Stephen Ojo popularly known as Papi Ojo is one of the inspiring creatives putting Nigeria on the map. It is definitely afro beats to the world, and dancer Papi Ojo is showing it is also Afro Dance to the world. Papi has had an amazing career which includes dancing with Beyonce. Papi Ojo talks to Red Edit about his life, his journey to success, and his impact as a Nigerian living in the diaspora.
Red Edit: Who would you say Papi Ojo is?
Papi Ojo: For those who don’t know, my name is Papi Ojo. I am a musical artist, singer, dancer, and choreographer.
Red Edit: How did you get into the world of dancing?
Papi Ojo: Dancing is always something that I have been doing. Going to birthday parties with my older siblings influenced that too. I’ve always been dancing but I never took it seriously until late 2014, early 2015 when I and my boys started a group called the A.V.O boys. The group consisted of my brother, Emmanuel(Sedo), and my current partner, Caleb Bonny(Ghana boii). With the group, dancing became more serious and I started doing it consciously.
Red Edit: You have had the biggest break any dancer would want, what are the things you did that led you there?
Papi Ojo: Leading up to black is King, I have performed with Rihanna at the Grammys in 2018. I have performed with Janet Jackson, Teyana Taylor… I did the VMAs with Travis Scott, also ASAP Ferg, Big Sean. I have performed with many other artists, Chris brown, Davido… We have done different jobs out there before God granted us the project with Beyonce.
Red Edit: Well-done, your list is really impressive.
Red Edit: Black is King, how was that project for you? Thinking about the whole thing, it’s beyond mind-blowing. Please tell us how you took the whole thing in.
Papi Ojo: With Black is King, it was a gradual thing for me to be a part of black is king. I got brought up to the project as a dancer earlier in the summer and that is when the project started, then my role just grew as time went on. The team just liked who I am, they liked me as a person then my role just grew to what you saw on Black is King.
Red Edit: You’re in a better position to talk about Nigeria’s creative industry considering your broad experience. What do you think about the business of Nigeria’s creative industry?
Papi Ojo: I think the creatives in Nigeria are definitely underrated. They don’t give them enough respect, especially for the dancers. People tend to undervalue the amount of work, and the significance these talents bring creatively to any project they work on. As dancers, we make the music video look better. As stylists, they make their artists look better. People watch the artist and are like, I like the swag of this artist.
Red Edit: You have a broad experience so is this aspect of undervaluing creative artists, a general thing?
Papi Ojo: In the United States, it is a little bit better. We have more leniency to ask for our own rates and not be disrespected. In the US, they take creativity highly, so you could still be respected. But in Nigeria, it is not like that. Once you try to ask for your rates, they disrespect you and say things like, “if you don’t want the job, we would just call somebody else.” Creatives are not really respected as they should be respected in Nigeria.
Red Edit: Well said. Do you have any plans of coming back to Nigeria soon? If yes, what for?
Papi Ojo: Yes, I plan to come back home and just network. I feel like since I have been abroad for eleven years, I have missed out and I need to close the gap. I want to come home and meet more people and have a relationship with people back at home. Also, we intend to create a foundation for dancers where we can help make their dreams come through. It is not everyone that can have that opportunity, so we would train teachers that can help strengthen the creative skills for the dancer and they can have a better opportunity at fulfilling their dreams.
Red Edit: Fulfilling dreams isn’t as easy as it sounds sometimes. So what drives you and keeps you going even amid challenges?
Papi Ojo: What drives me is the fact that I mustn’t fail. I feel like I have a lot of people I need to support as a man. I have to look after my family, I want my parents to reap the fruits of their labor. I think about my future, I don’t want my kids to lack anything, I don’t want them to suffer. I also lost my brother, Emmanuel two years ago which was like a wake-up call, so those little things keep me going.
Red Edit: If you could give any advice to a Nigerian dancer that doesn’t have any hopes of leaving the country yet but is still on their grind as a dancer, what would it be?
Papi Ojo: I would tell them to keep working, bringing out content, and not feel discouraged because Afrobeat as a whole is a big thing. Our time is now. The whole world is looking at us for inspiration. Sooner or later, people would start coming back home to do their creative content(music video.) So we need to be ready so when we are called, we are not getting ready, we are not looking for things, we are ready. Keep showcasing yourself diligently and be consistent.
Red Edit: Any exciting project you’d like to tell us about?
Papi Ojo: Yeah. I am working on my EP. I am also working on acting, you would soon see me on the big screen. I am excited about this new journey, I hope you are excited, and you come on my journey with me.
Red Edit: Great! Let’s play a quick game. You’d have only one option, then you’d tell us why you picked that option. Okay?
Papi Ojo: Okay.
Red Edit: Afrobeat, or Afro-Fusion?
Papi Ojo: Ehh… Afro-fusion. I like the idea of fusing two sounds into one, it gives you more versatility and more ginger.
Red Edit: Nigeria or America
Papi Ojo: That’s a tough one, but I have to go with Nigeria. Even with our ups and downs, home is home. That is where my family is, that is where my heart is. (laughs)This is a tough question though, America is still home too (laughs)
Red Edit: Thank you for coming on the series. It is such a pleasure having you.
Papi Ojo: Thank you for having me. I absolutely can’t wait to be back in Nigeria. (smiles)
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