When one thinks about the rise of contemporary and hip hop dance in Nigeria in the past decade, the name ‘Kaffy’ comes to mind. Kafayat Shafau is widely credited as Nigeria’s foremost dancer and choreographer for music videos. She is a fitness and dance instructor and runs her own dance school. In 2006, she danced her way into the Guinness World Record with her team, Imagneto at the Nokia Silverbird Danceathon and has since become a point of reference in the Nigerian entertainment industry whenever dance is concerned. She has choreographed music videos and concert tours for several artists and has acted as a judge on some Reality TV Shows in her capacity as a professional dancer. In this exclusive interview with Bellanaija’s Adeola Adeyemo, Kaffy speaks about her love for dance, her recent marriage, her son and much more.
As a Nigerian, living in Nigeria, and dealing with people who believe in the concept of the “Nigerian time”, I am almost always kept waiting when I go out for interviews. But Kaffy wasn’t late. She was only busy doing what she knew how to do best, dancing. When I got to the Eko Gym & Spa, Victoria Island, Lagos, the venue for our interview, I met her having dance rehearsals with her team and so I had to wait and watch them at work. Kaffy was a delight to watch. While dancing in the midst of other good dancers, she stood out. There was something about the way she moved, the expression on her face that spoke volumes about what passion truly was. When we finally got to chat, she had a cool, relaxed personality that was very endearing.
Hi Kaffy, I’ve had a delightful time watching you dance. There is something about the expression on your face when you dance that intrigues me. Could you explain it?
My expression comes with passion, how I feel the music. It’s the way I feel the music that I express it. So it’s not like I can explain it to you, I can only tell you that it comes from what you feel.
You have quite a vibrant team here. Are they all professional dancers?
It’s a dance company comprising of a lot of young people who have the flair for dancing. Not everybody starts out as a professional so it’s more or less like training on the job. A vibrant team is made up of vibrant people. They came with that passion, they came loving and enjoying dance and those of them that have lasted this far are those that have taken up to that level. The name of the company is called Imagneto and the dancers are called Imagneto dancers. It’s not really about the name but the passion that drives them.
What does it take to be a member of your dance team?
It takes passion. If I see a young talented person, I call them up or they come to me and we try and work it out and they realize how much they have to train to be part of us and that is how we become a team.
I notice you do very well as a dance instructor too. I’d like to understand the structure of your business better. Do you teach people dancing lessons for a fee as well as performing too?
I teach, I train and I’m also a fitness trainer. When we see talents, we try and understand the level of dance they are in and we try and train them to the level of dance that we are hoping and aspiring to get to. We also have people that are middle aged, older and business people that we train dancing not just for stage but also for fitness, to enjoy life and for leisure.
It must have taken a lot to get to this point. Take me back to the beginning. How did you discover your talent as a dancer?
Dance has always been a hobby for me ever since I was a kid. It was not something I decided I wanted to be a dancer right away. It was just part of me and I developed it by watching most of the time.
As a kid, tell me about some early memories you have of you dancing to the admiration of people?
I was a very active child and till now I am still very active, so dancing was part of those activities I did as a kid. Whenever I went to parties, I realized that people just stared at me while I was dancing and I was wondering why. I even got shy. After my Primary School, I just stopped dancing outside actively. I was more into dancing in my bedroom in front of the mirror.
I read somewhere that at some point while growing up, schooling became pretty tough for you.
I grew up as a nerd. I was a science student who wanted to study aeronautical engineering but life has its way of defining who you want to be and how it would be. Education was pretty tough. Apart from my primary school, secondary school and University happened when my family broke up and since then I learnt a lot from the crisis. It really taught me how to be a strong person, how to focus as a youth and I didn’t create any excuse for myself. I tried every means to educate myself even when there weren’t opportunities to do that readily. In every situation I found myself, I had to break the boundaries. If I couldn’t afford books, I borrowed; if I couldn’t go to school, I went to my friends that went to school and I sat with them and I learnt. I did loads of things to conquer the barriers that were in front of me when I was aspiring to educate myself.
That was really touching. But fast forward to several years later, almost every musician wanted you to dance in their music videos. Tell me about that era, when you began to get popular appearing on music videos and how that came about?
Dance was just becoming known and seen as a valuable commodity for the music scene. I appeared at a show called Karamba and before I knew it, they were so many musicians on that show and that is how I got to meet Lexy Doo, Ruggedman, Ayuba and within a period of three months, I shot all their videos. That is how I started becoming very popular right before I even did the P-Square Roll It. At some point, I just had to find a way to just curtail it. I’ve been involved in so many videos that people don’t see me on either as a choreographer or I send my dancers over there. It’s not all the time you see me appear in the music videos.
What was your first paycheck as a dancer? How much was it and what was the event?
My first major paying job for dancing was the MTN Yello show several years ago and I think that was when I made my first million as a dancer.
Million? Hmm… that sounds juicy. Now, how much would I need to pay to have Kaffy and her team perform at my show?
To pay for us now is much more than that but it all depends on the job description, the theme of the event and how many dancers are involved so it’s quite negotiable.
Your name has gone down in history as leading the team that broke the Guinness World Record for the longest dance party in 2006 dancing for 55 hours, 40 minutes. What was the experience like?
The experience was amazing, exciting, tiring and it was a great test of mind, body and soul.
Now, when young people who love dancing see you, they want to be like you. Did you have anyone you looked up to at the start of your career who you wanted to be like?
I didn’t really have anybody I looked up to but I had people I admired. Michael Jackson was a great inspiration and I was greatly influenced by the way he danced. I really admire Beyonce’s tenacity and determination and she is a stickler for perfection. Also, dancers and choreographers that we don’t even know, I got inspired by their passion and work ethics.
You’ve had quite some experience with reality TV Shows, as a judge on Malta Guiness Dance All and a faculty member with Project Fame West Africa. Has your experience on these shows shaped your decision to start your own reality show?
It wasn’t the reason why I wanted to do my reality show. My reality show is based on the fact that I want to get people aware of what is going on in our own industry. To educate people and help shape the minds of those that want to go into dancing.
Still talking about Project Fame, I remember seeing you dancing even very energetically on the show while you were heavily pregnant. And I heard you were still dancing and performing actively during your pregnancy.
I was trying to send a message across to women, especially African women who are always treated like eggs whenever they are pregnant. Exercise and active living while pregnant is very important and also very valuable to the health of the mother and child bearing. I was trying to make a statement that, look, if you know your doctor gives you a pass mark and you are not in any of those risk zones during pregnancy, there are exercises for every level of pregnancy.
At the early stage of your pregnancy, there were some rumours trending. People alleged that you denied that you were pregnant even while you were.
I never denied my pregnancy, I just said that if I was pregnant they should wait and see. Pregnancy is not something that you hide. I can’t swallow it and pretend I am not. So asking a private question when I do not want to answer is just one of those things that we get as celebrities.
What would you say to people who have negative comments about you having a child before getting married?
Everybody has their own opinion about that but the most important thing in life is doing things right at the end of the day no matter how you start.
You’ve been married for barely a year now. How has married life been? How have you been able to combine the responsibilities as a wife, mother and professional dancer?
Married life has been great. I love my husband and he loves me. We live together as people who love each other and understand each other. If you love your family and you love your work, as long as there is love existing in both terrains, it would be easy to cope. But when you hate one for the other, that is when it’s a problem. So I think the love I have for both my family and my work helps me balance that out.
How is your cute son doing? Has he started dancing yet?
He is very well and he’s doing well, thank you. As for the dancing, we’d wait and see.
Is it coincidental that you got married to someone also in the music industry or was it what you always wanted?
I won’t say it’s a coincidence. It’s not like I went searching for a man in the industry, love brought us together and love has kept us together.
On a parting note for now, you are credited as one of the people that commercialised contemporary dance in Nigeria. How does that feel?
If I am seen as doing that, then I am grateful to be seen as that but it’s all about what I wanted to be. I don’t know how it started, it just started.
It was great chatting with Kaffy and from Bellanaija.com, we wish her the very best!
Kaffy – Omo Gidi