On Nigeria’s Independence Day in 1999, the duo of Isaac and Nneka Moses made history when they stormed the entertainment scene with their culture/tourism TV programme, Goge Africa.
Today, the show has metamorphosed into a global brand, attracting patronage from corporate organisations and government agencies.
In a chat with the couple at their state-of-the-art-studio located in Maryland, Lagos, they opened up on how it all began two decades ago, their travails and triumphs, including plans for the 20th anniversary coming up in October, among other interesting issues. Enjoy it.
It’s 20 years of Goge Africa; do you have any plans to celebrate the anniversary?
Isaac: As a mater of fact, we have mapped out events. We have the writing competition themed: ‘My Culture, My Heritage’. There is also a photography and documentary competition.
Nneka: The competitions are built around the things that we do. Over the years, we have met lots of people struggling to be successful, either as photographers, creative writers, content writers or fashion designers. The fact that we have met all these people bubbling with creativity has been inspiring, so we decided to give them a platform. The competition has a lot of prizes attached. There will also be symposium and a gala and awards night.
Isaac: There is so much excitement in the air. There is a ship cruise to four countries. As a matter of fact, people are already booking their cabins. We shall be sailing on the most luxurious cruise ship in the world. We’ll sail for eight days with stopovers in Mexico, Jamaica and Haiti, and then back to Miami.
How did you come about the concept of Goge Africa and whose idea was it?
Nneka: It was borne out of the desire to promote what we have. If you talked about culture back then, people felt you were talking about rustic village people. In those days when I listened to foreign media, the only thing they had to say about Africa was negative, and when I juxtaposed that with what I knew about my country, I felt they were not telling the truth. So, we decided to tell our own stories. Goge Africa was my husband’s idea.
Isaac: Back then, I was running a radio show and my producer was not allowing me play African music, and I was interacting with lots of these artistes. They included Segun Arinze, Tina Onwudiwe, Healing Child, Father U-Turn and Daddy Showkey. My producer said playing their music would reduce the rating of the show. After a while, I said to myself ‘guy, you need to do something that will project Africa’. I am talking about the dance, the food and the culture, including the people and their ways of life. I wanted to capture the entire spectrum that will express the robustness of African culture.
What challenges did you encounter packaging your first episode?
Isaac: I was making money, doing voice-overs and madam was also making money costuming movies and TV commercials. My pager was always beeping. The money I made from there was invested in Goge Africa. I did my montage, booked my studio sessions and edited the montage, but my very first episode never went on air because I didn’t like it. Eventually, the guy that owned Dolphin Studio gave us free sessions when he saw the synopsis of what we were doing. Remi Ogungbitan and Klink Studios also gave us free studio sessions. We broke out on October 1, 1999 with a show christened ‘Independence’ featuring Zakky Azzay. That was the beginning, the first episode that saw the light of day, and today the rest is history.
Were you not scared of failure like ‘what if this doesn’t work, what am I going to do?’
Isaac: The excitement alone was overwhelming, and as an artiste, I wasn’t looking at the money, I just wanted to project Africa, that it’s really beyond hunger, wars, terrorism and whatever negative stuff the western media were churning out. Look, we have great music, beautiful fabric, diverse cuisines, cultures and what have you. I saw a robust culture, which I felt we should give its pride of place. I wanted to do it my own way and on my own terms. Then, we had a small Panasonic camera, but it was very powerful. Armed with that, we hit Lekki Beach and everywhere we felt was newsworthy and recorded. And when we were done, we hit the studios and wrote our scripts. And then we had brainstorming sessions where we decided what was to be used and dropped. It was not as if we had the experience or background, but we were consumed by passion. And when we finally went on air, it was a bang!
Your husband had a stable job and then suddenly, he’s talking about leaving his comfort zone. What were your fears?
Nneka: I had no fears because he was not in any comfort zone (laughter). He didn’t really have a stable job at the time. Yes, he was a voice-over artiste and some acting was coming from here and there, and sometimes modeling jobs also came along. On my own, I was also struggling with costuming. Sometimes, your friends beg to use your costumes for free, so we were struggling then and Goge Africa was going to be an added struggle but with lots of excitement because it’s what we really wanted to do. So, we had the option of waiting for money to come so we could launch it big or start with the little we had. But we started with the little resources we had, not thinking bigger than the ceiling. However, when we talked to people about it, some got excited while others felt that we were going the wrong way, because we would not be able to secure sponsorship.
You mean there were dream killers around you?
Isaac: Of course…
Nneka: If you don’t have dream killers around you then you have no point to prove. We stuck to our guns and continued struggling. There was a point where we couldn’t pay rent and we were thrown out of our home. Back then people thought that, because we were on TV, we had money. The television stations were not paying. In fact, they felt they were doing us a favour by giving us airtime. We barely struggled to get the content, edit and go on air. We practically produced, directed, presented and wrote our scripts ourselves; call it home economics (laughter). I wrote the scripts and he did the voice-overs (laughter). That was how we struggled through it until other people began to see that this was indeed a viable venture.
What was the turning point?
Isaac: Wow! That was when Multichoice contacted us. They said ‘we like what you guys are doing. Do you have up to 26 episodes? We want to acquire them for our local channels’ and we said ‘yes’. Then, we had barely seven episodes, but they wanted 26 and paid for it. That was the turning point.
Nneka: The deal was worth hundreds of thousands of naira, which was big money in those days.
How did you feel when you got your first cheque?
Isaac: It felt good. We were able to pay the studios and also pay our rent. We felt greatly encouraged.
Nneka: We became confident that people would exchange their money for what we were doing. That was when we decided to go to Shetenge in South Africa. There, they were so excited that we sold (the programme) to an Ethiopia television station, ETV, for $13,000.
Isaac: From inception, we weren’t really making money locally. We started making money through foreign investors like Multichoice or countries wanting us to package their cultural events. It was only gradually that local advertisers within Nigeria started coming in, because they were now convinced the programme was viable.
Before that turning point, was there friction between the both of you or was there any point you felt like quitting due to challenges?
Nneka: No, that never happened. We never at any point felt like quitting.
Isaac: You see, let me tell you how stupid I was initially. Dabo Toothpaste, through their agency, wanted to put advert slots on Goge Africa but I said ‘no, just take the entire sponsorship, go for the big one’ and they backed out.
Nneka: And that was because we were both creative people who knew nothing about marketing. All we were doing was ‘let’s put it on air, people will like it’. We were not thinking of how we would make money, because even when we were doing it, his modeling career, acting and Nollywood thing was still coming up, so we were taking money from there to feed daily, and the rest we ploughed back into the dream.
Isaac: Then, all of a sudden, we started getting calls from communities saying ‘we want to have our festivals on Goge Africa, how much would it cost?’ We were like ‘wow! So people can pay for this!’ We began to see another stream of income. And then we began to have countries like Egypt, South Africa and The Gambia inviting us to come and see their tourism. They were not just inviting us but were also picking up the bills.
Nneka: How we knew that people really loved the show was when we went to Lufthansa after we were invited by the City of Berlin in 2005. They were having Carnival of All Cultures and there was a stage dedicated to Africa. When we went to buy tickets at Lufthansa, a lady saw me on the cue and said ‘do I know you?’ I said ‘no’. She insisted and said ‘you’re a celebrity, please, what do you want?’ I told her and she was like ‘you want to fly Lufthansa?’ I said ‘yes’. She said ‘come with me’. I told my husband ‘stand in line so we don’t lose our position’. Those days, there was nothing like online ticketing. You had to queue to buy your tickets and the queues were very long. I went upstairs with her and she asked me for the names, which I did. She printed something and told me to go downstairs and ask for a guy for further directions, which I did, but first, I asked her ‘where do I pay?’ But she said ‘no, just tell him you are from me’. That was how I got four tickets printed for me; but then I asked the guy ‘where do I pay?’ The person behind me nudged me, saying ‘dem don give you ticket you nor wan commit’. It did not sink but it soon dawned on me that we were getting free tickets because of Goge Africa. It was then I suddenly realised how awesome the platform was. We got four tickets free of charge.
Now that Goge Africa has become a successful brand, how have you been dealing with the success?
Nneka: Really, I don’t see all that. When people appreciate what we do, it shows that we are being appreciated.
Isaac: I will tell you what. I wouldn’t really say that I have made it. If you say I have made it, what would you say about Dangote? If he has made it, then he should stop working. What inspires me more is that he is still calm and unassuming.
It is one thing for an individual to be successful. It is something else for a couple with all their differences to sit down together, conceptualise and come out with something this massive, what is the secret to your success?
Isaac: I am a very practical and down-to-earth person. I am working with a woman I know is intelligent, and I admit she is intelligent. I admit she is beautiful and I know she is my wife, so why won’t I give her the chance? Why won’t I allow good reason prevail? So, that is my secret. I don’t let my male ego and the macho get in the way or blind my reasoning.
Nneka: I don’t know about secrets but one thing I know is that having come from a background, which is Igbo, men do the macho thing. As a wife, you are supposed to be submissive to your husband and respect him. And then I met a man who I am very willing to respect, and then he becomes my husband with a difference, someone who pulls me out of that cultural thing and tells me that ‘I want you to be heard right here by my side’, and I took advantage of that and I am bringing out the best of me, and he is supporting me to make sure our dreams come true. So, there is no point of friction when it comes to work, our roles are very clear.
Isaac: She has the best of my interest at heart, and once you know this thing, you don’t have a problem (laughter).
Let us get a bit personal. How did you guys hook up?
Isaac: I met her on the set of a movie years back, when I came for an audition.
What was the first attraction and who made the first move?
Isaac: Of course, I did. She wasn’t even supposed to be in the movie. I think she was a costumier for the movie. The girl that was supposed to pair with me did not show up, so it was suggested she take up the role, which she did.
Nneka, was it love at first sight when you met him?
Nneka: No! When we first met, it was on set; and like he said, he upset me with his first move.
What did he do?
Nneka: We were in a room together, and when the director said ‘action’, he was supposed to open the door and come out. I was in the room waiting for ‘action’ while he stood there, looked at me, and before I knew it, he grabbed and kissed me, and I slapped him immediately (laughter).
What was your reaction when she slapped you, were you not embarrassed?
Isaac: (Laughter) I was trying to get into character.
Was it deliberate?
Isaac: Yes, it was.
Maybe you had your eyes on her and was already scheming…
Isaac: I was trying to get into character…
And you went as far as kissing her just like that?
Nneka: Was that in the script?
Isaac: It was supposed to be a peck. I guess I was trying to get fresh (laughter).
Were you expecting the slap?
Isaac: No, I wasn’t. The slap really stung me and brought me back to my senses.
Or was it that you got carried away by the beautiful woman you saw?
Isaac: Anyway, the slap brought me back to my senses and I quickly apologised. I said I was going to make it up to her and she should not see it as a part of me.
Did you forgive him?
Nneka: Yes I did. Forgiveness is part of my DNA (laughter).
So, how did you guys eventually hit it off?
Isaac: After the shoot, I tried to make it up to her. I looked for an opportunity to take whatever happened beyond the movie set.
Nneka: He came back to apologise and asked me to forgive him by accepting a date (laughter). And guess what, for a date, he took me to an amala joint at Shitta, Surulere. And when we got there, he said ‘pick your plate and join the queue’ and that was my first time of eating amala. It was my first time of going to eat at such a roadside buka. Imagine, I had told my friend that a guy was taking me out, and she asked ‘where did you guys go’ and I said it was an amala joint (laughter).
Isaac: Funny enough, she enjoyed the amala. It was damn good. In those days, we all used to go there, myself, Segun Arinze, Patrick Doyle and many others.
When he mentioned a date, what exactly was on your mind?
Nneka: A big, cozy restaurant with candlelights, but here I was at Shitta with ‘area boys’ eating amala on our first date (laughter).
Did you feel like dumping him at that moment?
Nneka: I was just like ‘let me eat this and get out of here. We will sort that out later’.
Isaac: Like I said earlier, I like being myself. I didn’t want to give myself problems by taking her to a place where I won’t be able to afford the bill. There at Shitta, no matter what she had, I would be able to pay and be comfortable.
How did you eventually pop the question?
Isaac: After about a year, I felt it was time to make the move. I asked her and she agreed.
Nneka: He asked me when the only thing I could say was ‘yes’ (laughter).
Isaac: All the while, I gave her lots of fun. I had a lot of fun in my briefcase. There were lots of activities and events that we attended together. There wasn’t much money but I sure gave her lots of fun.
With your busy schedule, how do you create quality time for your kids?
Isaac: Yeah, we have time for them now…
Nneka: They (kids) did not come on time, so we had time to solidify Goge Africa.
Was it deliberate, Goge Africa first and kids later?
Isaac: God made it that way. He wanted us to devote time to Goge Africa, because our first child would have been 22 years old by now, but we lost that child and we stayed for another 13 years before the first kid came. So, we had time to build Goge Africa before the kids came. Now, Goge Africa has grown up.
What has been your most memorable moment this last 20 years?
Isaac: We were in Ethiopia in 2002 and a CNN crew interviewed us. We didn’t know when they would air it, but as God would have it, we went to Ikoyi Hotel now Southern Sun to discuss with the management about a crew coming from France for a co-production with Goge Africa. When we were ushered into the manager’s office, guess what, he said ‘I was just watching your interview on CNN’ and we were like ‘wow!’ Then he said ‘what do you guys want me to do for you?’ We told him, and right there he gave us three rooms for three weeks without paying a dime.
After 20 years, what’s next for Goge Africa?
Isaac: Right now, our mission is to sell the African story to as many TV stations across the world as possible so they can see other parts of Africa that they have not seen.