by Chude Jideonwo
In October, I was invited to two events on the same day.
The first was a gathering of Nigerian creatives convened by Tony O. Elumelu. Actors, singers, designers, stylists, movie producers and directors old and young gathered at the National Theatre.
That second was the launch of Ndidi Nwuneli’s latest book ‘Reaching millions with impact’. It was a gathering of civil society leaders, activists, community organisers and corporate social responsibility leaders, old and young. It held at the Ford Foundation.
I walked into the National Theatre and it was home. Friends, mentors, aunties, peers. As some of us were called forward to take photographs, you would be think I was, like them, an actor or a singer, or a designer.
I walked into the Ford Foundation thirty minutes after leaving the theatre, and it was the exact same thing: I felt immediately at home. My friends, my mentors, my peers, my benefactors, people who have stood with me or offered their shoulders as we work on transforming our nation over the past few years.
These are two very distinct groups. They rarely meet – and it is certainly very difficult to find commonalities.
But that’s exactly the beauty of the work we do at RED, and what makes our work truly special, and difficult to replicate.
At RED, we straddle the spaces of popular culture and nation building.
Our mission from our very first popular product, The Future Awards Africa (TFAA), has always been clear. We leverage the media to influence popular culture to inspire young people to build their nations and transform their lives and their nations.
This is why TFAA is both a social change sensation as well as able to stand in the mainstream with the Headies or the AMVCAs: glamour and change side by side, to command the attention of the youth and general population and focus it on issues and ideas that truly matter.
The day after #TFAA2016, I joked that TFAA is perhaps the only African event that has, on one side, people having a passionate debate on what it says about the future of technology or the promise of agriculture; and on the side people conducting a determined debate about who totally ‘slayed’ with their curves on the red carpet!
Someone asked me once: Why do you have X celebrity on such a serious nation-building panel? My answer: er, the celebrity is a Nigerian too.
The rationale is simple: you cannot galvanise people who are not paying attention to you.
Our mastery of both spaces has become a competitive advantage, and a joy that lights up our passions.
It truly lights up mine.
I remember that some of my most fun days have been those days when I would, say, finish giving a TED talk in the morning and go, in the evening to keynote the Legends Nite at the Headies.
This is what makes RED so special.
I am so grateful that my co-founder and I have been able to build a company at the confluence of two of the most important forces in the world: culture and change.
Because what else would I have done with a life like mine that is as passionate about the evolution of Mr Eazi’s sound as I am about BudgIT’s probable identity as a media company?
I am as passionate about finding the next Nathaniel Bassey as I am about ensuring the voices of the #BringBackOurGirls activists are never silenced. Presidents of nations have credited RED for their wins, and MI has credited RED for his first big music stage.
We have – and this is said in awe, rather than conceit – created stages that presented Wizkid to the world in the same nights that they presented malaria researcher Ify Aniebo as an authentic mainstream star.
My co-founder Adebola Williams has confounded many. Because this minute he is in a photo with three governors and two ministers and the next he is ‘Balogun’ in a photo with Waje, Omawumi, Toolz and Omowunmi Akinnifesi.
In a world where people must fit neatly into boxes or they would be fought, oppressed, silenced or dismissed, it has of course not been easy to create something that didn’t exist before and that – at first – people did not understand because it didn’t look like anything that they knew.
That company has also boldly gone where no one else had truly gone before: mainstream media focused on activists, mainstream media merging pop culture and politics, boldly entering into the realms of governance and faith, mixing it up – and aggressively pulling the audience along for the ride.
A ride that, over 10 years now, they have come to be familiar with, to look forward to, and – most importantly – to love and respect.
Building that kind of beauty is its own form of courage.
As our inspired team marches into a new year, we remember that we are custodians of something utterly beautiful. Nigeria and Africa need this mission – for its citizens, for its youth, and for its future.
To create media experiences that inspire young Africans to take action – to create jobs, to solve problems, to build coalitions and yes, even to change governments.
There is much ahead yet to be done – and we’re excited to get it all done.
So help us God.
*Jideonwo is editor-in-chief of Y!/YNaija.com, and managing partner of the parent brand, RED.