This interview was conducted by Nigerians Abroad Live in April 2011.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Briefly tell us about yourself and what your dance group is about?
Yemi A.D.: My name is Yemi Dele Akinyemi, I am 29years old, born and raised in Czech Republic. My father is Nigerian, he is from Ibadan. I started as a dancer here in Czech Republic and in 1999 I established my own dance company and a talent agency called ‘Dance Academy Park’, which is a studio in the central of the city. I do different kind of work for choreographers and I also work for several VIPs in the music industry.
Most recently, last year, I became a choreographer for Kanye West who invited me for several jobs.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Let’s talk about Kanye West’s Runaway video, how did you get involved with this video?
Yemi A.D.: I work for different commercials and …actually for different movie productions here in Czech Republic and from time to time there is always a commercial or movie shoot. This time one of my agents called me to put together a piece for Kanye West which was supposed to be a onetime job…I didn’t have much time, only had two days but in the end I put together some choreography and he liked it very much.
After he travelled back to United States, maybe a week after, his management called and invited me to New York to work for him again for the VMA ‘video music award’ and he was very happy.
I returned to Czech to get few things and travelled back to United States to assist with his personal show, not just as a choreographer but also to help direct…the show that we did (his personal show), was awarded the best act …it was a very successful season, we were happy to travel to different places and I was happy to work with him again.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: What was the experience like working with Kanye West?
Yemi A.D.: It was very interesting because he’s a very different person, very intelligent …his personality is different from everybody else. When I worked with someone as a choreographer, it is very important for me to understand how he/she thinks, what’s their opinion on different things like colors, shapes, styles…whether they like to look back into old movies, or more modern or futuristic stuffs. So, for Kanye, I had to study a lot about his music videos. Eventually when you work with him in person, it is very difficult to read him whether he likes or dislikes something. There’s never an average, it’s either very bad, ripping out hearts of people or it’s extremely good and he’s super satisfied. There are also few moments of silence before every important decision. In such case, he’s just dangling around waiting for judgments, which is an interesting experience. Sometime ago, at the backstage of VMA, he asked the producer and director to come to his room because he was very angry how the angles were short. So, he can be very angry but am happy he doesn’t scream at me. He was very happy about our last show.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Tell us the concept behind the ‘Runaway’ video. Is it modern or futuristic?
Yemi A.D.: This is very difficult because Kanye told me and others many times that people want to see different symbols in his videos, his artwork and many times those symbols are really comparative or it has more sense than it needs. For example, in the video, there were black people sitting by the table and white people serving them. I don’t believe its racist and I don’t believe it was meant that way. I believe it was meant to be very hedgy and to make people think. I believe it’s good to make people think without actually telling them to go left or right. So for the content of the video, my job in it was to create a classy, very stylish but still very hedgy not beautiful and not mainstream. It’s kind of hard to create choreography like that but it’s so interesting when you look at it for a long time because the song is about 9 minutes long. As a choreographer, you would want to build something that will have a story in it or something with visual scenes that is beautiful and relative to the speed of the movement, the pace, or something that has freezing or melting in it. We had very little time for preparation, so I decided to have those three ballerinas in the front for details, while other take different positions at the back… such as when the girls are either frozen, melting down or moving fast according to the production of the song itself…you can see connection between the different instrument in the song and different movement by the girls.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: The part which you directed, that is, the ballerina, where was it shot?
Yemi A.D.: That part was actually shot in Prague. I remember, I went to see Kanye for the first time at his hotel and the producers were very nervous because they were touring around Europe looking for a good place. For a little while we thought it was going to be in Kiev (Ukraine), one of the biggest underground halls, but eventually they found this hangout at the airport in Prague so they had to move the planes and shot the video there.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: I’ll like to back track a little to the part in the video where the black people were sitting and white people serving them, and your working relation with Kanye, would you consider him to be a controversial person?
Yemi A.D.: hmmm…I definitely know he is a controversial person. I have never really studied his life before until I met him for the first time. I didn’t know much about him to be honest with you. I’m into the music industry because of the work I do. I really don’t have time to look into celebrity lives and stuff like that…When I stepped into his world in the United States, I realized who he was and why some people don’t understand and accept him. Acceptance and understanding are very important a person’s capability but that is not the case sometimes in United States. So, that’s one…I also think, yes, he is controversial because of the many things he does. He’s very spontaneous and regardless of what people say or think of him, at the end he always comes out to win…It’s very nice to see how he directs his music and how he works in the studio with his troop (with his people) always pushing for his song to a better level.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Any new project that your fans should be looking out for?
Yemi A.D.: I am preparing one big production called ‘Dancer of the year 2011. It is a competition that I created 6 years ago. It is going to be a world competition and will take place in Prague. People would be able to watch the best dancer with the most recent and actual dance style performed by very talented kids. But before then, I will be traveling to New York to assist Kanye to train and cast new people for his new show in Los Angeles on 19th of April and I will also be directing a music video for a band (the Chic band) that just won the MTV award of Czech Republic, it’s called ‘Charlie Straight’. I will be directing that from 10th -14th of April then travel back in Prague to work at my dance school (Dance Academy). For people interested in following what I do, they can do that through our facebook community; I have a fan page called Yemi A.D. or visit our website at www.danceacademy.cz
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: You said your father is Nigerian and your mother is Czech. Is that correct?
Yemi A.D.: Yes!
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: You were born and raised in Czech, so that was the experience like for you?
Yemi A.D.: I believe if I was actually raised in a full family I would have better background. I didn’t experienced very good times as a child because I only stayed with my mom and dad until the age of 4. On one of my father’s regular visit to Nigeria, he was arrested and held in Nigeria for a very long time. At the time, our family was involved in politics around 1984 – 1985. It was a very huge conflict that affected our family…it was very unfortunate. Then I stayed with my mom in Czech Republic. It was not the easiest thing because we had to live in a lower social class community…I had to work…we had only cold water… there was no heat. When I started working, the internet was just introduced to Czech Republic and I begin to search for my father. A year and half after, I found connection to my father and we established a communication. Meanwhile, I had started working at the age of 16 and teaching my first dance class. When I turned 17, I moved to Amsterdam and started earning some money. My father came back when I was 21…we started communicating and I later moved all my family, from Nigeria to Czech Republic. My father is a Christian and had always wanted to be a pastor and raise his children in Europe, in Czech Republic, because my brother has a down syndrome.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Your dad lives in Prague right now along with your other siblings?
Yemi A.D.: Yes! I have two sisters and one brother from my father’s side.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Can you describe the feelings you had when you reconnected with your father?
Yemi A.D.: it was very hard for me. I remember going to the airport, I was feeling very strong because we hadn’t seen each other for eighteen years but my father is like a hero…that was never here…I always imagine how life would have been, if we were actually together, what would be different and stuff like that. All these questions cannot be answered because I have many questions that needed to be asked and it all came at the same time. At first, it was hard to communicate and to understand each other but we tried. I tried, he tried and we later got along.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Do you speak any Nigerian language? (Laughs)
Yemi A.D.: (Laughs) No! I only speak ‘Bawo ni’.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Good one! Only Bawo ni?
Yemi A.D.: I was only with my mom and I was happy to learn English because I can communicate with anybody. Yoruba…? There were not enough people around me to learn it.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Any plans for you to reconnect with Nigeria?
Yemi A.D.: Definitely!!! Just recently I was approached by one of the director that is to record a movie about me for cinema, for a future movie. they wanted to go to Nigeria with me to see and to study more…to see what makes a person like me…where is my root? I would very much like to go to Nigeria because I believe I still need to fully understand my African roots.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Any future goals that you plan to accomplish in the nearest future?
Yemi A.D.: Everything is always hard to do…when you achieve something…it always hard to keep going because many incident happens. At my age, 29, I’m still trying to build myself on a solid ground and I have so many companies, so it’s never easy…after a long time doing the same job it’s hard to keep everything running hitch free. People around me are getting older and changing employees, looking for new talent and dancers. So, i am always busy and sometimes exhausted. But yeah, I’m always trying to save sometime for my creativity and new development. One of it should happen soon in autumn (fall). I would like to release my first theatre play and prepare original music for it. It would be a dance called ‘roots’…well, hopefully people will understand it and appreciate it because it has a bit of international relations and it is about everyone. I hope it would be very successful.
Nigeriansabroadlive.com: Thank you for your time,Yemi. Do you have anything to say to your fans?
Yemi A.D.: Yes! I believe that people, most especially young people, should know that everything around us is changing rapidly and they can only depend or trust their own feelings, intuitions and never give up. If they have something they really want to achieve, something that they enjoy doing, they should just do it. That’s what I think is very important…be patient and do what you love to do…I am doing it now and hope I would continue to be successful for some more time and I wish everyone the same.
Thank you for having me here today!