A cultural convergence of glittering proportions took place this past weekend in Lagos, Nigeria, a city that isâ€”to put it lightlyâ€”having a moment. Naomi Campbelland Imaan Hammam were in town to walk runways at Arise Fashion Week (a finely curated schedule of catwalks by African designers) and Nike debuted their brand-new kits for the Nigerian soccer team (who have qualified for this yearâ€™s World Cup in Russia in June) with a pop-up jersey-customization station at African Artistsâ€™ Foundation. And then there was the second edition of Homecoming, a three-day event organized by London It-girl-cum-mogul Grace Ladoja, who imagined the mini-festival as a celebration of her heritage country, booking headliners Skepta (a London boy of Nigerian descent) and Wizkid (the Lagos-born Afrobeats megastar) for a concert at a swanky venue. John Boyega and Ozwald Boateng were casually milling about backstage, breakout rapper J Hus crowd-surfed during his insanely energetic set, and it felt, for a moment, like Nigeria was the only place youâ€™d want to be.
To be fair, a weekend in Lagos with this much excitement has felt inevitable for some time. Youâ€™d be hard-pressed to find any other city with as much cachet and influence and vitality in 2018, and one can imagine in the future looking back at this time in Lagos like we do now at London in the 1960s: as the seismic center of a youthquake. â€œWe are at the forefront,â€ says the Nigerian-British fashion designer Irene Agbontaen, lounging at Tarkwa Bay, a pleasant beach on the water. â€œWeâ€™ve been at the forefront.â€ Or, as Skepta puts it simply: â€œLagos really feels like the new cultural mood board.â€
In the city itself, there are new shops and clubs popping up, and more broadly you can feel the pulse of Nigeria and its diaspora all over the world, whether itâ€™s Kehinde Wileyâ€™s sensational portrait of Barack Obama now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery or the innovation of Afrobeat setting the pace for music all over the globe. â€œThere are so many people of Nigerian descent doing big thingsâ€”Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie], Skepta, [boxer] Anthony Johnson, Wizkid,â€ says Teni Zaccheaus, a founding publisher of Native, a new magazine made for and by Nigerians. Native also teamed up with Nike to throw a football tournament featuring teams from their magazine, Skeptaâ€™s crew, and Off-White in competition. â€œItâ€™s a renaissance of art and culture and music and sports and performance and architecture.â€
Homecomingâ€™s organizer Ladoja has been key to the spread of Naija culture in the West. As a creative mind behind Skepta, one of the most successful artists in the history of British grime, sheâ€™s made it her mission to bring Lagos to London and London to Lagos. â€œIâ€™m British and Nigerianâ€”what are we gonna make that bridges that? Itâ€™s hippie shit, but I genuinely believe I understand my purpose,â€ she says poolside one day at the hip hotel Maison Fahrenheit in Victoria Island. â€œIâ€™m just a vessel for change.â€ She (along with Greatness Dex, who runs the African satellite of Skeptaâ€™s grime collective) has been a part of helping Skepta to become a local hero here; while in the country for Homecoming, he was officially made a chief (or Amuludun of Odo-Aje) of his familyâ€™s hometown, Ijebu Ode. â€œTo be able to come back to Nigeria and get so much love for my work is my biggest life blessing. Iâ€™ve always hoped to never get lost in translation with me being British-born,â€ Skepta says. â€œFinding your way home is everything, so to do it and still be loved like you were abroad makes it all worth it.â€
Ladoja epitomizes the diasporic kids of her generation, many of whom want to build a connection with Nigeria even though they were raised elsewhere. â€œMy parents, Skeptaâ€™s parents, left Nigeria to England for a better life,â€ she says. â€œThatâ€™s why the event is called Homecoming: because I felt at home here the very first time I came. It made me know exactly who I amâ€”to embrace all the things that made me different in England.â€ Skepta agrees. â€œEverything makes sense to me in Lagos, I even understand myself,â€ he says. So significant are Ladojaâ€™s contributions that the Queen of England has awarded Ladoja with an MBE for her services to the music industry, and Ladoja plans to rep Nigeria in the palace by rocking a local designer, Grey, and native prints for the awards ceremony. â€œIâ€™m going to wear traditionalwear to meet the Queen!â€ she says, beaming.
Ladoja brought along a group of friends playfully dubbed the International Girl Crewâ€”including model Paloma Elsesser, nail artist Madeline Poole, stylist Camille Garmendia, and journalist Phoebe Rose Lovattâ€”to hang in her city for Homecoming. â€œWe are all an extension of the greatness of Grace. Iâ€™ve been so inspired by the work that she has been doing,â€ says Elsesser. â€œBecause Iâ€™m mixed, I have a disjointed cultural identity. Black people in England know where in Africa they came from, but people like me in America donâ€™t really. I feel emotional coming here.â€ What does the veteran party girl say about Lagosâ€™s ability to have a good time? â€œItâ€™s the most bottle clubs Iâ€™ve been to in the last five years. Kids are down to fuck it up. Yes, thereâ€™s some American and British music played, but a lot of it is Nigerian music and people are so proud to sing these songs.â€ Itâ€™s the passion behind the parties, though, that makes it a special place. â€œMadeline [Poole] cried when Skepta came out and shouted us out!â€ she says about the Homecoming concert. â€œHe knows working women of color need to be amplified and supported.â€
It is a testament, too, to Lagosâ€™s ascendancy that a company as gigantic as Nike came through and hosted such a splashy weekend. The occasion was the launch of their design of the Nigerian soccer teamâ€™s 2018 World Cup jersey, which was subtly inspired by the kit for the 1994 team, the first Nigerian team to qualify. The white-and-fluorescent-green jersey is as bold and bright as Lagos itself (Skepta wore one on stage for his Homecoming performance, and Nike ran with the spirit of the stylish city by opening up a pop-up with Homecoming for people in Lagos to come through and customize their kits with patches, lettering, and special-made Nike logos (of course, Naomi Campbell stopped by). â€œItâ€™s legendary that Nike is doing this,â€ says Agbontaen, a rasp audible in her voice from late nights out in Lagos. â€œIt only takes one before all the rest start to come. Nigeria wasnâ€™t as safe 15 years ago as it is now, but we arenâ€™t living in fear anymore. You see surfers, you see skate kidsâ€”we have it all. Nigerians are hustlersâ€”our culture is to hustle.â€ It seems to be working.