Thursday, 29 December 2011

Jeffrey Daniel… The dance machine’s hooked on Nigeria

‘If Nigeria does not get it right, the black race has lost it…’


He stood out in the midst of suited guests in the dining area of the Protea Hotel, G.R.A, Ikeja, Lagos; his height and dressense, especially his hairdo, gave him out. Not minding his popularity in showbiz across the globe, Jeffery Daniel, a founding member of the Shalamar group, is a bundle of humility. Even as an American, he’s a strong believer in the ‘I can do spirit of (people on) the black continent’, which he’s preaching all over the world. 
   For over a year now, Daniel has been in the country, where he’s deeply involved in talent development and sharing his experiences with the Nigerian showbiz community. As one of the judges in the ongoing Nigerian Idol, many had actually questioned his involvement in the project that they thought should be an all-Nigerian affair. However, the reality is that the fleet-footed fellow is more Nigerian in spirit than most Nigerians. 

A FORMER choreographer of the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, Daniel’s journey into the entertainment world started within the four walls of his mother’s room.       
  “Becoming a choreographer happened actually by accident and necessity, but dancing started at home with my mother and my two elder sisters. I have a small family; just my mother and two sisters. My mother is a classical pianist and she plays in the Church every Sunday. Of course, my sisters and I sing in the church with her; so, music started at home,” he said.
  While his two sisters grew to delve into other areas of interest, young Jeffrey continued with what seems like the family tradition ­­–– singing and dancing. 
  “Being that I was the youngest, I just continued with it and it was fun for me. Sometimes, it was a kind of discipline; my mother was a kind of making me do music. You don’t want your mother to teach you music because if you make mistake, she would hit you saying, ‘not that one, not that one;” Jefferey said amidst laughs.
    You mean your mum hit you for singing the wrong notes?
   “Yes; I’m not sure if any other person can try that. But she’s my mother and there’s nothing I could do; she would whip you for not cleaning your room, now she’s whipping you for playing the wrong note on the piano. My mother is so complex and impatient. But the dancing part, she can’t mess with that,” he said confidently.
   Up till today, Daniel finds it difficult to read music from the papers.
   “I don’t read music; I compose music, I produce music, I can play the piano and guitar, but I don’t read music because I still think my mother is going to hit me if I hit the wrong note,” he said bursting into another round of laugh.
  “So, don’t just put a paper in front of me because I might make a mistake. I understand music very well, but I don’t just read it on paper.”
     Was that why you decided to put dance ahead of music?
    “I never chose one ahead of the other; both are always simultaneous with me; being a member of Shalamar, we danced and sang.”
    Though his dance career started at home, the Soul Train TV show provided the right platform for talented black Americans like Daniel, to launch to limelight. 
    “Dancing on Soul Train was just my passion. Up until the 70s, if you saw blacks on TV, either we were playing the part of drug dealers or being chased by the police as criminals… very few positive stories. But when I saw Soul Train, certainly you saw young black kids doing what we loved to do most, dancing and looking good. It was a platform that launched a lot of group that couldn’t get into the top 10 because they were blacks; they couldn’t get to white shows.”
   Away from the picture usually painted in the international media regarding the peaceful coexistence between white Americans and the blacks, there’s a reality that is usually swept under the carpet.
   “A lot of Africans get the impression that we were living hand in hand with the whites in the United States, they didn’t understand our struggle. If not for Soul Train, a lot of black artistes wouldn’t have made it to the top of the chart because, if you cannot be exposed on the national level, how do people even know you exist? So, Soul Train was a way for people to be exposed without being at the very top; you can be exposed on your way to the national level.”
    While dancing on the show and gaining the popularity that comes with it, Daniel and other talented chaps were actually setting the pace for how America was dancing.
    “Little did we know it was working for us, even as dancers too. By watching Soul Train then, you get to know what to wear by what we were wearing as Soul Train dancers. We weren’t getting paid, but we were just being exposed on TV every week. That was what started my career.”
  He continued: “Dancing on the Soul Train TV show was purely dancing because you had to be a star to sing on the show. But then, we were young, just coming out of high school.”
  Was that where your professional career started?
  “Well, you can’t really say professionally because they were not paying us. Were they,” he quizzed rhetorically.
  If you were not paid, how did you manage to survive?
    “Ok, good question,” he said adjusting his sitting position, as if trying to browse through his memory. “Living with my godfather, living with his girlfriend, living with that girlfriend, moving in with my sisters … I was like a gypsy for a while.”
     What about your father?
 “My father,” he quizzed again. “I only met him three times in my life,” he said with a straight face.
   “Ask him; he wasn’t there. I was a kid; kids don’t dictate to parents what to do. I met him like three years ago; that’s the third time I met him.”
   Does that mean you don’t have plans of linking up with him after these years?
   “I did; I actually went to see him. After my mother passed away six years ago, I felt there was no need for my father; I had no reason communicating with him after all, he didn’t raise me. Not to be rude, I was telling my sisters that he was just a sperm donor; he got us here, but he had nothing to do with shaping who I am. But then I thought about it and said, ‘who am I? He tried reaching me, but I was very reluctant.”
    Blood they say is thicker than water. Along the line, Daniel had soft spot for his father, who at that point was eager to meet with his world famous son.
   “I thought that, maybe, that’s him doing his best towards the end of his life. He lives in Finis, Arizona; I was living in Japan at that time. So, I was in London at a time and had to fly to the US to re-do my UK visa. I thought about my father and I rented a car and drove through the desert to Finis to see him; that was the first time in my life that I spent a week with my father.”
  Meeting Mr. Daniel in Arizona provided answers to a whole lot of questions young Jeffrey had always asked about his lineage.
   “I got to know who the Daniels were; I didn’t know who the Daniels were until I met my father. Until I met him, I didn’t know who his father was; I didn’t know who his mother was; I didn’t know who his brothers were. I didn’t know how he grew up; how he met my mother; I didn’t know the Jacksons are my cousins … I leant a lot of things about my family just by spending one week with him.”
     How related are you with the Jacksons?
   “I mentioned it to Michael Jackson before he died, but I wasn’t sure; I just heard something about it and I asked him, ‘Michael, do you have any grandmother named Crystal Jackson?’ He was like, ‘how did you know?’ My father mentioned it to me the second time I spoke with him on phone; he briefly said it, but I didn’t have the information. Then that year that I met my father, he showed me the papers; he showed me the family tree and I was like, ‘wow! All the years I was working with Michael, I didn’t know we are related.’
     Did you have any discussion with Michael Jackson on this?
   “Just slightly, but I had more conversation on this with Jermaine, Marlon and Rubby.”
The coming of Shalamar

HAVING gained popularity among American audiences and beyond, producers of Soul Train resolved to set up a recording company to manage some of the talents the programme had discovered.
   “They called it Soul Train Records. Because they started a record company, of course, they needed artistes; Jody Watley and myself were the number one dance couple on the Soul Train. They knew I could sing and dance, but up until then, no one had ever heard Jody sing. So, I started rehearsing with her.”
  Coming from a music background, it didn’t take long before Jody found her rhythm.
  “Her mother was in the adult choir and I was in the junior choir in our church. So, I met Jody through our church. Her mother was singing, I was singing, but Jody wasn’t; I had to teach her how to sing. She was auditioned and she passed. I’m the founding member of Shalamar.” 
   Shalamar is an American music group, primarily of the 70s and 80s. It was originally a disco-driven vehicle created by Soul Train booking agent, Dick Griffey, and show creator, Don Cornelius. They went on to be an influential dance trio, masterminded by Soul Train producer, Don Cornelius. As noted in the British hit singles and albums, they were regarded as fashion icons and trendsetters, and helped to introduce 'body-popping' to the United Kingdom
   Their first hit was the 1975 Motown-inspired production Uptown Festival, and released on Soul Train Records, the success of which inspired Griffey and Don Cornelius to replace session singers with popular Soul Train dancers Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel to join original Shalamar lead singer Gary Mumford. Gerald Brown would take over the spot vacated by Mumford in 1978 for the Disco Gardens album, which featured the hit Take That To The Bank. After conflicts over lack of payment from Dick Griffey and Solar Records, Brown would leave the group and was replaced by Howard Hewett in 1979. The group was later joined up with producer Leon Sylvers III in 1979, signed with Griffey's Solar Records and scored a US million seller with The Second Time Around.  
    “We sold over 25 million albums and became one of the biggest R&B singing groups in the industry. We just played the London O2. We decided to come together because people love the hits. It wasn’t my ambition to get back with the Shalamar because that was in the 80s; I’ve always looked towards the future. But if people want to hear us and they are paying for us to come, I go and do it.”

Working with the legend, Michael Jackson

AT the time Jeffrey was dancing on Soul Train before Shalamar and into Shalamar, little did he know that Michael was watching him with admiration; he was a fan.
    “Of course, I was watching the Jackson Five and Michael for sure; they were superstars to us since they were kids. I had no idea he was watching me. One time, Shalamar was performing at the Disney Land and I got words that Michael was coming to see me perform; I was already doing the back-slides and body popping. So, he stayed in the wing of the stage with little Janet. He watched our show and watched me going through the dance movements and the audience just went bananas. After that I got a phone call from him and I started going to his home to teach him.”
  You took him through dance classes?
  “Well, I wouldn’t call it dance class; we just got together and danced. At that time, the word choreography wasn’t part of our vocabulary; we just called it ‘making up steps.”
  The Moonwalk dance style, where did it come from?
  “Well, the real core of it was from the Electic Boogaloos, the dance group that brought the whole body popping thing to the forefront. Before then, I was doing the roll back, locking and all these other dancing, then popping came; part of it, is the backslide. Michael changed backslide to moonwalk. The moonwalk is a different dance; it’s like less gravity, like you are floating in the moon.”
  Having worked with Michael for years, choreographing his videos including the popular Thriller, Jeffrey has a lot of respect for the late King of Pop, whom he considers a rare being.
   “I don’t know how people are going to take this, but Michael is one of the most unique and special person I’ve ever met on this planet; a lot of people didn’t realise this until he died. He’s going to be spoken of centuries to come; how special we were to be alive in his time. Go back and listen to his old records, listen to how he sang, how he used his voice; you can’t imagine a kid having such conviction. You listen to this kid singing out his heart; it was real, it was powerful, it was emotional. If you listen to some of his oldies such as I will be there, then look at his lifestyle and dancing … I find it difficult to listen to these songs these days because I will just break down.”
  To Jeffrey, working with Michael was an endorsement on his career.
  “Working with him was a revelation because he made me his choreographer. I became one of the most demanded choreographers in the industry because, once you worked with Michael Jackson, that’s the top. He’s the first person I worked with outside Shalamar. So, because I worked with him, everybody started calling me… I can keep naming the jobs I did because I worked with Michael. They will go like, ‘this guy choreographed the Bad video!’ Everyone wanted the best, so they would hire me.”
  As for Michael tragic death, Jeffrey feels someone was careless along the line.
 “It’s a tragedy of course; it’s a great loss. The Judge just passed a verdict the other day; I still can’t make sense that all those things happened; that his doctor would bring such a drug into someone’s home. That type of drug can only be used in a professional setting, with experts waiting to monitor the patient. The drug don’t make you sleep, it takes you under. So, it’s not a sleeping pill; it’s something heavier than that. I can’t imagine a doctor bringing that into his home; I just can’t imagine that Michael would allow such thing to happen, it doesn’t sound like him.”
  He continued: “It’s a loss, but the only consolation I can get from it is that he died in a sleep; not plane crash or accident. He died a peaceful death; that’s the only consolation I get from the whole thing.”

Coming to Nigeria

JEFFREY Daniel’s first visit to Nigeria was in 1981 when Ben Murray-Bruce brought the Shalamar group on the platform of Silverbird Entertainment.
  “Silverbird was a small outfit at that time; there was no radio or TV station and things like that. He came to America and met with my mentor Duncan and Griffey and he wanted to be like them. He had every opportunity to do it in the United States, but he said, ‘I want that in Nigeria.’ Shalamar was his biggest success; we did the University of Ife, University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, we were at the National Theatre for a couple of days.”
  That visit was Jeffrey’s first time on an African soil. 
  “We called it ‘Homecoming’; when I got off the plane on my first time on an African soil, I literarily kissed the ground and said, ‘I’m home. I didn’t know Nigeria; I thought I did, but now that I see Nigeria, I realised that I didn’t know anything about it. Because we know Nigerians speak English, we take it for granted. But now this time I’m back, I’m realisng that the Nigerian culture is abstract to that of America and Japanese; it took me coming to Nigeria to find out.”
  After his first visit, Jeffrey fell in love with Nigeria and wanted to make a return visit.
   “After my first visit, I was yearning to come back to Nigeria and I was talking to my manager Tunde Babalola about it. They were saying, “oh, Jeffrey, not Nigeria, maybe Ghana.” I said to them, ‘No’. And I was telling them that Nigeria has what it takes to represent all black countries.”
  What were their reasons?
   “Well, some of them were Nigerians and some Americans; I think it’s because of the state things were then and some of the experiences they had in the past. I guess they became pessimistic not thinking that things can change. This is a different world now; things have to change; nothing can stay the same forever. Even if people are not interested in change, change happens everywhere.”
  Away from the usual stereotyped reports on the international media, Jeffrey sees Nigeria as the future of the world.
  “I can see the most populous Black Country in the world; they have so much and do give so much. Some of the best engineers, technicians and students in the US and Europe are Nigerians. Black people are the most resilient people in the world; we have so much taken from us, we’ve been abused so much that sometimes, we don’t even know ourselves. So, it’s not that Nigerians are bad people, but Nigerians are in such a bad situation that is making them behave like that. But if you can take care of the situation, they will behave like Nigerians again; they will be dignified black Africans again.”
   Not minding the many challenges faced by Nigerians, he said “they are still rising and showing how great they are. So, if we can change the situation; it’s going to enhance the life of Nigerians. Already, Nigeria is threatening to be one of the biggest economies in Africa; it’s the fastest growing economy in the world. Look at people like P-Square, M.I, Asa, Femi Kuti and others, they are getting acknowledged around the world, yet there’s no infrastructure.”
  Impressed with potentials he met on ground, Jeffrey Daniel has given his next five years to Nigeria.
  “If the people want to give it a try, if the politicians are ready to face the realities, together, I’m going to be part of this new Nigeria, I will do it. If I die trying, I don’t mind. I’ve lived in America, UK and Japan so, why can’t I share my experience with my fellow African brothers and sisters.”

The Nigerian Idol job
 WHEN Jeffrey was unveiled as part of the judges for the Nigerian Idol, many saw the decision as one of those craving for foreign ideas, but in the real sense of it, his inclusion was by default.
   “I hated reality shows and contest shows; I never watched them. I don’t like the idea of somebody sitting down and telling someone what they can be and what they can’t be; it’s about killing someone’s career before it starts. I came to Nigeria on my own; I bought my ticket and came down here. I was to be here for a couple of weeks, but I spent three months. Towards the last week, the Nigerian Idol came up and Tunde said to me, ‘you want to stay in Nigeria, maybe this is the time to introduce Jeffrey Daniel to Nigerians.’ He was like, ‘they know Jeffrey of Shalamar, Jeffrey of Michael Jackson, but they don’t know the real Jeffrey Daniel.’
   I saw it as a good idea, and after the press conference, they saw the commitment in me and they decided to put me as one of the judges. So, it’s not as if they were looking for an American judge, no! In fact, my boss Pedro was against bringing me as a judge; he wanted an all-Nigerian judging panel. But after he saw my commitment, he gave his approval. Now, I’m not just a judge in the show, I’m the Directing Talent manager. I had the honour of bringing the winner of Nigerian Idol and West African Idol, Yeka Onka and Timi Dakolo to the UK to open for Shalamar at the O2 Indigo Arena.”                                   
    No matter the toga you put on the country, Jeffrey is looking forward to a new Nigeria that will stand tall in the comity of nations.
    “I want to be part of this new Nigeria that will shape Africa and the world; Africa is the future.  We have the window of opportunity right now to set things right and we have to start acting now. If we don’t stop all these selfishness and greed now, the people who have their eyes on your resources will come and take them. This is no joke; America is falling, Europe is falling and they know it! Who do they need? Their resources are in Africa and Middle East! So, what are they going to do when they are in desperate need, when they see themselves going down too far? They are going to come after it! And if they see that these people don’t give a damm about their own people, they won’t give a damm about you.”
    Citing the Libya situation as an eye opener to African leaders, he pointed out, “we just saw them take a head of state and murdered him on the street like a dog and the world just watched! Who came in to say, ‘stop this?’ Now, what will happen in the case of Nigeria, a place people are already saying the country is corrupt anyway. So, who is going to come in here and say, ‘stop it!
  It’s time for the leaders to look at the big picture and take action, if not, these people are going to come in here and take it from you.”         

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Chukwumerije… The Senator and his taekwondo clan

Rocking Sylvia’s hair


RADISSON Blu Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, was recently besieged by a bevy of ladies in sensual but creative attires. They came for the unveiling of Sylvia’s Hair Extension.
  With this venture, Sylvia Nduka becomes the first reigning Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) to go into business while still a beauty queen.
   Coming in three forms; straight, deep body wave and body wave, the hairs, 100 per cent human, could be worn in different lengths short or long depending on choice.
  Apart from its flexibility to reflect different lifestyle, the hair, which comes in different colours such as blue, green, brown, red or dyed to reflect the wearers’ skin tone are specifically treated to withstand the African climate and stay cool on the wearer like the natural hair.
   According to Sylvia, “the hair are 100 per cent human hair and having looked round various countries across the globe, I chose Spain, where I know I could get the best that suit the African climate. They have been treated to avoid irritation, last long and to give that natural feeling of the natural hair. They are easy to maintain, do not have strands and could be dyed to wearer’s choice of colours.”
  Notable faces including Kate Henshaw, Guy Bruce of MBGN fame and many others graced the event, which almost turned out to be another gathering of beauty queens.
but creative attires. They came for the unveiling of Sylvia’s Hair Extension.
  With this venture, Sylvia Nduka becomes the first reigning Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) to go into business while still a beauty queen.
    Coming in three forms; straight, deep body wave and body wave, the hairs, 100 per cent human, could be worn in different lengths short or long depending on choice.
  Apart from its flexibility to reflect different lifestyle, the hair, which comes in different colours such as blue, green, brown, red or dyed to reflect the wearers’ skin tone are specifically treated to withstand the African climate and stay cool on the wearer like the natural hair.
   According to Sylvia, “the hair are 100 per cent human hair and having looked round various countries across the globe, I chose Spain, where I know I could get the best that suit the African climate. They have been treated to avoid irritation, last long and to give that natural feeling of the natural hair. They are easy to maintain, do not have strands and could be dyed to wearer’s choice of colours.”
Sylvia Nduka, reigning Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) Queen 
  Notable faces including Kate Henshaw, Guy Bruce of MBGN fame and many others graced the event, which almost turned out to be another gathering of beauty queens.

Model, Actor, Boxer, Computer Scientist… What else does Ngo not do?


THE aircraft touched down at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, around 2pm, but it took close to an hour for Ngoli Onyeka Okafor and other passengers that flew on Continental Airlines from Houston to clear from the Immigrations post. While the process lasted, relatives, friends and a battery of journalists waited patiently to welcome Ngo, who has been making Nigeria proud in the United States.
  From modeling to acting and lately boxing, the Umuoji, Anambra State-native has made his mark on the international landscape.  
  The long wait ended as Ngo, alongside his management team and security minders, walked through the D wing of the Arrival port, into the midst of the reporters, who besieged him with their recorders. He granted a brief interview before he was cruised in an SUV to his hotel room somewhere in Victoria Island. 
  Since his arrival, the Computer Science graduate has been busy with all sorts of meetings; from family to friends, business partners, and most especially, with his management team, which is working towards the unveiling of his Foundation. 
AS a model, Ngo has worked with the likes of supermodel Gisele Bundchen, Lil’ Kim and Mary J. Blige, and featured in Vogue, W, Vibe, Men’s Health and The Wall Street Journal magazine.
   As an actor, he has worked on soap operas, TV shows and films including The Rebound with Catherine Zeta-Jones.
  Recently, Ngo wrapped work on a feature film titled Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life. He’s currently at work on Triumph of the Will, a feature-length documentary, which chronicles his journey from Nigeria to the top of the boxing world.
   After he proved his worth on screen upon his arrival in the US, Ngo risked his livelihood and indeed life in pursuit of his childhood dream of playing sports; a dream, which was denied him due to a childhood plagued with illness.
  Today, what began as a simple workout routine (punching the bag, skipping the rope, etc) quickly grew into an all-consuming passion for Ngo. With the fierce dedication he’s applied to his work throughout his life, he immersed himself in the boxing ring, training five to six hours every day.
   Having carved a niche for himself internationally, Ngo now embarks on a journey back home to Nigeria after being away for 18 years.
   “It’s been really good; I’m happy to be home. It’s been too long; I left when I was 18 and I returned 18 years after.”
    From his tone, the international model is really excited with his decision to return home after his long years abroad.
   “Yea, because for me, this is home and I’m always an advocate of Nigeria. In everything I’m doing, I always push Nigeria first because I want our people to be proud of being Nigerians.”
   But some Nigerians abroad usually hide their identity?
   “In fact, some of them even go as far as claiming to be Americans or that they are from London or Paris or something else; they don’t just want to say they are Nigerians. For me, I always want people to know that I’m a Nigerian and; secondly, that I’m proud. I want the world to know that there are successful Nigerians all over the world doing great things.”
BORN December 30 in the United States, Ngo was raised in Nigeria by his Igbo parents, before he returned to America to seek his fortune and found great success in front of the camera.
   “I was born in the United States, but I came back to Nigeria to do my primary education at the University Primary School, Enugu. I later went to the Federal Government College, Enugu, where I had my secondary education.”
   That’s makes you an Enugu boy?
   “Oh yea, I still remember those days in Enugu; I remember where we lived, moving around the University of Nigeria (Enugu campus). In fact, I started working out while in Enugu, at the Sports Council. My elder brother, Chudi, and myself would walk from our home to the Sports Council; about 45 minutes walk everyday.”
   With the incessant strikes usually embarked upon by ASUU in those days, young chaps like Ngo had time for extra curricular activities.
   “We would go to the Sports Council to lift weight because we had nothing to do. Sometimes, we played basketball. I actually started lifting weight at the age of 14; I used to be very skinny those days.”
   Right from his childhood, Ngo had always wanted to be a sportsman against his parents’ wish of having a career son.
   “I wanted to play sports, but when I was younger, I was always sick. Besides, my parents never supported me doing sports; they wanted us to go to school, study and get good jobs.”
AFTER his secondary education, Ngo headed for the University of Connecticut where he studied Computer Science. He later secured a job with the Department of Transportations, before moving to a computer company in New York.  
   But shortly after moving to New York, Ngo and some staff member of the company were laid off. 
   “I was looking for something else to do and that was how I started thinking of getting into the entertainment business through modeling. So, I got a photographer to take some photographs of me while working out in my gym, which I took to some agencies and they said, ‘no.”
    And what was their reason?
   “They felt I was too muscular; even when I did the second photo shoot, they said ‘no’ again. But then, there was a small agency that took me on and started sending me out on auditions. From there, I started getting jobs.”
   Ngo’s first major job as a model was for MAC Cosmetics, with Lil kim and Mary J Blige, which was shot by David Lachapelle, a notable fashion photographer in the United States. But his biggest job was for Under Armour, a sports apparel company.
   “I was the face of their campaign,” he noted. 
ALONG the line of gracing international magazine, strutting runways and starring in movies, Ngo came up with the weird decision of becoming a boxer.
   “I didn’t start boxing until I was 31; at that stage, I was paying my own bills, live in my own house, so, I could do whatever I wanted. Boxing started almost by accident because I was just doing it for exercise and then I started to get really good. From being a hobby, it just grew into this thing… I just loved it and did my trainings everyday.”
    But modeling and boxing are two opposite careers?
   “For me, it was a childhood dream to be good at any sports. So, when I found out that I had a gift in boxing, I didn’t care about my face.”
    For sure, you were discouraged?
  “Of course; my agents didn’t want me to do it, they discouraged me. At the end of the day, I did what makes me happy; at that time, boxing was what I wanted to do. So, nobody was going to stop me.”
    As usual, success has many friends, while failure is an orphan.
   “Once I started winning, everybody jumped on the bandwagon; they were all happy with me. But before, everybody was like, ‘how are you going to fight for the Golden Gloves; you don’t have experience, you never boxed before, you are not going to win.’ But eventually, I did; I won two heavyweights Golden Gloves boxing.”
   Ngo’s first day in a competitive boxing was really nerve-wracking, including the fight that earned him the Golden Gloves. But determination and hard work saw him through. 
  “I was so nervous because a lot of people came to watch me; I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I just wanted to do a good job; I didn’t want to lose.”
   How good were your opponents at the Golden Gloves?
  “They were good, but I trained really hard. I was stronger than all other competitors; I had a lot of good speed and that was the advantage I had over all the people that I fought.”
LOSING his computer job and not being able to break into modeling in the United States were the most difficult period in Ngo’s life 
    “I was trying to figure out what next to do. I always felt I pleased my parents by doing Computer Science, which I love; it has helped me in my business, but I see myself as an artiste. A lot of the thinking came from poverty; they want you to make money, they didn’t want you to suffer. 
   On the other hand, “a lot of the agencies felt that I have too much muscles; most of the guys in the business were skinny and not as tall as I am. For me, I felt that being a Nigerian, I have to represent strength. So, I kept pushing and taking creative pictures. Along the line, people started seeing me the way I am and not making me look like someone else. These are the most challenging periods of my life.”
    Does it have anything to do with you being a Nigerian?
  “No, it had nothing to do with where I come from. In fact, being a Nigerian gave me the strength and fortitude to keep pushing forward and doing things my own way.”
   While in Nigeria, Ngo intends to use the life lessons he has learned from boxing to change the lives of underprivileged children, with the goal of helping to rebuild the amateur boxing programme in Nigeria. Through the platform, the boxer intends to provide safe and positive facilities where young boys and girls can exercise and learn the art of boxing, free of charge.
   “I’m back in Nigeria and I’ve started a foundation called the Champion Spirit Foundation. I started it because of what boxing has given me. Boxing helped change my life; it taught me discipline and focus. Through boxing, I was able to live my childhood dream of playing sports. So, I feel that if I give the same opportunity to kids, it would help change their lives too.”
   Ngo believes that the present situation in Nigeria calls for partnership with both public and private sector, calling on individuals to make personal contributions.
    “In Nigeria right now, we are having a lot of problems with the youth going wild and doing negative things. I fell that if I can provide a safe place where kids can come and do boxing training, it will take their minds away from crime. It is going to be a free after-school training, where they will be taught skills in training as a way of keeping them out of the streets.”
   Will you be doing anything around modeling?
    “Down the road, yes, but I feel that sports impact children’s lives immediately; these kids, we need to get them off the street. Modeling doesn’t really take them off the street; after boxing, you don’t want to do anything else than to go home and rest. Later, we are going to be doing something with modeling and acting; we need to let them know that they need to put in work if they want to be successful.”
DO not mind his American accent, Ngo is very fluent in Igbo language.
   “I was here till I was 18; all through my formative years, I was here. I don’t lie to myself and I’m proud of being an Igbo man; that’s what makes us different from others. We know where we are from; a lot of people wish they know where they are from. So, I’m proud of who I am, where I am from and I speak my language.”
   Working on a Nollywood project is also part of Ngo’s agenda.
   “Yeah, I would like to; I’ve said it a lot. As far as it is going to be well done, I would like to do be part of Nollywood production. We have great stories; we have some pretty good actors as well. As far as it’s going to be well done, I would love to.”
    How often do you keep fit?
    “I run a lot. Like today, I ran 10km; I try to run at least, between 8 to 10 (kilometers). I try to average five to six miles four days a week.”
    As for food, “I try to eat healthy; not too much fried food. My weakness is pounded yam; now that I’m home, I eat a lot of pounded yam. I have to be careful because it puts a lot of weight on you. So, when I know I was going to eat pounded yam, I try to work it out in the gym.”
    To Ngo, fashion is about looking good.
   “I wear things that look good on me; I love tailored suits. I’m more on the casual side, but I don’t like my trousers tight.”
   You do natives wears?
  “Well, I wear native for occasions, but not all the time.”
  What of perfume?
  “I’m not a freak; I do more of deodorants.”
     What’s your most expensive fashion item?
    “It’s a suit; it’s very expensive, but I felt I needed to have it in my wardrobe.”


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Funmi … A new dawn on the globe


DON Raymonde Aprile says in Mario Puzo’s Omerta, “do not count on the gratitude of deeds done for people in the past. You must make them grateful for things you will do for them in the future.”
  For Olufunmilola Aduke Iyanda, better known as Funmi Iyanda, years back she started on a journey, which today the world is grateful for; she is not only reaping the fruits of that past, and perhaps, now, she has an express command to do more in the future.
  The World Economic Forum recently honoured the lady, who turns 40 on July 27, as a 2011 Young Global Leader. Other leaders for 2011 include CNN’s Hala Gorani and award winning author, David Eggers.
  The talkshow host, blogger and broadcaster couldn’t have wished for more at 40, when life truly begins. Now, she joins the ranks of Oprah Winfrey, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Mandla Mandela, MP South African National Congress as global leaders.
EACH year, the World Economic Forum recognises up to 200 people under the age of 40 for “their professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world.”
  The 190 YGL honourees for 2011 were selected from a pool of over 5000 candidates from 65 countries and all segments of society. They reflect different kinds of leadership in different parts of the world.  From amongst these candidates emerged Funmi Iyanda.
  The World Economic Forum is an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.
  Set up as an independent not-for-profit foundation, under the supervision of the Swiss government, the Forum of Young Global Leaders works in close cooperation with the World Economic Forum to integrate young leaders into deep interaction with other stakeholders of global society. 
FUNMI, the CEO of Ignite Media, producers of television programme Talk With Funmi, a show that has travelled around Nigeria, capturing the conversations of its people, said,
she is humbled and honoured to receive this award.
  “Along with my fellow honourees, I look forward to sharing our unique challenges, and creating opportunities for interaction, the exchange of ideas and best practices and a roadmap for a better future,” she remarked.
  Fresh out of school, the University of Ibadan Geography graduate explored her deep passion for sports, entering the world of sports journalism. She covered the 1999 female World Cup, the All Africa Games in Zimbabwe, as well as the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games in Sydney and Athens respectively.
  Not long after, she started when she began producing and presenting Good Morning Nigeria, a breakfast magazine television show — an instant hit, considering the issues treated such as Heroes, which exalted the achievement of deserving members of the society and Street Life, which went out on the streets in search of compelling Nigerian human interest stories.
  After some years, Funmi turned her searchlight on other endeavours, which incidentally led to New Dawn with Funmi in 2000.
  She says, “to do some of the most sublime things in the world. You need to put everything you have and what you don’t have.”
  The success of New Dawn with Funmi, which ran daily on NTA 10 Lagos — a show, which was used as a vehicle for social change and transformation by advocating the cause of the vulnerable members of the society, particularly women, youth and children— led to the birth of Change-A-Life social intervention project.
  Over the years, Change-A-Life has affected the lives of many children and people through its scholarship, healthcare, counseling and micro-finance intervention scheme. The scholarship scheme supports 98 children.
LAST year, Funmi Iyanda completed production on Talk with Funmi, a unique television show directed by Chris Dada. Talk With Funmi (TWF) journeys Nigeria, from state to state, capturing people and conversations around the country. It is a thought-provoking, illuminating and entertaining journey into the life of Nigerians from all over the country.
  TWF is a multi-segment variety show set in multiple locations across Nigeria. It brings truly inspiring real life stories, fresh perspectives of the diverse cultures, tangible information and inspirational experiences of real people from various parts of the country into the homes of Nigerians in a fun filled engaging and entertaining manner.
  The show talks to people everywhere — from ordinary citizens going about their business to celebrities in unusual but natural settings.
   Funmi recently completed production on My Country: Nigeria, a three-part documentary on Nigeria celebrating the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. The production aired on the BBC World Service in 2010.
  An innovator in her sphere, Funmi has won tremendous recognition for her work in the media and for her humanitarian and philanthropic interventions. She is an African Leadership Institute Tutu Fellow and a participant of the ASPEN Institute’s Forum for Communications and Society.
  Funmi serves on the Board of Farafina Trust and Positive Impact Youth Network.
   She also watches movies and supports her favourite football team, Chelsea FC.

The needy smile on Keep It Real charity fair


NGOs cutting Charity Fair cake 

THE premises of Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, was recently blessed with activities as different vendors, non-governmental and not-for-profit organisations across the country held the maiden edition of December Charity Fair.
KIR Foundation Stand
Bitebo Gogo, Founder, KIR Foundation 
  With Promoting Synergy, Making Greater Impact Together as theme, the event served as a platform for organisations not known to the public to shed light on their activities and appeal for supports and sponsorship while established ones harped on their achievements and challenges.
  Organised by Keep It Real (KIR) Foundation in partnership with Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO), Toru Ofili Foundation (TOF), Children And The Environment (CATE) and Street Child Care Welfare Initiative (SCCWI), the gathering featured presentations from diverse groups, including children from Red Cross Orphanage, Makoko, Lagos.
Children of Red Cross Orphanage, Matron, KIR members and supporter  
   Aside from talks, networking and stage performances, the event also tagged Charity Market Place, saw the presentation of two books, The 17 Secrets of Flying Students by Fela Durotoye, and Rage For Change by LEAP Africa, as well as the cutting of the organisation’s cake.
A guest at a stand 
   Guests were filled with emotions when a visually impaired woman, Moriayo Ojo, narrated her woes, and how her life has been made better by Jakin, one of the NGOs, which did not only care for her by paying her rents and sponsoring her blind child’s education, but empowered her with a trade.
  The presentations of children from Red Cross Orphanage, Makoko, drew tears from many, as they called for help, stating litany of challenges confronting them.
  In support of the home, the pupils, ranging from three years to nine, donated one of their art works, Molue — graphic representation Lagos city bus in a rustic suburb of Lagos  — which was auctioned for N100, 000.
     Various gifts including laptops were also given out to empower some of the street children that had learned some trade and now leading good life.
    Also, the winner of Book Reading completition got a laptop and N40, 000 cash prize for his group.
Founder, Jakin Foundaton and Moriayo Ojo   
  BITEBO Gogo, Founder/ Executive Director of Keeping It Real (KIR) Foundation, said, “we have numerous problems in the country and different NGOs doing different things; some of the NGOs don’t even have the opportunity to be heard. I believe if individuals come together and NGOs come under one roof, we would be able to achieve more because with synergy you make more impact.”
Matro from Red Cross Society
  Gogo said she decided to include the market place “to give opportunity for the NGOs to showcase what they do and also for young entrepreneurs who do not have opportunity to do Community Social Responsibility (CSR) to be aware of NGOs they could easily identify with. It is an opportunity to help the NGOs.”
 Artworks on display at KIR Foundation stand
  On reason for mixing books and charity, she informed, “I love books and I want to promote books. Majority of these young people want to read, but are not given books to read, basically, because their parents cannot afford it. I believe when children begin to read, they would grow up to become leaders; because a reading mind is a leading mind.”
   Commending the initiative, environmental activist Sola Alamutu of Children And The Environment (CATE), said irrespective of the low turnout, the gathering was a success.
 Sola Alamutu of CATE
“The event is truly successful, for example, look at the painting of a group of children going for a N100, 000. The money will go a long way to impact on the lives of these children who live in orphanage. Another, success recorded is that, the event enabled some of the NGOs to get may be just one person to sponsor them, because the people that have come to the feast did not just come to drink and eat, but for the genuine cause of the NGOs and the vulnerable children,” Alamutu said.