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MKO Started His Journey in Lagos, Now He’s a Dubai Art Curator – Read About His Work & Life in Dubai

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Editor’s note: As the years go by, migrating to other countries has become increasingly popular, particularly for Nigerians (and Africans generally). Japa, we call it. For the next few weeks, Mayowa Adegoke, in partnership with BellaNaija Features, will explore what it means to live in Dubai as an African. We’ll invite Africans to about how they live, work, and deal with social changes in another continent. 

This partnership aims to spotlight successful African immigrants in Dubai, bringing you stories of their everyday lives.

This week, we’re having a conversation with MKO, a Dubai-based singer-songwriter, art curator, and the founder of Art Fusion Night, an art and creative showcase platform. His album, MKO Diverse, is the first Afropop album released and launched in the Middle East. He has been honoured with the Black Excellence Awards in the Middle East and has represented brands such as Puma and Hugo Boss. Currently, MKO is the official brand ambassador for RwandAir and Chivas Regal in Dubai, and the host for the Regal Blends and Beats Podcast by Chivas Regal, representing the Dubai edition, similar to Stefflon Don’s role in the UK.

Hello MKO, how do you do?

Hello. I am doing great. Thank you.

How has living in Dubai been so far as an African?

Living in Dubai as an African has been fantastic for me. The accessibility and opportunities here are unparalleled, thanks to Dubai’s small, diverse, and multicultural environment. While experiences may vary for some, I’ve been able to leverage my connections and networks built over the years to thrive in this dynamic city.

That’s good. Give us a glimpse into your background and what brought you to Dubai

I was born in Port Harcourt to a family of nine (8 siblings) and raised in Lagos, Surulere to be specific. I came to Dubai as a tourist and this trip led to a full-time job.

Tell us about your professional journey back home

I began my professional journey in logistics in Nigeria, catering to clients like Arabella Landscape, Maersk Line, and former Governor of Kwara State, His Excellency Governor Bukola Saraki. After exploring various places, I found myself in Dubai following a tourist visit. Worked for a few corporate organisations such as PWC, Lawrence Graham and others, before fully dedicating myself to my passion for art, music, and production. I make all these sound easy but I can assure you it’s been quite a journey. 

What are the challenges and lessons of your journey as an African in Dubai?

The journey of an African especially from our beautiful country Nigeria in Dubai is full of challenges, lessons, and remarkable highlights. Well, navigating cultural nuances and overcoming stereotypes can be like navigating through a maze. Establishing credibility in a foreign land, often rife with preconceptions, requires resilience and determination. Yet, it’s these very challenges that shape and mould our character. Dubai is a melting pot of cultures and there is so much to learn from diversity where every encounter is an opportunity for growth. I’ve learned the power of adaptability, the importance of embracing change, and the value of forging genuine connections across borders. Every setback has been a lesson in embracing perseverance; every triumph is a testament to strength.

Can you share any insights or experiences regarding the job market in Dubai for Africans? 

The highlight of everything is the genuine community I built through my art platform Art Fusion Night. This has given me a sense of belonging; the realisation that my African roots won’t be a barrier if I embrace it as a badge of honour. So yes, my journey as an African in Dubai has been full of remarkable experiences, which I will never take for granted. There are loads of opportunities for Africans in the job market, however unemployment is an issue everywhere. It used to be a lot easier to get jobs in Dubai before the pandemic but it is a lot tougher now because of the increase of expats moving to Dubai. Expats population has tripled since the pandemic therefore opportunities are limited but there are still opportunities it just means it may take longer than expected.

What obstacles did you face to secure jobs?

I run my own company now, but when I moved here, I was fortunate to land a job within the first week. My cousin introduced me to her friend from the UK who interviewed me and offered me my first job. From then on, it was one opportunity leading to the next. I was headhunted for all the subsequent jobs. So I guess I have a different story because I dedicated myself to my first job and it opened other doors for me. Now I run my events and production company. I also make music and assist my clients in sourcing art. 

It is safe to say you have settled in all right and become successful in Dubai. What would you consider as special ingredients to your success story?

It is safe to say I have made a name for myself in Dubai as a singer-songwriter and as an art curator. However, settling into Dubai and finding success here has been fruitful and the journey to success never stops. If I were to describe the special ingredients for my success story, they would undoubtedly be passion, perseverance, and a pinch of serendipity.

Comparing lifestyles in your country of origin and the country you currently reside in, what changes did you have to make to settle in? 

The transition from the lively chaos of Lagos to Dubai has been quite the experience. Settling in has required making various adjustments, big and small. In Nigeria, time seems to operate at its own pace, and individuals without formal education often possess sharp instincts. On the other hand, Dubai values efficiency and punctuality, so I’ve had to adapt to a more structured approach. Embracing these differences has expanded my perspective and way of thinking. I truly cherished every day in Nigeria, surrounded by the vibrant chaos of Lagos. The bustling energy and the ambition of the people now merge with my life in Dubai, where skyscrapers, manmade lakes, and beaches are everywhere.

There’s also the practical aspect of settling into a new country: navigating bureaucracy, making it feel like a home away from home, and building a network of friends and professionals from various industries. Despite being a learning curve, the warmth and hospitality of the people in Dubai are making the settling-in transition much smoother.

What are the things Africans looking to relocate to your country keep in mind?

They usually harbour the misconception that success in Dubai can be achieved overnight. This is based on some of the interactions I have had with some of them. The vast majority gets sucked into the facade and illusion of social media but the reality is, success in Dubai or anywhere else for that matter, requires meticulous planning and foresight. You have to approach relocation with a well-defined strategy, one that includes securing employment or entering with a job offer in hand unless the intent is to establish a business. In such cases, thorough research into the business venture is paramount.

What are the little habits Africans in Dubai can adopt to help them thrive?

Dubai is a melting pot of cultures. By embracing and respecting the diverse backgrounds of people around you, you can build strong relationships and create a supportive community. Attend networking events, join professional groups, and connect with fellow Africans and expats. Networking can open doors to new opportunities and collaborations. 

Be open to change and flexible in your approach. Dubai is a dynamic city, and being adaptable allows you to navigate challenges and seize new opportunities as they arise. Apply that daily mindset of resilience we have from Africa in the face of challenges. Believe in your abilities and stay optimistic about your goals and aspirations. A positive attitude with confidence and clear goals can propel you towards success.

What are the top 3 things an African willing to relocate to Dubai should keep in mind? 

The most important thing to be aware of is visa requirements. Understand the visa requirements for Dubai and ensure you have the necessary documentation and sponsorship to reside in Dubai legally. Employment is necessary. When you have a job in Dubai, it comes with an employment residence visa and it also offers financial stability and security. There might be some culture shock and some language barriers here and there but for the most part, English is widely spoken, making it easy for one to get by. If you speak Arabic, it is a plus.

 

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Many thanks to MKO for having this conversation with us. Catch up with the next episode on Wednesday. Do you want to be featured on BellaNaija or share your essays with us? Shoot us an email: [email protected]

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