Under the guise of creativity, artistes all over the world have a license to break existing convention, while evolving or defining a path hitherto unknown. Nigerian entertainers are no less on call, particularly when it comes to making unique fashion statements. This piece is devoted to some Nigerian entertainers whose fashion sense is so definitely personalised that it becomes like a second skin to them, many times defining their essence and what they stand for. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ekom Udom report…
A few archival photos of Afrobeat creator Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in suit can still be found. But what has become the established Fela fashion persona is the skin-tight, matching shirt and trouser. Sown without pockets, they were often made from the same fabric and colour. Sometimes, these clothes were patterned with intricate motifs that made a statement on the African renaissance.
Arguably, one of the best dressed Nigerian men, Fela was a powerful dresser, with his clean-shaven face, clothes neatly ironed and his shirt tucked in. He was always impeccably dressed and carried a simple style.
Fela’s revolutionary dressing evolved in the same period that he changed his style of music from highlife/jazz to afrobeat and began a campaign for afrocentric values. Fela loved to wear clothes that match. His shirt, trousers and shoes all had to match. His eldest child and daughter Ms. Yeni Kuti inherited this fashion trend from her father. In her case, her accessories (shoes, toenails, headband, jewellery, etc) must also match down. Fela had shoes of every colour imaginable to match every outfit. Some of these outfits can still be found at his former residence, now the Kalakuta Museum in Ikeja, Lagos.
Many times in the heat of a performance, Fela also popularised and personified the shirtless style on stage. With the shirt off, the penile bulge and saxophone sling added an obvious sex appeal as he strutted up and down the stage.
Uwaifo did not always cut the suave, urban suit-wearing look that he spots today. Among the greatest Nigerians, living or dead, there is no one with the combination of talents available to Uwaifo. A fine artist, sculptor, musician, inventor, athlete, academic and administrator of culture, Uwaifo is currently a professor of Fine Arts at the University of Benin.
In love with his Benin kingdom heritage, much of his music as well as the styles he evolved with it revolved around Benin. On stage, Uwaifo appeared in various costumes that addressed whatever method of musical performance like Ekassa, Titibiti, Joromi that he was given to at the time. Joromi has since become a fashion term that describes the style of an embroidered blouse or jerkin.
The former Edo State Commissioner for Arts and Culture is 72 years old and looks amazingly good for his age. He still spots the same style of afro haircut as in the days of yore.
Prince Nico Mbarga
Born to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father, Mbarga, the composer of Africa’s favourite song by BBC readers and listeners had a penchant of multi-layered shoes. Extending the frontiers of the reigning fashion trend, the leader of the Rocafil Jazz Band stood out with his fashion sense in the 70s when pop and rock was the order of the day. He very often dressed like a rock star.
Oliver De Coque
This was one Nigerian musician who understood how to leverage on his natural endowment. Nature blessed Oliver (real names Sunday Akanite) with generous facial hair and he made a good use of it, converting it into an identity. In one of his hit songs, ‘Identity’, Oliver outlined the nature of his individuality, saying that he dresses to suit his mood. “Funny, funny identity/sometimes when I dress/I dress like boyoyo/sometimes when I dress/I dress like chief or king.” It was like that with Oliver, but the constant denominator was his rich treasure of beard.
The Ozzidi King as he was better known for the better part of his career in music distinguished himself with an assortment of costumes. Incidentally, one his children Ebony is now a fashion designer who trades under the name, Babu Gee. With 1976’s “Help,” the Ozziddi scored their first major African hit. His most distinctive costume was a bandana headgear that he popularised.
Expectedly, Bright Chimezie who is better known as Okoro Junior preaches a philosophy of African supremacy. He dresses to fit his message. Very often, he can be found in a simple armless top.
Popularly known as ‘Mambissa’, Ukoh is an entertainer’s entertainer. He performs to a script that is strictly his. His costumes draw on influences from Southern African countries, various Nigerian cultures and particularly his native Benue state.
Mazi Ajimiri Ama’echefu
Frequently dressed in a large wrapper, which he simply throws around himself like Kwame Nkrumah and Mahatma Ghandi, Ajimiri combines music with a passionate ambition to liberate Nigeria and Africans from the colonial mentality.
Born Susan Oluwabimpe “Goldie” Filani, she was married to Andrew harvey. The rising Nigerian pop star had a penchant for Victorian type dresses, which she jazzed-up with a retro sense to emerge with something uniquely hers. It was not out of character to find Goldie wearing a corset over a dress. Her style was markedly provocative.
His real name is Bisade Ologunde but popularly known as Lagbaja. Lagbaja introduced a costume previously associated with masquerades on stage. As a regular performer, he is now known as “The Masked One”. His faceless posture is with a reason. He has offered to identify with the mythical ‘common man’, wherever they can be found. While the mask may be the most visible identity of Lagbaja, he also sets himself apart with his type of trouser, which is a cross between the Yoruba sokoto and Indian male pant.
Born Charles Chukwuemeka Oputa, Charly Boy is lucky to have an approving wife Lady Diane who is an accomplice to much of what he does. Sometimes known as CB, His Royal Punkness and Area Fada, he is one of Nigeria’s most controversial entertainers, best known for his nonconformist lifestyle. He entered the Nigerian entertainment scene with his wife Lady Di with his debut album, Nwata Miss. Nigeria was jolted with this couple in punk leather jackets and boots,a Mohawk and the hippy image of a macho man on power-bikes. It was not long before the entertainment press named him His Royal Punkness. His residence was renamed The Punk Palace. Charly Boy is capable of many shocking appearances. He can sometimes be found in public with a dress that is asexual. Perhaps, he is the best known public figure with an increasing number of piercings and tattoos.
When it comes to bold, often weird, expression of individuality, Derenle is in a world of his own. It is not uncommon to find him doing his thing with a trainers on one foot and a regular dress shoe on the other foot. The Channel O TV presenter, who was previously a presenter for Soundcity, thinks nothing of appearing in public dressed like a lady, with high-heeled shoes to boot.
Another Benue State born artiste who promotes the culture of his people through his dress sense is Zaaki Adze. Forget the flashlight, which he carries around everywhere. One thing you can be sure of is that Zaaki would never be found in public without a head gear made from the black and white material which is typical of people from his ethnic nationality in Benue State.
Many may swear that reggae gospel musician, Buchi Atuonwu is bald and that is why he covers his head all the time. But the former University of Lagos teacher of English language has a full and rich crown of hair. Buchi may forget anything else when he leaves home, but he has been quoted as saying that without his cap he feels naked. He has acquired tens of the leather cap, specially hand crafted by his friend and alter ego, Papa English who sings in his band.
Acquiring a reputation as Nigeria’s better known female talking drummer is not the only thing that stands, Araola Olumuyiwa popularly known as Ara out of the pack. She is also a stunner for the full extra long braid which reaches down all the way beyond her bum.