Chioma Thompson is a first-generation Nigerian American designer, writer and multimedia artist. After leaving a career as a Quantitative analyst, she began writing poems, and songs for artists. Known to have worked with Jay Z, Pink, Post Malone, DaBaby and Davido, Chioma has completed work on a Nollywood feature and directorial debut. She speaks with SAMPSON UNAMKA on her experience as a showbiz impresario.
Okay, you’ve worked with Jay Z, Pink, what would you say was the difference between working with an African act and a foreign act, like working with Davido and working with Jay Z?
Well, the bigger acts that we have worked with, in our production process, to be quite frank, we don’t deal with the artist very much. We deal with the music directors. I met Jay Z, I like the Jay Z video because we were making black friends. It was based on a show ‘Friend’, using an all-black cast it was a comedy, it was great. The video I worked on for Pink was called Beautiful Trauma, it was a period piece. It was about the 1950s and 1960s. It was a very difficult thing to work on.
The 1950s and 1960s blacks in America were considered to be one-sixth of a human being. We didn’t have basic civil rights, here I was creating a set to glorify what was the peak of America for some and the dirt of America from my view. Working with Davido. Hunter is Davido’s artist and repertoire. He is Jamaican. The vibe on set on ‘Russ’ featuring Davido’s ‘All I Want’ was exciting, everybody was happy. Our set was a Harvey in Atlanta, most of us were Africans, Nigerians, everyone who I got to work with on the project was either a Nigerian or African, except, for the director.
It turned from this thing of us having to make do and having to make peace with our position to us being able to express the liberating aspect of our arts, to us being able to celebrate certain portions of our culture that we wanted to share with the world, to us being able to position ourselves as yes black excellence, beautiful Africans and in-between our takes, we played the piano and we sang some of his greatest hits felt like a family. His girlfriend, Chioma she was on set as well. I think the difference in working with a Nigerian artists is that there’s a sense of pride, a sense of spiritual satisfaction that you get from enabling your fellow countryman to tell his tale, there’s a sense of joy that we get from seeing how far we have come against all odds. These small moments that we share in rented houses when we were creating stories, you know the co-artist was a white artist and he was learning how to speak pidgin and it was just like seeing how happy he was to learn this discarded piece of our culture. That’s the difference. For me, even though you could say that was one of my smaller jobs in terms of budget, in terms of exposures that was one of the jobs I was most proud of. I took more pictures on that set than any other set.
What is Stranded Janded about?
‘Stranded Janed’ is my nickname for the people who come back from abroad with nothing but an accent. When I was walking through the social circles in Lekki, I would often meet these people that have just come back. And they still had their accent. And I would ask them like what are you doing in Nigeria now? Nothing, right? There’s something I was saying about meritocracy.
So you find that many of them are just living in their parent’s mansions driving around their parents Range Rovers, they’re not working. And they went to America based on their privilege. They went to London based on their privilege. When they got there, they realized like, Oh my god, I’m going to be an average citizen. They couldn’t take that, so they came back home. Now they’re stranded, but they still hold on to that accent as if they never were from here. I call them the ‘Stranded Janded.’ The film was about the untimely return of a member of the ‘Stranded Janded.’ I was really eager about making this film.
Then in October, our government decided to massacre a bunch of our youth in the dark. That changed everything for me. I realized at that point that my work could no longer serve as a distraction from the reality that my work had to serve as a mirror for what was going on and that being that, I had this international audience theme that I had been given this gift of dialogue and this gift of being able to write. I have a duty to those who didn’t have these assets to use this to somehow elevate the dialogue about what it meant to be Nigerian. I found that most Nigerians feel that the antidote to the conditions in Nigeria is to escape. I come from what I consider to be a hopeless place full of glass ceilings and prejudice for blacks have come back.
Let my people know that the oppression you are running from in Nigeria in running abroad you are running directly into the hands of the same people that are robbing our nation and that until we take it upon ourselves to demand better, we will never receive better. Our government is their brokering their trading on our behalf and we are unaware of these terms of trade. That was the impetus behind my third book of poetry. I have written two books, the third one is called ‘Back to Black’.
How do you hope to combine it with writing scripts, or upcoming movies, your book as well, how do you hope to combine everything?
The same way I have been doing it for the last seven years. I have been doing this in America, just wake up every day put your foot in your shoe, one leg at a time and face what is in front of you. Like I said, I think if you get convoluted in reaching for results, you get overwhelmed. I am a process and planning, oriented person, and I am also not one but many. I have a great team of people that support me. In the united states, I have a great team of props makers, I have a great team of art directors that support me. There’s no shortage of excellence here in Nigeria. I have found a great team of people who are supporting me. So, what I am finding is that I actually have better talents here.