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(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Known in Nigeria as "Omo Sexy," Omotola J. Ekeinde is hard to miss in a crowd. She's a model, a singer, an actress (with roles in over 500 films), a mother, a UN Goodwill Ambassador and an NGO founder. With all of her success at home, she is eager to share her culture here in Israel as a representative of Nigeria's film industry.
"I am hoping to do in Israel what I have been doing around the world, which is to draw attention to the image of Nigeria. I hope to showcase what we have to offer in Nigeria culturally," she said.
Ekeinde's visit is part of the first ever Nigerian Cultural Festival in Israel. Hosted by the Givatayim Theater and the Nigerian Embassy, the festival began yesterday with a party which included musicians, dancers from Nigeria and an Israeli drummer and DJ.
The three-day festival, which runs through June 13, features a musical performance, a fashion show and the world premiere of the Nigerian film Explosion: Now or Never. Tickets to festival events cost between NIS 40 and140.
Mary Manzo, the wife of the Nigerian ambassador to Israel, is responsible for organizing the festival.
"What inspired me is the fact that the face of Africa we see in daily interactions, in the media, is of backwardness in every aspect. We have our talent, our own people that are ready and have the ability and intellect to break that chain," said Manzo.
The purpose of the show is to expose Israelis to the rich and diverse aspects of Nigerian culture. Many Nigerians feel that their country has a negative image abroad, and Manzo hopes the festival will foster a better relationship between Israel and her country.
"When we bring all these aspects of Nigerian culture here, it will open many people's eyes and strengthen our relationship with Israel," she said.
Having worked on this project for over a year, Manzo has managed to attract major media attention in Nigeria. Some of the biggest names in Nigerian fashion and film will be taking part in the festival.
"Different people from all over the country have different ways of dancing which is unique to them," Manzo says of the dance styles being performed. "Each culture has different moves, beats, and rhythms." The brightly costumed performers will exhibit uniquely Nigerian moves accompanied by traditional music. The dance performances will lead to a fashion show that has already been staged in Paris, Milan, London and Cape Town.
"We organize projects hoping to spread Nigerian fashion locally and internationally," said Immanuel Ojo-Odiase, a festival participant and fashion promoter at Legendary Gold Limited. "When Mary Manzo called us, we thought her project was absolutely in line with our goals."
LGL, which Ojo-Odiase says is at the "vanguard" of the Nigerian fashion industry, has managed in less than a decade to catapult Nigerian fashion onto the international scene. "The Nigerian Fashion Show," staged first in 1997, now appears regularly in Paris, Milan, Stockholm and Cape Town in addition to Nigeria's capital, Abuja.
"We have become a reference point in organizing and packaging Nigerian fashion," remarked Ojo-Odiase. "I want to display indigenous dress culture in terms of fabrics, accessories and designs, with the goal of creating an international market for Nigerian designers."
THE NIGERIAN movie industry has also burst onto the international scene, and now claims to be the third largest film center in the world behind Hollywood and Bombay. An article in the Washington Post dubbed the industry "Nollywood" - a reference to its American and Indian counterparts - and Nigerians have embraced the term.
Cinema in Nigeria, until recently, has been devastated by regime change, crime and censorship. With the advent of the digital camera, the movie industry has soared, and Nigeria is now the single largest producer of digital films in the world.
"Nollywood, just like the fashion industry, began to look at the talent we have back home," said Manzo. "Just in the last few years, Nollywood has come into the limelight. They have been able to produce a thousand movies per annum."
Teco Benson, the director of Explosion: Now or Never, boasts, "My name is synonymous with quality. I have won seven director awards. I strive for excellence."
Benson's charisma is obvious as he speaks hopefully and proudly of his culture. Benson's latest movie, which will premiere at the festival, is based on the true story of Nigeria's largest gang.
"Nigerians are great people. We are viewed as 'lesser than' by the western world because of the color of our skin. Africans in general are viewed as backward people. All these views about Africa are things that I want to change through my movies," Benson said.
Manzo shared similar sentiments. "At the end of the show, I want the Israeli perspective of my country to change. People who might never have planned to go to Nigeria will think about it now. I believe there will be a cultural exchange in the future. This project will strengthen diplomatic ties between Nigeria and this beautiful country," she said hopefully.
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