Kemi Adetiba is a woman on a mission to etch her name in the sands of time. Strike that! She is doing it already. With over ten years in the media/entertainment industry, she has covered a diverse field of experience. She has worked in radio, been on TV and is currently leaving a mark with her work behind the lens.
Kemi Adetiba, who has worked on some of the most quality music videos out of the Nigerian music industry, is one who constantly pushes to break the frontiers of mediocrity. She is fun, hardworking and is completely unapologetic for her successes.
Her personality as well as the her work ethic is why she is under the BellaNaija spotlight today. We are very glad to bring you this informative interview with the beautiful and sassy Kemi Adetiba. We hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed the interview.
Who is Kemi Adetiba?
Kemi is a bright lady (I hope) of 34 years old, with a law degree from University of Lagos, and a film one from the New York Film Academy (NY Campus). I have been in the industry for roughly 14 years, starting off on the radio as an OAP/DJ for Rhythm 93.7fm, then adding jobs/skills as a Celebrity DJ, TV/event personality, and now director/producer for motion visuals (documentaries, TV content, Music videos, Film, Commercials).
Can you share some memorable moments of your childhood?
Hmmm…I grew up surrounded by music. It was a BIG thing in my family. It was what woke you up in the morning as my parents readied for work and my siblings and I woke up for school. I remember my dad had this house coat… it was quite short for a man and he’d walk up to extensive vinyl collection (we must have had 10,000 in number) pick out an album, pull it out its sleeve, look at it while flipping it over and over (I think he was looking for scratches). Then he’d take that vinyl, rub it on butt part of his house coat, then lay it on the vinyl player bed, and ever so gently prop the needle on to play. For every time he picked up a vinyl record, he did the EXACT same thing. My brothers and I used to mimic the action a lot when we were kids. And music would BOOM through the entire house… Aretha Franklin, Betty Wright, Ray Charcles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Miatta Fanbulleh, Millie Jackson, MICHAEL Jackson.. the list goes on and on. This is the kind of music I grew up with. This is the kind of music that inspired me.
I remember a funny story, I was about 10 or 12, and it’s the age kids start developing their own taste in music. This was the time kids used to speak to neighbor kids over the ‘verandah’… You DARE not go down without permission… And this was rarely given.
Anyway, I had this neighbor and she was a couple years younger than I was. She had three older brothers and I had a crush on the oldest two (just leave it, I was 10 remember). This was when MC Hammer had started reigning, and they used to bump his ‘cassette’ loud, but no competition for the BOOM of my parent’s Marvin Gaye or Ottis Redding. So with my two younger brothers in tow, over the ‘verandah’ we begged her to ask her older brothers to “borrow” the cassette. I don’t know how we thought we were going to get the tape as we were banned from going downstairs. However, we had our “Kiddies Courier” that we used frequently, which was throwing to each other’s verandah.
Anyway, she comes back stifling a giggle. It took her a good two minutes to contain herself before she delivered their response. “Tolu says you should go and listen to your PETTY PETTY Music” and bursts out laughing. Now for kids (10, 8 and 6) on that crossroad, trying to join the “cool kids”, this cut like a knife. The ‘coolest’ thing my parent’s played, was Michael Jackson. DANG!
But it’s cool. I love that we grew up with the music foundation, because today, my brothers and I know WAY more about music than the average person. I can listen to a hit song today and list out ALL the songs that were sampled. It’s GREAT! I’d love to pass on my knowledge of “PETTY PETTY” music to my kids and give them that same experience growing up. Music is life and is still a big deal in my life.
Coming from a family of creative spirits like yours, do you feel the need push extra hard to achieve?
No, not at all. Maybe because I am the oldest and the first to get into the game after my father. My father is one of the pioneers of Nigerian Broadcasting and (eventually) also called the “Guru of Advertising”, so it was some sort of a No-brainer that I would get into this line of business. I was that weird child. My family is extremely creative, Yes. I say we just missed the last ship to becoming a hippie family 🙂 but it has never felt like a competition. Never has, and I doubt it ever will.
What did you do before filmmaking?
Before going into visual production from behind the camera, as everyone knows, I was IN FRONT of the camera and on radio. Radio was fun. I can TALK for Africa if I’m comfortable. So, that was a great experience for me. And back then I had the luxury of choosing my playlist so I always wanted to educated people with music. I’d play a Diddy song, and blend it in with some good ol’ Frank Sinatra. I used to have this segment of my Sunday show “Sunday At The Seaside” where I’d play a recent hit and the audience had to guess what oldie it sampled. For instance I’d play Kanye West’s THROUGH THE WIRE and play Chaka Khan’s THROUGH THE FIRE right after. Radio days were AWESOME! I truly miss it. I think I’d be in my perfect element if I went back to it. Unfortunately, I travel a lot so would not be able to commit to a station, unless it was pre-recorded.
TV hosting eventually joined the mix. I used to do some gigs on the then newly opened TV arm of Rhythm. Then came along Studio 53, Soundcity etc. Great times. Great, GREAT TIMES!
Did you get any training for making films?
I did get training for film. Before I left for film school, I’d always had a fascination for cameras. Whenever I was out on location working (as host) I’d spend lots of time asking the camera men questions about their equipment. However, the decision to go to film school wasn’t because I thought I had this innate skill for it. NO!! It was because, 1. I had been traveling a lot for work the last couple years prior and needed a break. But the type of person I am, I decided to learn a new skill during that break. BINGO New York Film Academy.
2. I felt the need to have an added skill that did not involve the way I looked or my age. I was still very young at the time but I was looking ahead. I needed more security within the industry so I chose the course. It was not till I got to Film School and my head teacher (and mentor today) looked at me one day and said “Kemi, you have an uncanny nack for telling stories” I will NEVER forget that day, I will NEVER forget that statement. That was the beginning of the madness. And when more people started saying the same thing, I started paying attention to further honing the skill.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Seeing the finished product and hearing people talk about how they felt watching it. It’s like birthing a baby. You’re PROUD!! It’s an insane feeling. I am not used to it yet. I never want to be. It drives me to do more and BETTER!
Kemi Adetiba does NOT make run of the mill videos. How do you choose the projects you work on?
I definitely do not take just anything that lands on my desk. I have to feel inspired by your project. Let’s say music videos… If I listen to your music and I don’t see pictures in my head or I am not excited like a little child to do it, then I will politely excuse myself from the project. The final answer is not about making money. It’s an answer but not the final one. Music videos are my way of creating short art/film, since lack of a budget is keeping me from doing the real big thing.
I am the most uncool director. If it is an artiste I have always wanted to work with, or a song I heard and REALLY wanted to do, once I get that call, I’m like a CHILD. I will call you ALLLLLL the time telling you about all the cool things we should do or add. I FORCE “best friendship” during the duration of the shoot. It is imperative that director and talent become one during that time.
What are the unique features of a Kemi Adetiba Film?
Hmmm… I don’t think I am the best person to answer that. I think the audience/consumer is in a better place to. I only go with what my gut and spirit tell me to do on any particular project. It’s an experience I can’t put into words. I only know that every new project I take on, I want it better than the last. And I am so passionate for it’s success that I sometimes cry during the course of bringing it to fruition. Art is sometimes pain and I am not afraid or ashamed to feel that.
What are your thoughts on the current quality of music videos for Nigerian music?
I think it’s great. We have a lot of great people representing the cause so I am very excited about it. We cover all genres, topics, shades of people so everyone I believe is well represented. If you want a booty shaking video, we have that. You want more of a narrative, we have that. You want some sort of a montage, we have that. The only problem I see it that it’s a bit of a Mafia. We have the same names over and over. And A-list artiste will not go to a no-name to shoot a video for one of his top hits. I believe there are a lot of extremely creative music video directors out there that are still faceless. I want to do something about this and open up the circle a bit.
What’s the most difficult project you’ve embarked on and how did you overcome the challenges?
Lagos Party… A house with 500 people that believe shooting a music video is JUST the way you see it on TV. No honey! It’s that same damn song on loop, OVER AND OVER AND OVER for 8 hours straight. Lots of start, and stop. Lots of lights, so in almost all cases, it WILL be hot. Also for LP, the generator blew up. The shoot was meant to start for 7pm and we didn’t start till 1 am, and I had to be out of the building by 6am. The original script got thrown out the window and this point and I had to improvise. The on the spot improvisation is what you know LP video as today.
I still have that original idea and would love to use it in a video soon. Let’s see. But working with crowds.. HELL!
Did you require a lot of funding to start off when you decided to make films?
Hmmm sort of. But it’s being strategic. It was saving from a project and throwing into getting equipment etc. Also my parents, especially my mum was extremely supportive in this respect. But you don’t have to start of big. Take on a project and volunteer to do it for free. I believe visuals are like business cards into the world. If you did a great job, someone will see that work and hunt you down. That’s how I get my jobs now.
Tell us about the K-Alpha team.
Young, bright, creative professionals. I used to call use the “Creative Gestapo” but thought against that as the word GESTAPO is involved in a very dark time in our world’s history. But the mentality is definitely , “By Any Means Necessary”
Is there a particular ethos that drives you in the course of your work?
Definitely! Like I said earlier “By Any Means Necessary”… We want someone falling down from the sky? We GOTTA make that happen. I won’t dumb down the treatment so production is easy. NO! I will find a way… And I’ve done it too 😉 Omawumi – Today Na Today.
Also every project going out is a BIG deal. I don’t care who it is for or for what budget. I put everything so the client is happy and the people love it. It is a big deal for me that people enjoy the work and the client is happy. Remember, every project you put out is a business card to the world.
Second is work HARD… They can deny everything else BUT the WORK.
How do you ensure that everybody on your team maintains this?
I have a great team but you also have to drive the ship. I have to lead. If i don’t have a vision then nothing will be accomplished. If I don’t push the vision, then it might come out lackluster and not what I envisioned. I tend to be a bit of a micro manager too which is a problem I think.
You travel a whole lot. How do you balance family life with work?
It definitely is a problem balancing friends and family time with work, but these are my years to toil, and my people are understanding. Traveling takes A LOT out of you, but I also insanely enjoy it. Apart from work, I love landing in a new city and savoring it.. The people, food and drink. I LOVE IT! I RARELY go shopping when I travel. That’s not my focus. I want to see the SOUL of that city instead.
What is a typical day in your life like?
I am a freelance director, I don’t have a 9 – 5 (never ever have) so my day varies. But I tell you, most times, it will involve EATING! I LOVE FOOD and lots of work and conceptualizing.
Does being a woman in this industry have any adverse effect on you?
No it doesn’t! Simply because I don’t let it. I don’t believe in excuses. I’m here.. I do well. You know of my name and my work and haven’t had to do ‘favors’ to achieve any of this. I believe in putting in the WORK. They CAN’T deny the work! I don’t surround myself with that type of negativity. It’s an excuse. My mother told me NEVER to use my gender as an excuse. If that means I have to work twice as hard, BRING IT ON then. But I pay no mind to all that talk of “Woman in a man’s industry”. I’m in the industry, period. And who said this industry belongs to a man. The most I will allow is there are more men in it… for now. But back to the question … I’m working hard and I’m getting it, by God’s grace. FINISH!
What is that unique feature which you think you bring to the industry?
That’s a hard question to answer. This is a question I can’t answer for myself. I think the consumers and clients are the ones to answer this best. I only know I am EXTREMELY passionate about this business.
Would you say that filmmaking is a profitable venture?
YES! But you’ve got to single yourself out from the rest. There are many people in the business that have NO BUSINESS being in it. And there are many people in the business that have great skill but are afraid of being themselves. They are influenced by what they think the people want, so they recycle ideas. But what the people want is to be educated and to have a new experience. No one wants to see the same people, clothing, manner of speak from channel to channel, from project to project.
How do you ensure the quality of the service you provide?
To be honest… right now, I micro-manage. I know it’s bad , but I am working on a better way.. I promise 🙂 But until then, no matter how many hands are involved, I have to be involved in every aspect of its execution. Another BIG deal is the client has to TRUST me. We have to be BEST FRIENDS through out the process, even if we never see each other again after. But to be able to execute something so personal, we have to be ONE for that duration.
Can you share some of your highs and lows with us?
Every LOW is a learning process so I won’t give life to it by specifically mentioning it, but HIGHS have to be anytime someone says “You INSPIRE me”. Not that you’re beautiful, your dress is very nice, but when a someone goes, “I decided to follow my dreams after I read your interview in blah blah”. That just make me feel all type of ways. You can’t buy that… I wouldn’t want to anyway. 🙂
Are there any stereotypes which need to broken or promoted in filmmaking
How about the wrong illusion that the world of visual media or media as a whole (music, tv, film – behind or in front of) is a “man’s world”. How about we start we that and take it from there. 🙂
Who inspires you?
My Mother. She is strong, has purpose, highly principled. She is a leader and she sacrifices her back so others can climb on to it and dance to their music. I’m in AWE of all she has achieved. They are big shoes to fill. Extremely intimidating, yet she hasn’t slowed down. When I look at her pictures, she is the only woman in the professional group photos, but she has never one day grumbled about unfair treatment because she is female. She just makes damn sure she works her tail off so her gender does not matter. You CAN’T deny the work.
Where do you see Kemi in 5 years?
HAPPY! Ultimately, however, wherever… HAPPY!! I don’t know what God has in store for me, I just follow his plan. But, I know in 5 years he will still have me happy and singing his praises, no matter where I am in life.
However, I have things I am putting out into the universe, blowing into God’s ear… But they are personal. And voicing would be like telling you my wish after blowing out the candles on cake. 🙂
What’s the high point of the journey so far?
Being able to entertain, and being known for the toil of my hands and not anything basic or surface. A lot of people don’t even know what I look like. I have had full 10 minute conversions with people without introducing myself, and as soon as they find out who I am, their eyes and mouths open and they insist of bowing and shaking my hand. It’s incredible. Others think there are TWO ‘Kemi Adetibas. The director and the host… It’s truly funny. Just shows the work is right there ahead of everything else. I will take obscurity ANYDAY as long as the work lives. That is what will live through generations. That is what my grandchild or great grandchild will hear or read of, smile and be PROUD!That’s what I want.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur who wants to launch out on his/her own?
Dedication… Be prepared it put in the WORK! They can’t deny the work. You might have to do a few freebies to get your work out there but it’s all part of teething and it’s a great platform to make mistakes and learn from them. Keep developing yourself. You are not allowed to complain about not getting a chance if you put out mediocre work. Be creative… push the limits.
Let’s relax a bit
Describe yourself in 3 words
Passionate, sensitive, fun loving, witty and baby-tiger.. yes that’s more than 3, but I don’t follow rules. OH BOY! While we it, might as well add Rebel, Visual creator.
Tell us about your fitness regime #PanelBeatThatBody
Within the last 2-3 years I have started paying a lot of attention to my health and fitness. I enjoy working out. My frequency ranges from 3 – 6 times a week. I do a lot of cross-fitness training, weight training and cardio. I thoroughly enjoy running. It’s the greatest stress reliever.
Your love for food and wine is one of the highlights of your Instagram page. How do you balance that with your fitness regime?
I enjoy great food, and good wine, beer, liquour. I am definitely an epicurist. I am not interested in any fitness regime that come between me and my joy. Others buy expensive bags and shoes, I buy expensive food and drink. But seriously, the key for me really is keeping up with my workouts. If I’m gonna eat it, I better be ready to burn it out.
If you had a super power, what would it be?
Hmmmm…. Wow!!! Jeeez… Maybe the ability to have all the knowledge in the world. For some reason, I would love to have knowledge about everything under the sun. And the willingness to share.
What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever been?
This is a hard question. I travel a lot and everywhere I have been to, I have thought of as exotic for some reason or the other. However I do the Carribean every year (Saint Lucia, Barbados, Jamaica etc) and it’s one of my favorite places in the world to visit. I also love Greece. I was on the island of Mykonos last year for a whole week… Heavenly is an understatement. Paris is a third home and I also always feel welcome there.
If you ever get stuck on a deserted Island, who’s the one person you’d like to be with?
Hian! Let see. . . Hmmm… Idris Elba?? Actually, scratch that.. I know who I would love to be stuck on an island with, but I go DIE before say it here. Just make sure he has no point of escape… I’ll take care of the rest 😉
Which African fashion icon would you raid her wardrobe
I really don’t follow fashion that much, so this is a bit of a hard question. I tend to notice regular people. I love my cousin Koko Gemade (Ikpe) sense of fashion. It’s half roadside bum, and half classic. Also Hauwa Mukan… we have the same feel for uniqueness. I love when style is unique to that person yet stands out and is admirable. Not something that fell off the page of a magazine and seems forced. I do love what Lisa Folawiyo (Jewel By Lisa) and my Aunty Ituen (Ituen Basi) do with everyday style.
Are you a jeans or dress kinda girl?
I’m a bit of a tomboy so I wear shorts A LOT. Especially in Nigeria where it’s so hot. If you see me in something REALLY short, 99% it is shorts and never a skirt. But I do enjoy a pretty dress too. Now THAT might be short 😉 My style is kinda that 3 way blend between Solange, Vastie Kola and Audrey Hepburn 🙂
Three things you can’t absolutely go anywhere without?
Music (iPod), cash, confidence.
If you were an animal, which would you be and why?
Black Panther… I don’t know. I’ve just been infatuated with the animal for the last 20 years. Even thought of getting a tattoo to document the infatuation. But alas… No courage…. Yet!!!
Watch some of the videos shot by Kemi Adetiba here:
Ekundayo by TY Bello
Today Na Today by Omawumi
Fall In Love by Ego Obaro
More You by Bez
Maga No Need Pay by Cobhams, Omawumi, Modele, Banky, Bez, Rooftop MCs, Wordsmith and MI.
Photo Credit: TY Bello | Remi Adetiba