went on l realized it was his style so I ploughed on. When I asked if any Oba had ever abdicated his throne there was a collective gasp and the man looked at me like l was a complete idiot, he did not answer. I was mentally having fun now. He had said he would only answer a few questions but an hour later I asked my cheeky question about the place of women in his court and got a mischievous reply. All in all I would not say I found the Oba charming but I would say I thoroughly deserved the comment whispered to me by one of the high chiefs as I left. He said, “You are a brave woman, good job”.

On our third day in Benin we went to film the highest ranking female in the land, a woman whose role had been specially created by the Oba as women are not traditionally high chiefs in Benin. A very strange situation as Benin women are so strong and enterprising. I wondered what the correlation was between the unacknowledged central role of the Benin woman and the elephant in the room in every interview. The issue of human trafficking and international prostitution, which has an unfortunate Benin face. We went on to later film one of the most harrowing human trafficking story l have ever heard from a survivor who is now living with HIV but that is another diary.

The Iyeye of Benin was a lively personality living with a court of women. Said to be so powerful she is the only one who can intercede on an offender’s behalf with the Oba, she was funny, regal but cautious and pained about the trafficking issue. The interview with her was strange, as we needed an interpreter who was one of her nephews visiting from America. It was weird hearing him go from his American English to heavy Benin. All these whilst the Iyeye sat on a round concrete slab throne When we finished, she presented us with cartoons of juice and biscuits and promised to find me a Benin husband by next year.

Then we drove to the famous Benin market to film the next bit. When our convoy of vehicles arrived, the market lead by the gun-wielding policemen, everyone took to their heels and the market emptied in no time. I vividly remember the man who quickly grabbed his two lovely children, bundled them into his old hatch back Peugeot and drove off, fast. I was mortified and I just wanted to pee, so Macho, one of the body guards lead me into a house where everyone was peeping out of the window with one person pointing us in the direction of the outdoor toilet. What is it with us and toilets in this country?

It took almost an hour to reassure and persuade the traders and market goers to return, apparently there had been a recent raid and rumours of planned government restructure of the market so all those vehicles and the policemen set off their alarm.

The market shoot was great. I had always wanted to meet the famous female butchers of Benin and the women received me warmly asking after my daughter and complaining about the end of my old show. That market has everything on sale from food to clothes to animals dead and living. There were rumours of human body parts for sale but l did not see any such thing displayed.

I found the market women beautiful and funny and we left the market without any more incidence.

After the market I changed my dashiki top to a Deola Sagoe tee shirt and my flats to heels for a surprise visit to the famous university of Benin. The students mobbed me in no time and the dean of student affairs was welcoming.

However I could sense the tension on the campus and the dean advised that I should not stay too long as they do not encourage large congregations of students who are likely to come around once they know I was on their campus.

Fortunately it started to rain so we could not do much filming. However we still had a few busing over, in half an hour, we had over fifty young people gathered around and growing. I had a quick interactive session with the students and left the campus completely heartbroken.

I found the state of infrastructure awful but more worrisome was the intangibles. Just the way in which the place lacked academia. I thought it was my over sensitive over critical mind playing tricks on me until the DOP from Cape Town came over and said he found the campus depressing. I asked him why and he said he’d had a mental picture of what a university campus was typically like and what he saw was nothing like it, cinematographically unappealing and very sad indeed. I knew he was right, I worried about the students, I worried about the future but it was game night so I joined the boys at their hotel to watch the match.

It appeared Benin had a lot more to offer the boys than football and beer so I returned to my hotel wishing l too could numb my senses with a bit of company, alcohol and twenty two men running after a ball far away from here.

Emotan's Daughters airs on TWF tomorrow 18th April on Africa Magic 6pm local time 7pm central African time.

Also Talk with Funmi is now on Africa Independent Television (AIT) from Monday 19th April, 2010. 11pm Nigerian time
Friday, April 09, 2010

TWF Diaries: Legends and Myths

I often have to sneak in and out of the country to stroke my sanity. This is good. What is not so good is that I left my TWF diary at home. Yes there is an actual retro long hand written journal so l will have to do this week’s diaries from memory.

Don’t quote me but I seem to remember that we shot the first part with the priest of the feared holy Aruosa church on May 26th and the next part with legendary Victor Uwaifo next day.

The crew had driven 2 days ahead of us from Lagos whilst we flew into a very grey and depressing Benin late evening May 25th.

We had been informed that we would require additional security in Benin so the police commissioner had been very helpful supplying four fully armed police men in contrast to the plain cloth policemen we used in Lagos and the relaxed policemen in Ondo. The Benin security was tough, tight and very professional. They were also very humane and friendly, we were sad to part with them after the shoot but then I am jumping the figurative gun aren’t l? The one point l must make tough is that the road trip showed me the potential of the Nigerian police if like everything else there was no issue of political corruption, poor funding, inadequate training, appalling salaries and work conditions.

Okay Funmi, stop digressing. We stayed at one of the best hotels in town but it was a shit hole, okay maybe l am biased because it was symbolic of the way in which past administrators had raped this once beautiful state. The entire city was rather jumpy and uptight; a point l made to the information commissioner, my old friend Abdul Oroh when we sat down to a delicious pounded yam dinner at his home. The governor Adams Oshiomhole was out of town so we could not talk with him.

On the morning of the 26th, Bayo and l debated what would be appropriate to wear to visit the Oba and to go to the Holy Aruosa church. Abdul had said that the Oba was cosmopolitan and l could appear there in trousers if l wanted to. I did not think agree, so l wore iro and buba with gele. I can tell you about the encounter with the Oba of Benin but that’s another day’s diary. We filmed the Holy Aruosa church after l survived my encounter with the Oba. Benin was getting on my nerves at this stage and my head was aching from the heat and the tight gele, which l took off and Bayo replaced with a wig.

After all the mystery and hushed tones l had experienced during the research about the holy Aruosa church, l had expected a much more impressive building but the church was pretty nondescript. To enter we were told to pay a “token” so we could speak with the priest. My impression of the priest is better kept to myself and l failed to see the mystery and mythic.

His stories about the origin of Benin would have been really special in a better-appointed edifice and if we didn’t have to “drop something”. The final straw was when l asked to use the toilet and was pointed outdoors to a corrugated iron sheet “shit in my face” contraption. Haba, you mean all the dignitaries who attend this church come here to stoop and pee on past pees?
The rest of the day was spent filming future episodes and searching for a decent meal in town.

Next day May 27th we filmed Sir Victor Uwaifo. Chris had come back from his technical Reece of the location the day before a little lost for words to explain what the professor’s place is like. When we arrived to shot l understood. The place is a cross between a dungeon, a morgue and a museum complete with eerie sound effects and low lighting. In fact the only way we could shoot some of the rooms was with the EOS camera and it is impossible to recreate the mood and ambience of that place. It is something to be experienced.

Sir Victor himself is an energetic, enigmatic mad professor. A restless man of bondless energy and limitless creative expression. His home/museum is a monument to his talent, gifts, career and ego.
I wonder what he must be like in class when he lectures. A legendary musician, TV personality, prolific sculptor, artist, body builder, public administrator and university lecturer, he, his work and his home overwhelm.

We spent an entire day filming and he neither stopped for drink or food nor paused for breath, picking me up unexpectedly at one point like l was feather weight, don’t go there!

We thoroughly enjoyed the time with him and l marveled that they don’t make them like this anymore but also that sir Victor is one example of a few Nigerian aberrations, a mad unstoppable genius expressing him in spite or perhaps because of our often-chaotic existence.

Legends and Myths airs on TWF this Sunday 11th April on Africa Magic 6pm local time 7pm central African time.
Friday, April 02, 2010

TWF Diaries: Eko for show

Wednesday May 20th 2009
I woke up feeling ill so I suppressed it but my eyes were dead and I was jumpy. Perhaps to hide the ravages, make up and wardrobe took a while but the boys surpassed themselves as you couldn’t tell how poorly off I was in my energy Ankara dress from Deola Sagoe, pillar box red lips and my elaborately rolled up hair. It was fitting for the EKO FOR SHOW edition.

We arrived the lovely Carima d Laurent’s nail place for the shoot and our second subject fashionista/boutique owner Vivian Chiologi had gone AWOL, fortunately Stylist Ifeoma Williams was passing through and as she is always camera ready and fun to talk with, she made a great substitute. I am sure Ifeoma goes to bed perfectly put together.

From Nail place we went to Auto Lounge to film the Bentleys, shame I couldn’t drive one. Carima and I met the exotic store manager who looks and sounds like an East European runway model. I don’t love cars but I like Top Gear and have fantasies of doing the guest lap and meeting the Stig.

From the Bentley shop we drove to Designers club on Awolowo road to talk with the effervescent owner Ndidi and Lighting expert Akin Ariyo who is the first man l ever saw in a wine coloured Oswald Boateng suit off the run way.

Afterwards, I changed and we met up with Senator Toks Afikuyomi, commissioner for tourism who took us on a tour of the smaller islands in Lagos. He has always is jolly and talkative. Filming at a tiny island with two guards was weird. Actually, filming this whole episode was weird as it is such a huge contrast to the life of many Nigerians. I suppose we are not just trying to capture the lifestyle of the tiny percent of the population living in this bubble but the aspiration of others to that somewhat unreal life.

Friday May 22nd 2009
My dad paid me a visit and told me a story of a couple in Badagry where he lives. It is such a medieval story and a far cry from what we had filmed two days ago. I wonder how long these extremes will continue to exist side by side and the possible break point. We finished the rest of the shoot on the famous Prest boat. Lagos on the water at night looks really beautiful.

Afterwards, I changed and we filmed the abe igi conversation with the three okada riders in front of Bonzai the upscale Japanese restaurant in Victoria Island. I cannot seem to get away from those extremes and the unease I feel so I decided to untie the knots in my stomach with a memorable night out with the boys to NEWSCAFE.

Eko for show airs on TWF this Sunday 4th April on Africa Magic 6pm local time 7pm central African time.