Chuka “OTTO” Okonjo: The Who, The What, The When, Where & Why
Chuka "OTTO" Okonjo is launching his [at] ottoplus.tv
Chuka "OTTO" Okonjo is launching his [at] ottoplus.tv
If you’ve ever seen those striking distorted, upside down, possibly rewound free-form clips shared by the likes of Vivendii, Mowalola, Motherlan, then you’re already familiar with the ingenious Gen-Z videographer we’re about to introduce.
Born in Ireland, 2001, Chuka Okonjo has spent the first 18 years of his life remarkably more productive than most. Venturing into the creative industry firstly as a freelance editor and videographer during his high-school years, the UCL fresher already boasts proficiency in a number of digital media technologies; graphic design, stage design, sound engineering being but a few visual tech skills Chuka has acquired in the three short years in which he’s been working.
Typically, you can find his arresting visuals via @ChukaOkonjo on Instagram (or the YouTube account of those who commissioned his artistry, of course), but as his brand gets bigger and demand grows stronger, Chuka is formalising his portfolio with a characteristically electrifying website: ottoplus.tv
From co-editing the music video for Cruel Santino’s cult classic “Freaky” to capturing MOWALOLA’s models at our Inside Life party with Boiler Room, Chuka has thus far been at the heart many defining projects dear to us at the NATIVE and to our family of supporters. So, to welcome in his [dot] com the NATIVE along with Odunsi The Engine, Aidan Zamiri and VIVENDII some of Chuka’s most trusted collaborators, answer the who, the what, the when, where and why of the otherworldly talent that is Chuka “OTTO” Okonjo.
This is a question with which the crafty visual engineer is more than familiar. Permanently ‘on set’ – whether it’s causing mayhem with his friends on their London turf, capturing the proud debauchery of an industry party or shooting BTS at yet another magazine feature – Chuka is well aware of the ‘who is this guy?’ stares and the ‘what does this guy actually do?’ reactions to his creative process and ultimately his output. But the inquisition isn’t bothersome to Chuka; in fact, he speaks as if it’s a sort of pre-existing responsibility for him to clear out the ambiguity.
That’s the point of OTTO + – a demonstrative platform exhibiting Chuka’s obvious talent and innovative mastermind. Like all Gen Z creatives, Chuka began on Tumblr – his first creative domain being the site of artistic expression for his alter ego OTTO – so curating a website to showcase his palpable artistic deftness is no new territory. Then, a secret identity to hide his creative exploits from his schoolmates, Tumblr’s “otto child” has grown up to become an integral figure within Nigeria’s creative community, documenting the rise of some of our brightest stars, whilst yielding enthralling visuals for the general public to consume. That’s ‘the what’, or at least the start of it.
Crowning his knack for documenting and his talent for video-making is the fact that Chuka’s art is, in itself, unparalleled. His style is distinct yet constantly evolving, his presence behind the camera conspicuous on screen. What he does, videography, many do – some will argue anyone can do – but in that same vein Chuka’s opus sits in a league of its own; no one can actually do what Chuka does (although that hasn’t stopped a few from trying). These aren’t mere ramblings from a glaring fan, obvious evidence of Chuka’s creative flair can be found by looking at just how coveted his craftsmanship is, exemplified by the numerous acts for whom he has created and with whom he has collaborated.
Chuka has lent his eye to a whole array of creatives, lining his portfolio with projects for the likes of No Politics Mob and Traplanta; Lancey Foux, who’s natural rockstar matches Chuka’s filming style; and photographer Aidan Zamiri, who takes credit for the images found in this profile. Though he modestly claims to have been a floater up until late last year, simply “getting to know the operations side and meeting everyone who worked behind the scenes,” Chuka has been an invaluable element for a minute now. He bagged his first stable job in January 2018 at the London-based audio-visual production house, VideoGirl, where he was commissioned to shoot and/or edit the team’s music videos.
Refining his craft both at VideoGirl and through his personal projects, which he increasingly prioritised over time, by summer’s end, Chuka had already scored his second stable gig, courtesy of Odunsi [The Engine] – though, as you can imagine, there has been nothing ‘stable’ about working with Odunsi as his professional videographer. Starting out canvassing magazine shoots with his Sony VG20 camera, as Chuka and Odunsi’s friendship fortified, filming shifted from professional contexts to more intimate settings. At friends’ homes, at events, at impromptu hang-outs, everywhere the Chuka and Odunsi brotherly duo were, Chuka was filming, and that turned out to be everywhere. Naturally incapable of carrying his 6-piece kit everywhere he went – because everywhere he went seemed to turn into a filming opportunity – Chuka was forced to adapt to the unscripted fast-paced nature of his responsibility as Odunsi’s videographer undergoing a style evolution, switching to the shot on iPhone aesthetic we are most familiar with now.
The eccentric and energised “airplane mode” snippet is Odunsi’s favourite product of Chuka’s new style of filming, which he credits to maverick singer/songwriter producer. “airplane mode” and more like it are all to be found in Chuka’s online reconstruction of ‘OUR WORLD’.
Chuka’s role isn’t simply videographer, director, video editor, DOP, motion graphic designer, or any of the other visual proficiencies he boasts; what Chuka does is akin to an archivist, a storyteller, a custodian of history, “the eye of God”. This month has seen a surge in anti-racism activism, following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent media spotlight on the oppression and abuse of black people throughout the Western world, which does indeed exist globally. As the many manifestations of racism in modern society are being called out, the indubitable whitewashing of history is once again being brought to the fore. In popular teachings of history, black people are ostentatiously omitted from the narratives, our achievements all but erased, if not for post-modernist Hollywood movies such as Hidden Figures or good old-fashioned self-discovery. In Nigeria, though our lack of historical context would not be fairly attributed to the whitewashing of global history, the way most people learn about history is through self-discovery also, not formal education or media impartation, as you would expect (though thankfully new generation media are changing the landscape drastically).
Chuka is conscious of our community’s achievements home and abroad being wiped out or minimised through time. His creative mandate is to chart the history of one of the most alluring movements in contemporary history, first through his videos and now through his website. This has been Chuka’s mission statement right from the start of his career, which coincidentally aligned with when the alté scene itself was initially gaining steam.
December 2017 was my first venture into the then polarising alté scene, as a series of personal misadventures sent me into hiding from my usual crowd (as impossible as that is in December in Lagos). Fortunate enough to have good friends in Ashley Okoli and 1/3 VIVENDII, who were happy to carry me along like a handbag that holiday, I spent me days and Lagos nights in The Glue, Santi’s hotel with a group of people that were primed to disrupt Nigeria’s music industry with their non-conforming, provocative presence. Chuka was lurking too.
Shadowing VIVENDII through a packed December for the dominating streetwear brand – they held a pop-up at Miliki, designed the merch shirts for NATIVELAND, and showed the first signs of an emerging Vivendii Sound at Amarachi Nwosu’s Exposing New Narratives panel – Chuka fondly narrates his “first in person glimpse of the crowd I’d spend most of my time documenting [in years to come].” Despite the fact that he was tasked with manning the VIVENDII stall and its accompanying Porsche in the marketplace area of the 2017 NATIVELAND festival, Chuka managed to weasel his way backstage (same) to get his very first behind the scenes experience. He didn’t know it then, but the ‘BTS’ nature of this encounter would become a tag that would characterise his career for years to come.
It didn’t take long before Chuka was marking attendance at the next youth-led festival, sticking with Cruel Santino throughout the inaugural Homecoming Weekend in March 2018.
Anyone fortunate enough to be around Cruel Santino meets everyone else who shares the same good fortune. The virtuoso‘s temporary Lagos residencies are typically a hub for emerging creatives during peak periods. Important meetings and salient collaborations are the day-to-day affairs of all visitors chez Santino. This collaborative culture is championed throughout Nigeria’s extra-mainstream music industry – in which Chuka has thrived – and is arguably the reason why the alté subculture has penetrated mainstream media to the extent to which it has. Songs like “Gangster Fear”, “Gardens”, “Ice Cream”, both “Freaky”’s and other collaborative numbers emphasise the essence of going farther together, a mantra to which Chuka clearly ascribes.
His penchant for collaboration is not the only trait that Chuka & the alternative cohort have in common, there’s also his atypical approach to his art. OTTO+ is nonconforming, a quality that is celebrated within the alté subculture. Here, uniqueness is not unique, being distinctive is not distinct. Although the critique that ‘alternative’ is just an elaborate description of ‘the same kind of different’ falls incredibly flat within this visibly diverse community, being ‘different’ is still very much the norm. This space was primed for an avant-garde mind like Chuka’s, it was inevitable that when his world met this world, the latter would engulf the former and both would take on the world with a ferocity matched only by the great entertainers of revolutionaries past.
“I’m 100% Nigerian and 100% Delta Igbo” Chuka proudly tells me, a sense of pride that was instilled in him from a young age in his Ireland home; through his childhood, his dad would school him on family customs and their Nigerian heritage. With family in Ghana as well, Chuka would also learn a lot about our West African neighbours, to the point where touchdowns in Accra are an instant source of inspiration to the early visionary: “I think Ghana is an untapped energy and an undiscovered world.”
However, beyond the tales narrated to him by his father, stories no doubt passed on orally from generation to generation, Chuka’s primary source of knowledge was the Western education system, leaving him with a remarkable feeling of disconnectedness, one to which most Nigerians – home and abroad – can relate. Last year, it was reported that (Nigerian) ‘History’ as a stand-alone subject would be reinstated into Nigerian primary and secondary schools, after almost ten years of the subject not existing on the curriculum. In notable secondary schools, geared towards preparing students for British or American higher education, the history that was taught primarily pertained to Western history, which, as Chuka notes, has tended to erase black people from its books. Though, thankfully, better is being done by Nigerian children today, a whole generation of pupils have been robbed of their all-important history and forced to self-teach, like Chuka is doing.
Dusting off the cobwebs of existing resources and digging into Nigeria’s past, Chuka appreciates that “it’s a lot to uncover and digest,” but insists he’s embarked upon a necessary expedition, as he seeks from the past the vision to see the future.
From his digging into history whilst also learning about contemporary issues, Chuka has realised and now appreciates the privilege he has. Many people go through life oblivious of how their circumstances have given them a head start, as children and adolescents I’m sure we all fell prey to this. However, maturity is about learning, unlearning and relearning – a process which Chuka is constantly going through, and one that’s given him the empathy and good sense to relate to his generation of Nigerians who are driven to dismantle the current regime: “Nigerians are so holistically influenced that we can literally do everything. We literally have limitless potential, and the kids just want to be free to exchange knowledge and live happily. But the majority of the population is bound by a system set out to destroy them.”
With that being said, Chuka still finds himself immensely inspired by the lawlessness of Nigerian life, derived from the notoriously corrupt socio-political climate. “Nigeria is like the wild west, everything goes. It’s organised chaos,” he says, going on to explain that the chaos and the ensuing freedom make for ‘crazy’, unpredictable film – right up his street.
Another metropolis that has proven pivotal to Chuka’s journey is, of course, London, where he’s been able to find his tribe, explore his craft, discover himself, and soon where he’ll be learning the intricacies of Information Business Management at the prestigious University College London.
The first person that comes to mind when considering Chuka’s network and how it’s grown over the past few months is none other than our Issue 004 cover star, Mowalola. Introduced to the trailblazing designer by Odunsi, through Mowa, Chuka has also linked up with multi-hyphenate Places + Faces head, Ciesay, his latest go-to collaborator Aidan Zamiri, Mischa Notcutt, Jordan Hemingway, Kesh and a few others London-based creatives who have inspired him and given him a helping hand on his come up. In addition to helping Chuka fortify his professional network, Mowa’s wisdom has been another invaluable gift the prima donna has imparted upon her young friend.
In our cover story of Mowalola, the sought-after designer laid out her feelings towards being considered a peer amongst her childhood role models – namely Naomi Campbell, Kanye West and Solange – concluding that that, whilst her life does feel like a dream, she doesn’t think much of those encounters. Chuka Okonjo is the same.
In the last year, Chuka has been exposed to a good few of his heroes and, overall, dancing with the starts has been pretty much anticlimactic. “I only really like my friends’ work. I only really listen to our unreleased,” he tells me, realising that he’s surrounded by all the inspiring figures he needs. Women are also another source of inspiration for Chuka (see ottoplus.tv/HER-WORLD); his female friends understand him best and call him out quickest. Amongst the girls, Chuka is free; but ultimately, what really motivates him to create and see it all through are his friends: “regardless of gender, I create at my highest level in the presence of everyone I love… my real inspirations are just down the road.”
There’s an invigorating energy that comes with creating alongside people who know how to create, people who are darn good at what they do and can bring the best out of you without even trying or competing. That’s Chuka’s inner circle: a crew of supportive, driven, talented, multifaceted artistes, who continually in inform and inspire one another, thereby improving upon themselves and each other at the same time.
To simply answer the ‘why’ Chuka creates: Chuka creates because he somehow feels obligated to create. Others need him to. He’s the go-to guy, the much-coveted videographer with the distinct aesthetic that holds its own value. Chuka does what he does because he knows just how good he is. He’s a master at his craft, but he isn’t arrogant about it – he also considers himself a student, with scores more knowledge to gain, and that too encourages Chuka to never stop. Sure, if he didn’t create, he’d be doing the world a disservice, but he’d also be doing himself a disservice, and that’s not an option. An attitude instilled in him by his mother, Chuka was taught from an early age that with the knowledge, resources and talent he amasses, he must always pursue any and everything for which he has a passion.
And when it all comes down to it, he relishes in this pursuit. “The birth of an idea and the anticipation and execution of a project is what really gets me excited”. Whatever the project may be, enacting his vision, realising his imagination, and creating something with those he loves, is euphoric for Chuka – a high to which he repeatedly returns.
With his unmistakable jagged filming and signature lo-fi editing style, Chuka has caught the attention of many; even if you don’t know who he is, you’ll certainly be able to recognise his work, and you’ll definitely love what you see – OTTO is universally appealing.
Capturing the growth of those around him whilst injecting his creative input, Chuka has been quietly building the foundations of his empire, which he’s finally ready to launch at ottoplus.tv, starting with a garment collection for his archived brand, KV (check out ottoplus.tv/KV-WORLD) – co-curated by him and long-time partner, Ayoluwa Akindeji. Though exactly what will transpire in the future is unclear, Chuka is certain of one thing: all our respective worlds will collide at the right time, in the right place, “a space in which we can do whatever we want.”
Photo Credits/Aidan Zamiri