By Damilola Fatunmise
Celebrated fashion and art promoter, Omowunmi Alero Dawodu, better known in the international scene as Mo’mi, was in Nigeria to learn the culture, tradition and further understand her royal Itsekiri roots, and also that of the Lagos Island. She opens up to TS Weekend on her experiences and why she may relocate to Nigeria soon.
Who is Mo’mi?
I’m a person who loves adventure, arts; I can be very outgoing yet shy in certain situations. I have a deep love for Africa. My dream is to travel throughout this continent. So far, I’ve been to Tanzania, Congo, Zambia and Nigeria. People who know me well know that I can be very light-hearted and humorous. I’ve been told that my laughter comes from my soul and I couldn’t agree more. I feel laughter is the best medicine, for so many things.
How was it like growing up?
I grew up around women. I’m one of five girls with no brothers, which was quite interesting. Being a black Canadian in a predominantly white community had its challenges for sure, but the good thing was that music and art was rich in our home. My father was involved in the music business and he introduced me to music and a passion for Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
My greatest memories were of me and my sister dancing and singing to the music of Fela. The music just captured my spirit at a young age and because I had a deep understanding of his message, it gave me a sense of pride to be myself and to express myself courageously. So, meeting Fela when I was 10-years-old, watching him perform, and the whole experience of being in his presence, set the tone for the rest of my life. And this is something I have always been proud of.
What influenced your going into fashion and make up?
To be honest, I never really wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a fashion designer or makeup artist. I starting helping out with Afrikadey. Afrikadey is a world music festival in Canada, aimed at uniting African culture and tradition through music. And this is something I have always been proud of because my father, Tunde Dawodu is the founder and creative director. I took advantage of this and was inspired to take full advantage of the platform, the African Presentation Society in order to branch out using the tools I had. And before you know it, I was coordinating an international fashion show where I worked alongside celebrity designer, Romero Bryan. Romero was actually someone that encouraged me to come home; he had done many fashion shows in Lagos. He really supported my career from the beginning.
What is it like being a Nigerian-Canadian?
I was born into the Canadian system. On my mother’s side, they are black pioneers in Western Canada. They migrated from Oklahoma in the 1800s after the emancipation to settle in Saskatwean and Alberta. So, my roots run strings in Alberta. My mentality and way of life make me feel Canadian. Having said that, I do not have any English name. My birth name is Omowunmi Alero Dawodu. Having a Nigerian name is a constant reminder of my roots; the spirit of my country has lived with me through my name. I have to finally admit Mo’mi is more of a nickname and created from the constant mispronunciation of my name, and a name I’ve been known for back in Canada.
You have a link to the Itsekiri royalty. What does it mean to you?
Yes, my grandmother is from the Omatsola Royal family in Delta State. Of course, it feels good to know I’m part of such a historical family, but it’s unfortunate that I still have so much to learn. On my first visit to Warri, I went to where my grandma was buried, I also went to our village, Usele. It was such a magical experience from beginning to the end. I’m really trying to learn the culture and traditions, and that is awesome to me.
Canada has a very large appetite for the support of human rights, what’s your experience regarding this?
Yes, Canada is very committed to the rights of its citizens. Human rights are something that I find most Canadians overlook and don’t take advantage of enough. I mean, to live in a country that is committed to human rights is very important. Canada is actually the real United Nations where citizens are encouraged to exercise their cultural identities and share them with others in a cultural mosaic. I think that’s something to be protected.
What was your motivation for coming to Nigeria?
I came for so many different reasons; primarily it is my quest to learn more about this amazing country and to share my experience as a makeup artist with other aspiring makeup artists. I will be hosting several makeup workshops in Lagos. Then eventually I will expand to the whole country.
I think what is lacking with so many aspiring artists is the lack of knowledge of how to really break into the industry. Artistry is only one aspect, the other is to share insider tips as well as business advice. I have worked with some of the top names in the world of fashion and make up, which was a huge honour.
My role as hospitality coordinator with Afrikadey opened up many doors, leading to interacting with Grammy award wining artists like Arrested Development, Common, Angelique Kidjo and the late Papa Wemba. This really positioned me on an international scale. Also working for Anastasia Beverly Hills opened many doors for me.
Given the opportunity, would you want to relocate to Nigeria, and what would you be doing at home?
That is definitely something I’m considering. There would have to be a few more details to iron out before making the final decision to come home permanently. I’ve already accepted a few offers in the entertainment industry, working directly with up and coming artists. I’m also working on a project that is related to using my platform to raise awareness about issues that Nigeria has been plagued with.
What exactly would you want to do given an opportunity?
The problem is self-knowledge, self love, we don’t value ourselves; we don’t value our own things. I was surprised that child labour is an issue in this country. I personally experienced child labour while staying here, and to say the least, it’s something that makes me feel very uncomfortable.
I even cried for days and couldn’t sleep thinking about where these kids came from, and where their parents were. This has inspired me to be part of the solution. This is a human rights situation. My project will teach self-love, this comes before attempting to change a tradition or trying to change minds. A child deserves to be a child and not a prized possession.
What is your view about African-Americans and what they should do to support the African continent?
The thing about African Americans is that they lack proper information about Africa. My own mother, who is African Canadian, has little interest in Africa. Although, minds have been slowly progressing, with the popularity of Afrobeat music and West African fashion, they still have a long way to go,
I have American families that have never been to Africa, but some have even told me that they’d follow me to Nigeria when I’m back, which is real cool. The whole idea of going to Africa with the mindset of giving aid is not in the mentality of African Americans in general. I believe the idea of organisations coming in to provide aid for the poor Africans is outdated. The solution is to help them help themselves and they will in turn help generations do the same. Personally, I’d love to see more African Americans coming home, helping to rebuild the motherland and reconnecting with their African spirituality.