Afro Hollywood Awards
The Monarch Suite of London Hilton Metropole on Edgware Road hardly contained the crowd in attendance at the Afro Hollywood Awards 2004, the ninth in the series.
The fans of African movie stars came in droves despite the gate fee of fifty pounds sterling. Now, that's some gate fee to pay if you realize how Africans working abroad convert to local currency equivalents at home to measure how responsibly they've been doing in quest of the golden fleece. Twelve thousand Naira! Wow! A Nigerian at home would think again before going even to the high-brow MUSON Centre or the Silverbird Galleria for that show. But Londoners thought nothing of it, if the stars in the line up included Bimbo Oshin, Nike Peller, Jim Iyke, Nkem Owoh, Tunji Bamishigbin, Segun Arinze, Opeyemi Aiyeola, Kunle Afolayan and Khabirat Kafidipe. And if colourful TV presenter, Yemi Shodimu was compere. They weren't disappointed.
Shodimu's pairing with actress Golda John Ti Oluwa Nile, anchoring, kept the mixed-races audience gasping for more, more and more with jokes, anecdotes and a sense of civility that made everyone, not just the stars on parade, feel important.
“This is certainly superior to last year's edition!” crooned an Afro Hollywood faithful who said she never missed it yearly. “It's more class with the staging at the Hilton.” The five star hotel is where the stars were also lodged. That, too, was an improvement on the 2003 version, according to fans.
The Nigerian elite in London as well put a legible stamp of class on the event. Press photographers had their hands full with such a quality attendance including the boisterous publisher of OVATION International Magazine, Dele Momodu (Bob Dee, to his fans), Football Ambassador, John Fashanu, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, Dr Peter Ozua, Cyril Nri (Supretendent Okaro of the British ITV detective series) and others.
Still, the event dug up other stars whose fans had been wondering about for a while. Actress Dolly Unachukwu, who has been off the screen on account of joining her husband in England, Sola Idowu (a.k.a Weird MC) who gave a performance, singers Muma Gee and Kween Onokala (both of whom also performed briefly).
That made it all look like a Nigerian affair, doesn't it? In spite of the fact that the organisers tagged it the West African Festival of Film, Arts and Culture? Well, Ghanaian actress, Ekua Ekumah didn't fail to draw attention to that when she stepped on stage to receive her award for outstanding performance. One of the stars of the movie, The Klub, was nevertheless so delighted that she urged that more non-Nigerian stars be honoured in subsequent events to make the show truly West African. The audience agreed with charming Ekumah's observation for she drew an appreciative applause.
In between the award ceremonies came performances by the Oodua Royal Drummers (based in London), gospel singer, Popee who thrilled the audience with his Afro-beat-style and, of course, Muma Gee and Weird MC (she's still got it, you know).
Actor, lawyer and movie director, Tunji Bamishigbin wouldn't let the moment slip by without registering that he was a comic as he supplied jokes that got the hall reeling with laughter. Fans of his Loco character (Palace) had a treat.
Now, for Bamishigbin, that was a befitting grand finale to an event that nearly drove him (as well as organiser, publisher Mike Abiola) to the end of their wits because it nearly failed due to hitches with logistics. Bamishigbin wasn't present only to receive the trophy for his “Outstanding Contribution to African Film, Arts and Culture”, he was the co-ordinator of the project at the Lagos (Nigeria) end, seeing to the stars' visa and flight matters. Smartly, he had despatch Arinze and Owoh ahead to London a few days before the awards night for publicity in London. And that worked well and assured Abiola while the rest of the stars struggled in Lagos with protocol and flight difficulties. The suspence in London and Lagos was as in a movie, for the Lagos delegation only succeeded in finding a flight just the day of the event, October 30, and arrived that evening only to drive straight from Heathrow Airport to the venue.
Abiola's headaches were over! “When things looked as though they mightn't work he was worrying so much I was scared,” says Golda John, Afro Hollywood's UK co-ordinator. “I told him, 'Better take it easy'.”
Bamishigbin and co, in Lagos didn't realise how uneasy Abiola was. His normal laid-back demeanour is deceptive. Shodimu, while battling with flight matters at Murtala Muhammed Airport, actually quipped, “When we arrive in London, you'd see how Mike will take it all, with that everything-under-control smile of his.”
Of course, Abiola smiled, perhaps more than Shodimu, Bamishigbin and others could have imagined. He smiled aplenty as he watched the frenzy of fans at the Hilton London when the stars filed in to deafening applause. He smiled even more when young ladies materialized with previously hidden cameras as Nkem Owoh, Segun Arinze and Jim Iyke mounted the stage for their awards.
The cash register must have been another source of smile for Abiola because, at the post event press conference a couple of days later when London's BEN TV moved its crew into his office, he retained the “everything-under-control” smile Shodimu had spoken about, certainly looking forward to a bigger show in 2005.