This output is not surprising, considering 42-year-old Walé Oyéjidé has been many things in his life. Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, Oyéjidé moved with his mother, first to Dubai and then to the US, where he studied law and started his corporate career as an attorney. Prior to law school, Oyéjidé had kicked off a career as a musician and record producer. His experiments fusing hip hop and afrobeat birthed four studio albums.
He is perhaps best known for his work with the cosmopolitan fashion and design brand Ikiré Jones which marries West African aesthetics with influences from around the world. Oyéjidé started Ikiré Jones alongside partner Samuel Hubler in 2014 at a point where he was disillusioned with the grind of corporate practice.
Ikiré Jones would go on to put on several campaigns, none more successful than in 2018 when the late actor Chadwick Boseman would sport one of the brand’s scarves in the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. Three years later, Ikiré Jones’s designs would also appear in the Hollywood sequel Coming 2 America starring Eddie Murphy.
Film and fashion
“I am obviously a Nigerian man, but I am also an American. By virtue of age, I have been in the US longer than I have been in Africa. Personally, I don’t deny either aspect of my history, I am both,” Oyéjidé tells The Africa Report, discussing bringing his heritage to his designs.
“You are informed by your history wherever you are. The clothing you see is bold African prints but also paired with European silhouettes; same thing for the music.”
Oyéjidé’s Bravo, Burkina! was selected in Sundance’s NEXT section, a spotlight for forward-thinking independent cinema. The film places the immigrant’s journey front and centre while providing a showcase for Oyéjidé’s fabulous Ikiré Jones designs.
“Bravo, Burkina! is part of my continued effort to tell migration stories through the lens of cinema. I wanted to provide beauty and nuance to the stories of people who have had to make this choice. The idea is not to say that migration is good or bad but to understand the reality of people who leave their homes.”
The movie was made in partnership with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, itself a joint agency of both the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. Among the programme’s objectives is to support artisans in emerging economies and bring them closer to trade and employment opportunities.
Leveraging the relationships that the initiative had established with cloth weavers on the ground in Burkina Faso or the film, Oyéjidé was even able to cast some parts from the community to add authenticity to the project.
“I had the idea that one of the children of these weavers migrates to Italy from Burkina where he was born and then returns on a later date to examine the journey of this life.”
His 2019 hybrid documentary short, After Migration: Calabria chronicled two West African asylum seekers in Italy. With Bravo, Burkina! Oyéjidé returns to Italy, a decision he describes as imperative, as much for the European country’s strategic importance as a migration hub, as well as its major role in the fashion economy.
“Interestingly it is not difficult to make a beautiful picture in Italy just because of the natural beauty of the landscape,” he says.
“But you have this societal, cultural nexus of Africans finding themselves when they come to Europe,” he says, adding that part of the appeal of the film was to attract those who are not as invested in African stories.
“To convince that person to watch, you might set it in a place that is familiar to them using visual cues that they identify with,” says Oyéjidé.
The reviews of Sundance were mostly favourable if muted. “It is a gorgeous film and Oyéjidé’s fashion background is obvious. The score is lovely too. I felt the narrative could have been developed further,” Shane Slater, a Jamaican film critic and programmer tells The Africa Report.
“It nods to broader themes about migration and that isolation, but kind of leaves it at surface level. The visual storytelling is fabulous though, and the running time is ideal for what it is. I think it portrays African migrants in a very positive light, in a way that doesn’t engender pity, but a certain relatability,” he adds.
Oyéjidé considers his filmmaking a responsibility to the world but more specifically to people who look like him, wherever they might find themselves in the world.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to make beautiful but impactful stories with my work. There is so much content out there that is just noise and so much stuff that is harmful to our self-images. When people watch my work, I want it to be uplifting and for us to feel strong and beautiful.”
Even though Bravo, Burkina! is not autobiographical, Oyéjidé relates strongly to the material considering his own immigrant background and the very specific world of experiences common to this population.
During the writing process, he often found himself unconsciously inserting parts of himself into his characters. It is only from an eventual distance that he says he can identify these pieces of himself.
Watching Bravo, Burkina! in retrospect, Oyéjidé says he finds himself identifying with the wide-eyed young boy travelling the world in search of new adventures. At the same time, he can relate to the older, world-weary traveller discovering the futility of dispensing hard-earned wisdom to this young boy.
As a father of a little girl, Oyéjidé can also spot a bit of himself in Bravo, Burkina!’s overbearing father, as well as in the mother desperate to protect her family.
“I have been all these people at different points in my life so in that respect Bravo, Burkina! is a personal story. But it is not my life story. I think it is an experience that is quite common; specifically African but also quite universal.” Oyéjidé says.
A common thread that runs through Oyéjidé’s work from music to photography, fashion to film is an obligation to leave a meaningful footprint, one that can speak positively to people searching for their place in this world.
“My hope is that I leave behind something that would make the younger version of myself or a young kid from Nigeria feel more secure in themselves and in the world.”