Chuku's Chats with Media Mogul Biola Alabi

Biola Alabi is an African media expert with over 25 years of local and global media experience. She is the founder and CEO of Biola Alabi Media, a leading consultancy and production company based in Nigeria. Selected as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa by Forbes in 2012 and as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and producer of last summer’s Nollywood hit Banana Island Ghost, Biola Alabi is a name to remember. Having had the honour of being on her food travel-documentary series Bukas and Joints back in 2016, over the Christmas break we took the opportunity to catch up with her and find out more about the person behind the brand.

Where are you from in Nigeria and where did you grow up?

I’m from Ondo State and I grew up in between Nigeria and United States of America.

At Chuku’s we give each table a traditional Nigerian name, which we know are so often powerful and beautiful. What does your name mean?

My name means “Born into wealth”.

Biola Alabi, CEO of Biola Alabi Media (credit: Bella Naija)

Biola Alabi, CEO of Biola Alabi Media (credit: Bella Naija)

You’ve spent much of your career, working to create and broadcast stories made for Africans by Africans. What are the key Nigerian stories that you believe need to be shared?

Folktales were very much a part of the typical Nigerian home, at least in my generation it was. Many Nigerians grew up hearing stories from grand-parents and parents about their culture, history and the men and women, heroes and heroines that shaped our society. Nigeria has a rich culture and a rich history, with so many stories yet untold. As history evolves with time, it is the stories we tell that preserve our history from generation to generation. I believe that any story of value, unbound by time, and that captures, preserves and expands our way of life as a people, is worth telling. What this means is, I believe stories about Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and Queen Idia are worth telling, as much as the stories of the several burgeoning tech, cultural and food entrepreneurs in Nigeria now gaining local and global attention, are worth telling as well.

Mask of Queen Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin Kingdom (credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Mask of Queen Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin Kingdom (credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

As one of the most powerful women in African media, how do you see the role of media and women in changing the African narrative?

I’m not sure the role of women in media is so different from the role of men in media, but I do agree that media is such a powerful tool for changing the African narrative. I think the media through various formats especially television, radio, films and digital, the general perception of Africa has started to shift from being a ‘dark’ continent to one ripe with opportunities and technological advancements. This outcome is heavily reflected in the increased interest from foreign investors and the numerous trade relationships that Africa engages with the rest of the world. Africa continues to record significant strides across various sectors, and the media continues to adequately capture and propagate these strides to the rest of the world, further emphasising the changing African narrative.

Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, Lagos

Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, Lagos

Having now branched out on your own to set up your own media company, you’ve created a prime-time hit TV show all about food – Bukas and Joints, which we were delighted to appear on back in season 2. And what role does Nigerian food play in your life?

Food is a basic human need and I am very proud and do enjoy eating our Nigerian delicacies. Across Africa food is a significant part of our culture and tradition. We have rich delicacies and recipes that are significant parts of our heritage, so we decided to create an engaging show to capture and share the beauty and rich taste of African food. Bukas and Joints has been a huge success and I am very grateful to everyone who has been a part of it, and have contributed to making it Africa’s number one food TV show, airing 5 seasons covering 10 cities across Africa and London. And thank you also for being on the show!

Bukas and Joints' host Olisa Adibua (centre) with his guests

Bukas and Joints' host Olisa Adibua (centre) with his guests

Our pleasure! The show takes the audience on a journey of culinary delight, as the star presenter travels around Nigeria exploring a variety of food. For our UK chop-chat-chillers who want to join the journey, can they?

Of course, Bukas and Joints is available on AIT on Sky Channel 232.

This year you made your first foray into cinema with Banana Island Ghost. Congratulations! Where did the inspiration for the movie come from? And did you always intend to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen?

Thank you! When I set out to create my own media company, I knew I wanted to work with exceptional talents in the industry to tell authentic African stories for the local and global audience. Banana Island Ghost is the first delivery of that mission materialising. The director approached me with a fun and entertaining script and we ran with it. We worked with a completely local but remarkable team to create the movie, and I am very proud of what we achieved. It wasn’t really about small or big screen for me, I am focused on telling these stories, and whatever media fits is where it will be put on.

Nollywood hit, Banana Island Ghost

Nollywood hit, Banana Island Ghost

We’ve seen a number of Nollywood movies at mainstream cinemas in London this year – including yours, which came out at the start of the London's Film Africa Festival season. For those who may not know it well, how would you define Nollywood?

Nollywood is representative for the Nigerian film industry. But that is just putting it simply. It is the industry responsible for telling our stories and interpreting them for a local and global audience through various media formats.

Like African food, it feels like African cinema could be the next big thing. Where do you see this movie genre going? And do you have plans to come back to London soon?

The movie industry in Nigeria has great potential. Already, it is the second largest employer of labour locally. We are excited about coming back to London with our upcoming film titled ‘Lara and the Beat’, starring Seyi Shay, Vector and Somkele Idhalama.

You have previously been described as having a “fearless determination to succeed”. Does anything scare you and how do you ensure this doesn't limit your success?

Of course, I experience fear, it’s human. When I’m scared I truly feel like I’m getting closer to the truth of what I should be doing.