Meet the Toronto-based Filmmaking Duo Refashioning The Toronto-Nigerian Music Video Scene

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Kikachi Memeh

It’s 2a.m in the creeks of a four-man dorm room in Idimu, Lagos when a young ten-year-old walks into the room. “Guys wake up! I just saw a demon,” the young ten-year-old boy said, interrupting the heavy hearts of the room’s occupants. On the first night away from the comfort of home, one of the room’s occupants, young Kingsley Memeh – like many of the Year 7 students at Chrisland College, Idimu – was laden with mixed emotions about his unfamiliar environment. His nightlong brooding was punctuated by the information this odd stranger had told him.

The young eleven-year-old boy, Eniola Yussuf, homebody to the Chrisland schools, felt at home in the four walls of the 50-acre boarding facility. His maiden night at the boarding house met the giddy pubescent boy with the courage fitting for an experienced prankster. Unknown to both Kingsley and Eniola, that fateful September night in 2008 was the start of a venturous friendship.

In the fourteen years of their enthralling friendship, the two friends have successfully turned a mere high school photography passion into an industry-wheedling creative partnership. In their almost two-year run as a duo, they’ve done a volume of music videos for established and rising Afrobeats artistes including Tiwa Savage, L.A.X, Dice Ailes, Bolu Ajibade, etc, a bunch of commercials, two films, and a web show for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), From mini squad wars to a fleeting music career to a pandemic-infused collaboration, these two have individually honed their skills over the years and now come together to engineer an enviable power duad.

The morning of Toronto’s most anticipated weekend, one filled with day-long celebrations of Caribbean culture and night-long afro-themed parties, met these two long-time Ontario residents, in an everyday mood. For them that Friday morning was like any other day. Eniola, PKA Eni, had plans to spend his morning fishing at Lake Ontario with his friend visiting from Atlanta, while Kingsley on the other hand had no real plans for the day.

Lounged in their North Greater Toronto Area bachelor pad, 24-year-old Eni and 23-year-old Kingsley both work casually on their laptops, with an unreleased A.Beeb track blasting in the background, as I caught up with them on their longstanding friendship and business partnership.

Originally science students in their senior years of secondary school, Eni and Kingsley both had career plans in the hard sciences. Their six-year run in Chrisland laid a crucial foundation for not just their friendship but for their mutual interest in the arts. The introduction of Photography as a trade subject in the new Senior Secondary Education Curriculum (SSEC) and the rise of Tumblr, the U.S based multimedia social media website, became major influencing factors in the duo’s piqued interest in visual arts. 

With over 13 billion global views on the social media platform in early 2013, it’s no shocker the Tumblr frenzy had trickled down to these Lagos teens. Hence the mass interest in photography at the time. As students began registering photography as their trade subjects and started fondling with cameras, a rise in student-found photography clubs raved the 2013/2014 set. The students began taking creative charge within the student body by offering the school management low-cost creative services. It didn’t take time before the valiant set, which primarily consisted of many musicians, visual artists, photographers, dancers, and co, produced the school’s first student film.  

“We were the first set to pull something like this off. They had no choice, we were going to riot,” Eni casually says recalling the events that led up to producing the set’s Epic short film. “Captain [Matthew Ekeinde jr.] was just like “yo, we should do a film” and we all just pitched to the school,” Eni adds. Matthew’s mother, award-winning Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, gave the school management the needed confidence that the students could deliver on their proposal. The pioneer film was shot on a Canon T3i and an audio mixer and was later premiered at a special school gathering. The film featured Kingsley as an actor and Eni as the Director of Photography.

The arts weren’t lost to the pair after graduating from Chrisland in 2014 and making their way to Canada for higher education. Kingsley found his way to Waterloo, Ontario to study Film at Wilfrid Laurier University while Eni was Ottawa-bound to study Computer Science at Carlton University. 

As a film student at Wilfrid Laurier, Kingsley acquired theoretical knowledge of the art of film. He began practice by delving into film photography to “catch the vibe” and then progressed quickly into shooting short films on his iPhone. His time as a film student awarded him opportunities to be on Hollywood sets as a production assistant. Asides from his brief stint as an actor in the student film produced and directed by classmates at Chrisland, Kingsley had never had access to a professional movie set.

Five hundred kilometers east of Waterloo, Eni had also been spending his time in Ottawa perfecting his craft, but this time it wasn’t film or photography. EniBeats, as he was known at the time was his stage name for his flourishing music career in the mid-2010s. His encounter with a camera wasn’t until the need arose for him to direct one of his music videos himself. 

The coves of isolation, personal introspection, and somewhat creative overflow brought both friends actively back into each other’s lives in the heat of the pandemic. Their first work together was on the set of R&B songstress Tadiie’s single Tonight with Eni as the camera operator and Kingsley as a focus puller. 

Knowing corporate clients offered bigger budgets and less stress, the duo looked forward to signing with a production company to get more jobs. As corporate production jobs weren’t forthcoming, the decision to attack the clients instead was made. At the time the pair offered full production services at the lowest industry rate, and for cheap, experienced creatives, it wasn’t long before low-budget clients began banging on doors to work with them. “We just went on a roll, people would call us out of town to come and shoot in Toronto,” Eni tells.

As the winter of 2020 started looming in, the dyad was forced to take action on their exciting summer journey. “Are we going to leave this Toronto shit and go and die in pandemic vibes?” Eni asked Kingsley on a random Saturday evening. “Guy let’s move here now,” was Kingsley’s response and like a time bleep, the duo made their way to relocating to Toronto later that year.  

The two-man unit had gone from friends to creative partners, and now flatmates, and the line between business and friendship had begun fading. With the many case studies that highlight the ugly complexities of developing business partnerships with friends, and the longstanding foundation these two friends had, Culture Custodian was curious to understand how the duo is able to function with the lines so blurred. “We’re both trying to get to the same place, we just have different ways we feel like getting there,” Kingsley spills about their work dynamics. “Sometimes approaches clash and then we have to find a middle ground,” Kingsley adds.

“It’s toxic!” Eni chants. The duo further tells tales of their relationship on production sets as things get more heated when Kinglsey wears the director’s cap and Eni is the director of photography. “[on set] People think we’re fighting but really just talking to each other” Kingsley explains. The pair have been able to build an understanding of how each other approaches projects and have found ways to communicate with one another to effectively convey their creative reasoning behind decisions. For Eni, learning on the job is the way to go. He’s fond of experimenting and open to trying new things on set, yet he can be extremely time conscious, a trait that clashes with Kingsley’s approach to creativity. Learning beforehand and perfectly executing his vision on set is Kingsley’s preference. It’s easy to see how both approaches are conflicting. That being said, their distinct methods are not irresolvable. “When you’ve known someone this long it’s easy to find a way out of butting heads,” he adds and Eni nods in agreement in the background. While the duo joked about not wanting to be known as music video directors, I let them know their reputation has already been built around their success in music videos. These days, they confess music videos have lost their initial spark. “They’re all the same to me,” Kingsley says. The young director further highlights his upcoming video with fast-rising Canadian artiste Bolu Ajibade and Afrobeats star L.A.X as one that he’s passably excited about. “At the end of the day, it’s just a music video,” he closes. For cinematographer Eni, he flatly names his upcoming video with Dice Ailes and Tiwa Savage as one he’s excited about. Whereas his eyes light up at a recall of Dice Ailes’ Money Dance music video. “Money dance was chaotic! But was the first time we were like woah we’re shooting for an artiste,” he further enthuses.

In terms of film, the duo agreeably name their upcoming film Four Point Two, a short film they couldn’t disclose much about because it’s still in post-production, as one they’re enthusiastic about. “This film highlights that we know what we’re doing, and not just guys with access to equipment,” Kingsley explains. Eni who served as the Director of Photography on the film opened up about how encouraging it is to recognize their progress in the last year.

Though the filmmaking duo works primarily with Nigerian artists in the Afrobeats scene in Toronto, they reveal they’re not trying to mirror or replicate the explosive, avant-garde scene Lagos has created. “We’re trying to do something entirely different” Eni replies. With new-gen filmmakers running the music video scene like TG Omori, Ademola Falomo, and Director K, Nigeria’s music video value has skyrocketed in the last three years. Asides from higher budgets and production value, these new-gen music video directors are pushing the limits of what African creativity can encompass.   

In admiring the electric scene Lagos has going on, the duo acknowledges the difficulties with attempting to recreate what Lagos already has going on. Though Toronto is often likened to Lagos due to its pulsating atmosphere and diverse residents. Canada and Nigeria are two different spaces entirely; geographically and creatively, and have limited access to resources that make the other advantageous. “We don’t want to give people what they can get in Nigeria,” Kingsley says. In Toronto, the technical resources are easily accessible with a government that supports the arts, and a vast amount of readily available and affordable equipment from rental houses. “Why not maximize that?” Eni adds. As Lagos boasts of its vibrant film scene in recent days, the cost of production is on a steady rise, leaving access to advanced equipment near impossible. In addition to focusing on maximizing their technical prowess, the duo highlights the critical impact of a peaceful setting on a better production experience and creative thinking. In comparison to Lagos’ hustle and bustle and infamous chaos, shooting in Toronto offers a different experience for both their clients and themselves. 

As Afrobeats spreads its tentacles around the globe, Kingsley calls for better integration of the genre in Canada’s cultural hub. “We have to support each other more often,” Kingsley says about the current state of Toronto’s Nigerian music scene. In the same light London is home to many upcoming and already successful African artists, and so is Toronto to numerous budding African talents, the only difference, the duo state, is that there’s better convergence between native Afrobeats artistes – Wizkid, Burnaboy, Tiwa Savage – and their London fans. “These guys can have 10 shows in two months in the United Kingdom, and just two shows for the whole year in Toronto,” Kingsley asserts. This call doesn’t alienate Toronto artists who have been successful at appealing to the local audiences in their countries. Artists who have achieved local and international success ought to do more to inspire younger artists abroad. “This is fun,” Kingsley beams as we take a short break to allow Eni to attend to personal matters. 

As Eni returned, the pair delved into the projects they look forward to creating. A short film, they tell, is in the works for release later in the year. The pair have visions for what they want their fairly conceived upcoming film to be. When probed on the details of execution, the duo spent a lot of time deliberating on their plan. A back and forth on what their budget might look like and how they could make it work sucked up their attention for a little over ten minutes.

Through our hour-long conversation, it was fascinating watching the like-minded pair recall information and share similar aspirations and other creative interests. “I love Michael Bay,” Eni says. An answer to an inquiry on the duo’s favorite film director. “I’m so onboard with that!” Kingsley excitedly adds. “That’s what I want our lives to be like,” the young cinematographer tells. In terms of inspiration and living life as a director, both of them gleefully agree on living the ‘Michael Bay’ life. “Cinematically, it’s David Fincher, I like that slow vibe,” Kingsley reveals. David Fincher’s reputation for being an obsessively technical director matches perfectly with Kinglsey’s lesser obsession with being technically meticulous. 

On the other hand, Eni couldn’t really name anyone director that inspired him cinematically. He tells that there are so many that he looks up to, ranging from music video directors to film directors. For African music videos, Kingsley names Meji Alabi as his pinnacle inspiration for music videos, a declaration that initially earns him a jolting look from Eni, a look that eventually melts into an agreeable nod. “He’s [meji alabi] still the GOAT for African music videos, no one can take it away from him” Eni finally resorts. Inasmuch as the pair maintain individuality in their creative approaches and endeavors, they’re in sync with one another.

“We definitely need to be at both ends of the world,” Eni jokes. From an odd prank in 2008 to a now decade-long friendship, Eni and Kingsley are frivolously sick of each other. As the pair often plot how to wrangle their way out of their destiny-construed partnership, they spend some moments taking in their growth as professionals.  

Kikachi Memeh is a film/Tv writer, occasional bookworm, and devoted hobby-hopper based in Lagos and Vancouver. When she isn’t spending most of her time sending pitches to publications that ignore her constantly, she’s painting semi-good art pieces at home.

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