It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, what was meant to be a luminous start to a new decade with promise of innovation, and positive change became characterised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every industry had to adapt to the socially distanced, mask-clad world that currently is.
Amidst the dismay, many Nigerians exhibited the tenacity to rise to the task of an unprecedented year. 2020 saw a lot of inspiring individuals take charge, innovate, inspire, protest, create, and bear the leading light in a valley of darkness.
The More Branches Editorial team is piloting the inaugural 20 Trailblazers of the Year list dedicated to highlighting various minds breaking boundaries in culture, technology, and creative endeavours.
This year’s list features creatives from Daniel Obasi, Telz, Niyi Okeowo, to activists; Feyikemi Abudu, Rinu Oduala, Matthew Blaise, and tech innovators, Odunayo Eweniyi, Ezra Olubi, etc, arranged in no particular order. Explore the list below.
According to INDIE, Stephen Tayo is the Lagos photographer “telling it like it is”. Born in Ekiti state and having spent most of his life in Lagos, he is inspired to tell candid Nigerian stories. His art is sharp and culturally inclined, a testament to the deeply passionate artist behind the lenses. “My inspiration is from understanding my roots,” he told DAZED.
The Unilag graduate’s portfolio is replete with high beauty and he confesses that his bias to create children’s portraits was born out of his inability to find pictures of himself when he was 3-5 years old. Tayo has taken his vision of Lagos to the world, having collaborated with the likes of The New York Times, shooting festival style for Dazed, street style for Vogue and INDIE. He’s currently documenting Lagos’s drag subculture.
Ikuforiji Olaitan AbdulRahman also known as Oxlade is one of the biggest revelations of the Nigerian music industry in 2020. His alluring vocals and smooth delivery drew a multitude of fans to his corner. His single, Away, from his OXYGENE EP became an instant fan favourite upon release, dominated the airwaves, and is one of the most critically acclaimed bodies of works this year.
For his exploits, he has been nominated in the Next Rated category of the Headies Award. In an interview with Okayafrica, he spoke about the sort of legacy he would like to leave behind “An audacious one. I want to be known as the biggest Afrobeats act worldwide. I want fans from all around the world.”
Korede Ogundiya is a publisher, techpreneur, and co-founder of MoreBranches. He previously served as Journalist Public Relations at the Office of the Vice President of Nigeria. His writings explore the subject of technology, politics, culture, music, gender, and African development.
In 2015, he co-founded Jangilova, a platform that was designed to connect people wanting to watch TV or play video games with people who were willing to play host to them. In 2017, he started More Branches with Adedayo Laketu. More Branches has grown into one of the biggest publications for young Nigerians, often called the ‘Vice of Africa’, no topics are off-limits.
He led the reportage of the EndSARS protests by More Branches to create the necessary awareness and authentic reporting that legacy Nigerian media lacks. His recent work as a digital project lead on FUJI: A Opera was key in reimagining an indigenous genre for a new generation.
Daniel Obasi is a multi-talented artist who combines the use of film, photography and fashion. He has worked with several international platforms, shooting portraits for The New York Times and Billboard, and styling fashion editorials for Vogue Portugal and Dazed. He worked with Beyoncé on the acclaimed Black is King visual album where he styled Lagos futurism.
Daniel is passionate about Africans telling African stories.
“My work has always been about the fact that (African) stories are best told by Africans. We all have different experiences, but in all that diversity and under that difference, we still have things that connect all of us” He told CNN.
Growing up, he was obsessed with fantasy stories and magic and this is what informs the 26-year-old’s creative impulse. His works explore gender, sexuality and identity, and show a mix of feminine and masculine elements. On October 28, 2020, Daniel Obasi was awarded the Future Awards Africa Prize for Fashion in an online event.
Tems sings about freedom and pain. Her EP, For Broken Ears, a testament to the artistry of the 25-year-old, has enjoyed deserved success since its release in September 2020. Her first single, Mr Rebel, for which she gained two Headies nominations serve as a template for her track in the music industry — nonconforming, outspoken & self-assured.
Her self-produced songs are characterized by her high pitched vocals which set her apart. Tems’ earliest memory of songwriting was when she was six, and, now, nineteen years later, she is the primary chieftain of the Rebel gang, her cult of loyal fans cheering her on as she surfs through a male-dominated industry.
She was recently nominated for the Next Rated award by the Headies, a deeply competitive category that includes Omah Lay, Oxlade and Bella Shmurda. Her feature song with Wizkid, Essence, is one of Barack Obama’s favourite songs of 2020.
Nana-Aisha Salaudeen is a Lagos-based CNN journalist and multi-platform producer who covers business and development stories. She’s primarily interested in underreported human interest stories within Africa because “these stories provide depth and scope on people and things, and their emotions.” Salaudeen claims to have “stumbled into journalism” but her stories are soaked in unmistakable passion. In October 2020, she was awarded the Future Awards Africa Prize for Journalism.
In August 2020, she was featured in British Vogue as one of the 50 trailblazers from across the globe. In her statement she said;
“I’m hopeful for a woman-centred society. I genuinely believe we can make room for women to excel in different spaces. It’s deeply personal for me because I know what it’s like to be a minority in a male-dominated society. Think about the political spaces on the [African] continent, and even in the world — they are filled with a majority of men.”
Nelson C.J is a writer and culture journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria. The bulk of his work leans towards his queer realities. In January 2020, Nelson, then a teenager, appeared in The New York Times with a piece that interrogated queer struggles in organized religion, drawing from personal experiences.
“I was subjected to conversion therapy after my family found messages I’d shared with my partner at the time, and it left me physically and emotionally scarred in ways I am still processing four years later. I stopped actively participating in my church’s youth activities because it seemed dishonest and impossible for me to reject who I am and worship God at the same time. Prayer was used against my sexuality, and my personhood” He wrote.
Nelson’s writing is lucid and the angle from which he discusses his point is usually fresh. He has gone on to contribute to other international publications such as The Independent, i-D, Teen Vogue, Digital Spy, Dazed and others.
Omah Lay is a Nigerian songwriter, music producer and recording artist born in Port Harcourt. He is one of the breakout acts of the year 2020 with two EPs, Get Layd & What Have We Done, and viral songs like Bad Influence. His sound is unusual and reaching in a soothing manner. The Native Mag says “Omah’s vocal delivery, varied as it may be, breathes life and emotion into his records, regardless of the genre he finds himself making, whether it’s a dance-ready number or a Hip-Hop”.
Having written songs for other artists without getting credit, he decided to do something of his own. He recorded Do not disturb and later Hello brother, a lo-fi tune that speaks to brotherhood. When he released his first EP, four out of the five songs stayed on the top four spots on the Nigerian Apple Music charts.
For the 2020 Headies, he has been nominated under four categories; Next rated award in the assorted company of Tems, Oxlade and Bella Shmurda, Best R&B Single, and Songwriter Of The Year, for Bad influence, and Headies’ Viewer’s Choice. He was nominated for the Future Awards Africa Prize in Music.
Ezra Olubi is the CTO and co-founder of Paystack, a tech startup that provides a quick way to integrate payment services into an online or offline transaction by way of an API. In October, Paystack announced a $200 million acquisition by American payments company Stripe. Paystack’s customers include small businesses, larger corporations, and educational institutions. Ezra’s androgynous style sets him apart and his success challenges the many negative stereotypes faced by androgynous men.
Odunayo Eweniyi is the co-founder/COO of Piggyvest, a fintech company that helps over 1 million users achieve their financial goals by helping them save and earn interest without complications. A “self-professed pessimist,” her penchant to learn and evolve may be her superpower. In an interview with Techcabal she said; “If I need to be X company’s COO, best believe I will learn everything I need to be that company’s COO. I don’t have a lot of life philosophies but one of them is to do your absolute best in ANYTHING you’re doing. Anything at all.”
Odunayo is a key member of The Feminist Coalition who raised almost $388,000 in two weeks to support the EndSARS protests. She was included in 2020’s The Bloomberg 50, a list that honors people who are changing the global business landscape.
Rinu Oduala is a brand strategist and advocate, who was at the vanguard of the EndSARS protests. She banked on her sizable social media influence to inspire people to take part. On the 7th of October, she, along with some other Nigerian youths set camp outside the Lagos governor’s office to demand better governance. What fuels her is her first-hand witness of police brutality.
The 22-year-old has an unquenching thirst for positive change. Rinu has led and participated in impactful campaigns even before the EndSARS protests. She is the convener of Operation Sanitise, a movement that spread across several cities in Nigeria, distributing up to 20,000 hand sanitizers during the thick of the pandemic. In June, she led a protest against rape alongside twelve of her friends after the murder of Tina Ezekwe in Lagos and Uwavera Omozuwa in Benin. She was selected to be a member of the Lagos State Judicial inquiry looking into cases of police brutality and extra Judicial killings.
Niyi Okeowo is a multidisciplinary art director and photographer based in Lagos, Nigeria. He has 8 years of experience and his focus lies in art direction, graphics design, 3D, animation, branding and photography. Niyi heavily experiments with strong colours and has worked with numerous established brands and startups to create experiences, identities, and visuals. He has previously collaborated with Gtbank, Fidelity Bank, Paystack, LVMH, Hans and Rene, Smirnoff and others.
As an art director, his work consists of unique visual interpretations. Working with YBNL’s Fireboy DML on Apollo, he said “We played around a lot of ideas. Like how “ELI” is about a girl who’s dangerous for him but he keeps going back to her. That’s why the artwork is about a woman and you can see that she’s wrapped by a snake and there’s that scorpion on her arm to represent danger.”
Feyikemi Abudu is the winner of Her Network’s 2020 woman of the year award for speaking up for positive change. A business developer and member of the Feminist Coalition, FK, like many Nigerians could not have envisaged that there would be a youth uprising in a pandemic year. She became the uncommissioned marshal of the movement due to her frontline involvement.
She was involved in efficiently raising & disbursing funds used for refreshment and logistics, coordinated legal and medical volunteers and leveraged on her expansive network and family influence in places where normal procedures failed to work. At some point, she set her personal engagements aside to cater for protest duties. Her deep rootedness earned her titles, the most prominent being ‘President FK’.
Speaking to Techcabal, she credits her family and upbringing for her courage saying “All the women in my family are coconut heads. They are accomplished women who don’t answer to anybody. You can imagine all of us sitting at a table.” She continued; “I think that’s where [my audacity] is from. If you come for family lunch, first of all, you’ll hear us from outside. And when you get inside, everybody has a strong opinion about something.”
Toyosi Diya is a Nigerian model based in Lagos state where he is a student of the University of Lagos. He has modelled for Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada, Hugo Boss, Zegna, Others. He began modelling in 2017 when he participated in the ELITE MODEL LOOK competition after which he got signed into his first modelling agency, My Booker Model Management. Since then, he has worked with other agencies in London, Milan, Paris, New York, and Spain.
Matthew Blaise is a non-binary, openly queer Nigerian and an LGBTQ rights activist living in Lagos. They are currently studying English and literary studies at a Federal University in Nigeria. They have always been an outspoken activist, and so, when the EndSARS protests began, they joined the tens of thousands of Nigerian youths to demand better policing and to ask for protection of queer rights.
On Out, they wrote about a video of them which has now attracted over three million views on Instagram:
“I don’t really care what people think of my video. There is a revolution happening. And in a revolution, we don’t care what our oppressors care or think. In this I refuse to center them, as they already are centered.”
They are the winner of the SOGIESC Rights activist of the year award for 2020. They are also a 2020 Women Deliver Young fellow.
Seyitan Atingarin, who gracefully combines fashion with media, is an award-winning TV Presenter, Producer, Entertainment correspondent & Reporter at Arise TV where she anchors the morning show. She holds an M.A in international broadcast journalism from Birmingham City University. In the past, she has worked at UBA’s REDTV, hosting ‘The Sauce’ an entertainment and lifestyle show, and the platforms’ red carpet show ‘Red on Red’.
She is the creative director of ABÈBÍBYTAN, a clothing line which she founded in 2017. She has hosted some top events that include the SME 100 Nigeria’s 25 Under 25 Awards, The Lord of Ribs Comedy Festival (Red Carpet), Shop Talk Conference, Nigeria Entrepreneurs Awards. She co-hosted the 2020 Arise Fashion Week.
TG Omori is a Nigerian music video director and cinematographer working out of Lagos. He is responsible for some of the most audacious music videos on television. He has worked with recording artists including Olamide, Wizkid, Burna Boy, D’banj, Kiss Daniel, Fireboy DML, Falz, Timaya, Naira Marley, and many others. Naira Marley’s controversial “Am I Yahoo Boy” was his breakout video.
Drawing inspiration from the legendary Tunde Kelani, he is arguably the hottest video director in the music industry at present. In 2019, the self-taught director was responsible for about half of the videos on the summer 2019 charts countdown on MTV, Soundcity, and Trace. In the same year, he won video director of the year at City People Entertainment Awards and directed two videos in top 10 most viewed Nigerian music videos. He has been nominated for the ‘Best Music Video’ category at the 2020 Headies Award.
Alli Odunayo AKA Telz is a Grammy-nominated music producer. He is the other half of The Spaceship Collective producers alongside LeriQ. The 23-year-old was a lead producer on Burna Boy’s Twice as Tall album. Telz has a knack for hits and has collaborated with artists such as Patoranking with whom he made the smash hit, Abule. His genius is also behind Prettyboy D-O’s collaboration with Olamide on Wetin You Smoke.
His producer tag, “Funkula” became a contested topic as listeners debate on whether it’s ‘Porn killer,’ ‘Fun killer’, ‘Born Killer’, etc. Telz appears to enjoy the confusion.
“It’s controversial; everyone wants to know what it is and argue about what they think it is. However, I did it on purpose because I’m trying to sell the tag and it’s really working because “Funkula” is becoming a household name” He told The Guardian.
Maryam Apaokagi has established herself as the go-to comic act on the web. With about 1.6 million followers on Instagram, she has cemented her place as one of Nigeria’s foremost entertainers. What sets Taooma apart is the relatable content she puts out. She started out with just two characters, Taooma and Mama Taaoo, a depiction of an African mother who doles out slaps to her daughter at the slightest provocations. Now, she has more characters, splitting herself into different acts that include Baba Taaoo and Taaoo’s brother, Tayo.
She won Best Online Comedian of the Year at the Gage Awards last year and in 2020, she was nominated for the Future Awards Africa Prize for Content Creation. Of her art, she told Folio: “Education is important. I don’t do comedy for just laughs. I pass messages. I put all other things as a way to make people laugh, no matter how exaggerated I make it.”
Faith Oluwajimi is the creative director at Bloke, a genderless artisanal label introducing a distinct notion of luxury through Quirky and Artsy design aesthetic, enveloped with an undertone of spiritual consciousness. He started his fashion journey in 2011 while studying agriculture at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB). In 2015, Faith founded Bloke in Lagos to create well thought out garments and objects for performative functions and collectable purposes. He began to experiment with knitwear at a time when there were a limited number of people exploring it.
In 2016, Vogue Italia declared him no 34 of 200 emerging talent brands to watch and in 2018, Oluwajimi’s first runway show debuted at Lagos Fashion Week where he was a fashion focus finalist. In October 2018, he won the inaugural Emerge ALÁRA award. In April 2019, The label became a recipient of the Lagos Fashion Week Fashion Focus 2019 Fund. In November 2020, Bloke was selected as an Arise Fashion Week 30 under 30 finalist to showcase their SS21 offering which was highlighted by L’Officiel USA as one of the top 10 African designers shaping global fashion. Also in 2020, Faith was nominated for the Future Awards Africa Prize in Fashion.