I recently stumbled upon an old interview I conducted with an old friend who has a sort of a reputation for doing something that seems like a non-thing to him: working with women or 'putting women on,' as they say. There are a lot of issues I have with the notion that men are benevolent saviours to be praised for offering women an opportunity they deserve – my old friend agrees – but this is an essay for another day. This tweet articulates my frustrations wholly and succinctly, so I am free to focus on the soundbite that set me on this post in the first place. As I asked him the shameful question, "why is it so important for you to work with women?" (I cringe hearing that back), my old friend reminded me of one of the many professional taxes we pay as women, "people expect so much from women but at the same time expect so little."
It's a weird paradox. Women are given unsurmountable responsibility, raised to be accountable for everything, to lead and organise our lives and the lives of others, but when we grow up the meaningful responsibilities are withheld from us because, for some misogynistic reason, our womanhood suggests we can't handle it. Women are underestimated and undervalued and, at the same time, overworked and overburdened. Articulating this dichotomy is tricky, but every woman knows the feeling. It's being asked to carry all the weight but being overlooked when it's time for the big job – into which you have put the most background work, by the way. It's being the shoulder to cry on, the mediator, the top advice giver, but being shut out of conversations to do with the business because only then is your opinion not valuable enough. It's being expected to fulfil the 'womanly' duties our patriarchal society demands of us whilst also working twice as hard to earn half as much in the workplace, all so that at the end of the day your gender will be used as a slur as they accuse you of being bad at your job, and your professionalism will be blamed for making you 'less of a woman.' It's... a lot.
During the last quarter of this hideous year, I was given the responsibility to co-edit a special edition zine: WizMag by The NATIVE. Now, I am quite the Wizkid fan – I adore his music, envy his cool demeanour and drool over his stylish pieces – but my pop-GOAT offering me amala or his son, Zion hugging me unsolicitedly, though things I occasionally brag about on my burner for lols, these incidents paled in comparison the real highlight of my experience: being among the majority in the room and seeing every other woman get the respect and the praise and they deserve. Given the nature of the Nigerian music scene, these occasions are truly very special. After all, if you look at the faces spotlighted in the ROOTS of Made In Lagos, all but one of them are men: Jada Pollock.
When I was first put in contact with Jada it was to sort out one of the numerous productions that went into realising this pioneering special edition zine. On yet another stressful day, which was strung together in the middle of a lockdown, I was pleasantly surprised by Jada's warm, hugging reception to my irritated scowl. At first, I chalked it up to her fantastically friendly character, but as we began to talk more in the later days, organising other shoots and interviews, finally including her own, it dawned on me that perhaps Jada was so warm and understanding because she gets it. She knows the feeling of being stressed on the job, sure, but she also knows the misconceptions society will broad stroke you with if your face should, for a second, reveal that you're under any pressure. With a giveaway expression like mine, you'd be labelled unfriendly, a bitch, or worse, incompetent; but Jada gets it, and she wasn't about to do that to me. As she said to me in our Q&A, "only we know the daily insecurities and struggles we face, so to empower each other and build each other up is a must."
I am proud to say, a lot of that went on in our making of the WizMag. During this year, working with NATIVE, I have built up my network of freelance photographers, and of course, the majority of my go-to folk are women (not even on agenda, men are just genuinely useless and such a chore to work with, they themselves know it). So, when I needed to find photographers in Lagos, London, and even Zimbabwe!, it was no stress for me to reach out to people who were talented, fun, ready to go and so willing to help. Faith, Abiola Renée, and Albertina Thabisani Ncube – a Zim photographer living in Perth whom I found online – when they couldn't make it, offered to help me look for others. Abiola Renée pointed me in the direction of Hannah Bamgbala, who shot Legendury Beatz, Albertina gave me several contacts, including Zash who ended up shooting London, and when it came to Jada's shoot, Faith graciously accommodated our hectic schedules, in the end. Of all my field days, our afternoon in Miloco was by far the most enjoyable, thanks to its pleasant atmosphere curated by the team of dedicated, affirming and just plain fun, women, kept in good spirits by Mama J's mouthwatering catering, washed down by pint glasses half full of Hennessy and Red Bull.
Hennessy is a favourite of Laurie's, I found out during the second of the three shoots she styled for all the ROOTS features shot in the UK. Jada's hair was done by Erica Castro, who pulled off a mid-shoot restyling, flipping a ponytail into box braids; nails were the domain to Latoya Rosa and Ornella Rose Botaka was in charge of the face beat. Jada made sure I exchanged contact details with the whole team, so that when next The NATIVE are producing a shoot, their names are at the top of my contacts list. When the Editor-in-Chief at The NATIVE wrote of "the shared collective desire with Team StarBoy to work with and spotlight young, black, female talent throughout the creation of this limited edition zine," Jada's love of working with and working for women was one of the many ways in which the Wizkid half of the WizMag aligned with our publications practices.
On a day to day basis, The NATIVE's editorial team is led by Damilola Animashaun, fondly referred to as the Head Bitch In Charge, not just to those of us who work within the publication. Everybody know she's the boss around here, and that can be owed to the fact that we don't operate with the same dynamic my old friend described. Damilola is not expected to do everything she does whilst being underestimated or undervalued because she's a woman, and neither am I. We are so fortunate to be working in a space within which our gender is not corrupted into a weapon used to discredit us, that our being women isn't purported as an excuse to justify discriminatory subjugation, that we can walk into a room – any room, as long as its convened by The NATIVE – and feel completely welcome and safe.
Travelling into London Euston from my suburban home, before making the pilgrimage across the capital to some studio in Wimbledon, on the day of the big budget Wizkid shoot, I was filled with nerves as I finally approached the doors of the building, after getting lost on some side-road adjacent to my final destination. I was nervous and I was scared. I was scared because I was late. I was scared because I was late and to walk in late into a room full of people who have settled into their own groove can be very very daunting. So, I was scared. But walking into this room, full of these people was not the frightful affair I had imagined at all. The atmosphere was free, jovial, comfortable and productive. Helping hands were flying all over the shop, honest affirmations and informed criticism followed up by helpful suggestions were flowing out our mouths. At gigs like this, there's typically an air of condescension or ownership, but amongst A'alia, Jess, Jade, Sofia, Kennedy, Fey, Tife, Barbara, Neela, Sarah, and myself – I hate to be this corny but – it was just pure vibes!
In the last couple of weeks, we have been locked into launching the WizMag. I can unequivocally say that this has been my favourite period in my four months at The NATIVE. Working on this special issue has been entirely fulfilling, and putting it out this week is one of my proudest moments. But, just like the highlight wasn't being hugged or offered amala by the Baloguns, the fact that I was involved in producing these historic pages isn't something I'm inclined to fuss about. How it all came together, who it all came together with, that's the real story, that's my real pride.