Jacob’s Cross is one of my favourite series of all time!! My mom used to even joke saying she hoped nothing serious ever happened to anyone I love during the Jacob’s Cross timeslot because she feared that person would have to wait an hour before I would attend to them. She wasn’t too far off from the truth actually, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that I would get to sit down with Bola Abayomi, I went slightly berserk actually. After a few embarrassing squeals of joy and slight workout from jumping up and down the passage, I managed to calm down, recompose and remind myself that his real name isn’t Bola; it’s Fabian Lojede.
Sitting down with Fabian really was a breath of fresh air. Here is a young man who has such a strong passion for his continent and communications that you can’t help but feel inspired. This actor, voiceover artist, creative director, Pan-Africanist communications extraordinaire has carved a niche for himself in both the creative and corporate spaces, living out his dream of telling stories whilst clearly being an advocate of social responsibility.
Fabian began his career in Nigeria producing Pidgin greeting cards. At the time, this was something new and his cards were actually in high demand. Unfortunately, the publishing industry was not without a few challenges and for financial reprieve, he found himself entering the advertising world; a decision he hasn’t looked back from since. It is clear from the minute we get into our conversation that Fabian’s passion lies in communications (from the moment he receives a brief to post concept execution) and using it a medium for social change. He describes advertising as the “midway between the creative industry and the corporate world”, saying that: “if you really wanna know about business and still be creative, advertising is the place to be.”
Pan African Communications
The Kaiser Family Foundation started the African Broadcast Media Partnership (ABMP): a network of African broadcasters who join for free and are required to donate 1 hour of broadcasting to HIV/AIDS a day. Because of various political agendas, one usually finds that the communication messages vary from administration to administration. Within these hour broadcasts, ABMP aims to send one communication message to all the participating countries so as try effect change in reducing the scourge of this pandemic. One such campaign is the Imagine Africa campaign, of which Fabian is the Creative Director, alongside his 1 Take Media business partner Mickey Madoda Dube, who directs the campaigns. These campaigns that are broadcast in various African countries and in different languages, encouraging people to take personal responsibility in staying HIV-free or being responsible in their positive status. Imagine Africa is broadcast in English, French, Portuguese and Arabic; as a radio drama series and as the commercial public announcements that we hear in South Africa. As the creative director of the campaign, Fabian writes the various translations but says that a limited budget makes it impossible to make an advert for each country so they have to find a way to share a message without being offensive to one group of people or watered down to another. As a result, he says that over the years, he has becomes sensitive to the various cultural nuances that come with broadcasting in different countries. “Nigeria actually prepares you for this because it is so diverse… and these dynamics in Niaja are a reflection of the diversity on the African continent.”
As a communicator, Fabian says his primary focus is always on the brief and not necessarily on the accolades that could follow. “The most effective campaigns may not necessarily receive the most awards and the campaigns with the most awards may not necessarily be the most effective… Campaigns need to be relevant and reach their objective. That’s what makes a successful campaign.”
Man on the Ground
This is a project Fabian describes as a “passion project”. It took three years to make this movie and was born, primarily, out of a need and desire “to tell our own stories”. As black people and as Africans, we are constantly frustrated by outsiders coming into our situations and telling our stories: in their languages; through their eyes and for their objectives. During the terrible xenophobic attacks in South Africa, a young man by the name of Ernesto Nhamuave became known as the burning man, when images of him being necklaced made front page news thought the country (and abroad). This is the backdrop against which Man on the Ground is set.
When talking to Fabian about the xenophobic attacks, I must admit I got a glimpse into how uncomfortable and embarrassed some white people must feel when we talk about racism. Because I wasn’t a part of them. I would never do something like that. Sound familiar? Terrible isn’t it. The interesting thing about our conversation though, was how broadly he viewed the situation. “For me, the xenophobic attacks were no different from the Hutus killing Tutsis in Rwanda or any other form of tribalism in many African countries” because it all emanates from some kind of self-loathing that we as black people feel. How else can you explain how white journalists would be allowed to tell a story (safely) in an area and a black journalist, telling the same story find his life under threat. These are some of the issues Fabian, Akin Omotoso, Hakeem Kae-Kazim and the rest of their amazing crew set out to address in Man on the Ground. Without preaching, because “people tend to listen more when they think you aren’t talking to them.”
Filmed in 23 days, this passion project began on Fabian’s birthday (1 June 2011), which he says was the perfect birthday present. I asked him what the highlight of making this movie was for him and with the most heart-warming humility, he responded: “actually seeing it happen.” Because as a filmmaker (especially a black filmmaker) who wants to make movies that can compete on the world stage, there are many challenges; one of which being funding. For this project, they used crowd funding, which basically meant that they all pooled together their resources and asked their friends to pitch in. Everyone took a pay-cut and they all worked long hours. This is the kind of vision, passion and commitment it took to create Man on the Ground.
Fabian the Man
Towards the end of the interview, I asked him to tell me a little about himself. To take me through a day in his life. He laughed and told me I was experiencing a bit of it. He had been in the office since the early morning, only had a few minutes to squeeze me in (maybe because I was a little late) and had to rush off to a voice over in Killarney. By his own admission, sleep and food are not at the top of his priority list; hence he had his breakfast in a small take away box next to him – to remind himself to eat at least once that day – and sometimes getting home close to midnight. But what I loved was how he said: “It’s not work to me”. Proof that when you find something you cannot imagine yourself not doing, you do it wholeheartedly and without prompting. You’re the first to rise and the last to go to bet, and never without a smile. Doesn’t that just make you want to go all Alchemist and follow your Life’s Purpose?
From Jacob’s Cross to Imagine Africa to Man on the Ground, with 1 Take and a Pan Africanist dream as his guide… I’d say Fabian Lojede is definitely the storyteller to look out for.
(Man on the Ground is expected to hit South African cinemas by June next year so please do look out for it and support African arts.)