Fela Oke builds bridges between Africa, Trinidad and Tobago

 Fela Oke at MusicTT's  RVRB X 2023 music conference. - Photo courtesy MusicTT
Fela Oke at MusicTT's RVRB X 2023 music conference. - Photo courtesy MusicTT

Apart from historical links, cultural similarities and products tie Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean to the African continent.

Nigerian-born talent agent and media, entertainment, sport and lifestyle entrepreneur Fela Oke hopes these cultural similarities and the development of cultural products can deepen the burgeoning relationship between TT, the region and countries on the African continent.

That is why he has been coming back and forth to TT since May 2023.

He hopes to accomplish this through his agency Hyphen8 Media Partners, working alongside organisations, groups and individuals in TT.

Oke has 20 years' experience in the entertainment industry and has been a consultant for MTV Africa; VP of media, events, and content at SPINLET (a digital music-streaming company); director at Trace TV Africa; managing director at Brights Africa which is the premier rights management agency for Warner Bros that enforces their use of content and products; and head of commercial at Temple Management, a bio at Imdb said.

Nigerian-born talent agent and media, entertainment, sport and lifestyle entrepreneur Fela Oke wants to deepen the relationship between TT, the region and countries on the African continent. -

He was responsible for the recent visit of Yellowstone actor Denim Richards to TT.

Not only is it important to deepen ties between the spaces but to assist in growing "soft power," he explained.

Soft power is defined as the ability to influence others without resorting to coercive power, and usually originates outside government. It can also be exerted through music, sports, the media and industries like technology and film.

Oke discovered he and FilmTT’s general manager Leslie Ann Wills-Caton had similar ideas about bridging the cultural gap between Africa and the Caribbean at a chance meeting.

He has sponsored events such as Music TT’s RVRB X conference, which ran from July 5-7 last year, and recently held a two-week workshop for in-front-of-camera talent (actors). He hopes to host another in April, as well as a technical-skills workshop.

FilmTT's film finance masterclass being conducted by Fela Oke at The UWI, St Augustine, in July 2023. - Photo courtesy FilmTT

All of this is being done to develop the film, sports, media and music industries in this country.

Oke said there was huge talent here, but it was not going to be an overnight thing to develop – hence his many visits to TT.

“It was important to understand the landscape, so that is what I have kind of been doing, and that is where the interest lies.

“I know my culture. I am extremely proud of where I come from and I wanted to tap into that in the Caribbean. TT was the first place that embraced us and what we are trying to do.”

To many on the continent, the Caribbean is the sixth African region.

For Oke, bridging the gap between the two spaces must start with cultural diplomacy.

Fela Oke's agency Hyphen8 Media Partners has signed TT's Olympic boxer Tianna Guy. -

“TT is very similar to Nigeria in a way. It is oil-and-gas-based and there is heavy reliance on that. We quickly realised if we tapped into the creative sector, the soft-power sector, digital tech, gaming, film, TV, sports, music, (that would be) another way to actually start building a commercially viable situation.”

His agency is very focused on cultural diplomacy, he said.

This was also important as TT was on its way to developing an "orange" (creative) economy. Oke said the country had just started building out an orange economy and getting together a group of respected individuals to drive that forward. Envisioning what that should look like in the next 20-50 years was necessary, and that was Hyphen8’s focus at the moment.

The partnership with FilmTT and upskilling front-of-camera talent was the first step to shaping the industry for the future.

“I started in May, doing basic one-day workshops for front-of-camera. Then, when I came for RVRB X, we did focus on the music side of things, looked at what talent was there.

“But then at the back of that, I still did a workshop for producers in the film industry. Then I kept on saying we would come back stronger with a more intensive workshop for actors and we would bring expertise from the West.”

The start of building a strong industry was the talent.

“If you are not up-skilling the talent locally, in front of camera, who’s going to be in front of camera in those movies you are talking about?” he said.

Oke said Hyphen8 was not coming to TT to try to show people how it is done, as there are already people here who know how to do that, but to help develop what is already here.

To achieve this, he and his agency have a five-year strategic plan not only to upskill talent in front and behind the camera but also to develop content like feature films.

Oke and his team have taken a "cluster-based" approach to the talent search, that is, throughout the country.

He said when Hyphen8 co-produces a feature it looks for talent across the board, and that also applies to music, sport and media.

“We don’t believe Hollywood is the final end-all. We tell talent, both front-of-camera and behind-the-camera, to build out your space first, win in TT first. Be the best you can be there. I don’t really subscribe to this idea that to be successful you have to move to Hollywood.

"(Actor and director) Michael Cherrie is a good example. He is here, he is at the University of TT, but he is now in a Netflix feature that is coming out in March.

“And he has done that from here.”

Fela Oke, right, with FilmTT general manager Leslie-Ann Wills-Caton, centre, and US actor Demin Richards on January 22 at the University of TT, NAPA campus, Port of Spain. - Photo by Julien Neaves

Cherrie has a prominent role in a Netflix film about Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and to run for US President.

Oke said there were a slate of films that Hyphen8 was looking at producing and co-producing, and it had great partners in SPG Studios, FilmTT and those who understood the film landscape in the country.

Using Nigeria as example, he said Nollywood was fanned by marketers, not filmmakers.

“The marketers saw an opportunity, so that is why we are very focused on giving experiences in the business of entertainment in general.”

Hyphen8 hopes TT will be its hub as it moves up the archipelago.

As well as in film, the company has recently signed talent in sports, like Olympic boxer Tianna Guy.

Oke plans to host workshops in all of Hyphen8’s areas of interest and even to develop cricketing talent.

“Cricket is still the number one – but at the same time we understand the influence of the US, with basketball and track and field…"

As for music, asked if soca was going to follow Afrobeats into the mainstream, Oke said Afrobeats took a 50-year journey and began with artistes like King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti.

He lived in Nigeria from 2011-14, when Wizkid, Burna Boy and other Afrobeat singers prominent today were just releasing their first big hits.

“At that point they had not found that current Afrobeat sound.”

He said at that time there was huge reggae influence in Nigeria, with artistes like Ras Kimono and Majek Fashek, among others, and hip-hop was big as well.

"Davido, Wiz and those guys suddenly decided that rather than trying to keep getting the West to understand, let us go back, sing in our own language, sing about the things that are important to us, like having fun, a good time – and stop trying to copy US rap or anything like that.”

The minute that was done, from 2015 onwards, he said, Afrobeats, as it is now, started to grow.

He said he could not say soca would be next on the mainstream market, but feels there will be a resurgence of soca and it was necessary to get younger people to tap into it.

There was also an opportunity with Trinibad music, “the same way US gangsta rap was an opportunity.”

Oke said as he does not live in TT, he did not fully understand the Trinibad gang affiliation. But if organisations could focus more on the sound young people were attaching themselves to and, as much as possible, move away from the gang affiliation and focus on the music and its commercial viability, he believed that music will go the same way as US gangsta rap.

“At the end of the day, it is about commercial viability. It is about exporting a sound, educating the kids.

"I think soca, where it was extremely heavily attached to some of the old hands, where Carnival can really make a huge difference, is to bring on some of the younger artistes.”

The agency has already identified some artistes it hopes to work with, like Nigerian-born, TT-based Adesoga. He described the 21-year-old as the epitome of bridging the gap.

“He grew up in TT from the age of ten; he is now 21. He is an artiste and the fusion we are talking about. We are trying to find this sound that is very African, but also shows his allegiance to TT as well.”

The agency did not plan on shying away from pan or soca either. Pan was globally known, and the agency planned on figuring out how to further monetise that global recognition.

But there was one important criterion for the talent attached to Hyphen8: they are to be multi-hyphenates – people with several professions or skills.

As the agency assembles more talent, it hopes to make exchanges between TT and Africa.

The agency is working on a feature film at the moment which is at the scripting stage. Hyphen8 hopes to shoot the film this year and a second one in the first quarter of 2025, he added.


"Fela Oke builds bridges between Africa, Trinidad and Tobago"

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