Arinze is one of those ICONIC creatives we like to describe as a ‘Gifted Gift!’ Not only does he thrive in his creativity and brilliance as an individual, he blooms in the awesomeness of his big, bold and beautiful heART. Arinze is all about a better world especially for young African creatives, struggling to thrive beyond all odds. With his major platform, Kenga Magazine and many other projects in view, Arinze is constantly building spaces that empower, uplift and shine bright lights within dark places of the Creative Industry and beyond.
Join us on this special Anniversary ISSUE- As Arinze shares on his awe-inspiring story and a truckload of inspiration on his journey as a versatile creative.
Enjoy and Stay Inspired
At Hello ICON Magazine, you’re one of those ICONIC Creatives we connected with at a glance. Your personality, reflected in the brilliance of your opinions and ideologies. How you thrive as a pathfinder, paving the way for Creatives and how you shine a light in dark places. Can you please share some highlights of how you began your journey as a Creative?
I’ve always been a creative child, from how elaborate my colouring used to be in my colouring books to how I’d spend too much time trying to ponder on the meaning of words. Why did this writer choose this word instead of another word. Like I was always trying to understand the mechanics behind things and even other creatives I was inspired by. I was very much involved in the creative process right from when I was very young.
But then I think when I started to own it as a craft was in university which was in 2017. I had just started my second year of University in January 2017 and that year came and I got a wave of new year resolutions and you know, one of the new year resolutions I had at that time was just to write more and I did exactly that. I wrote more. I was writing on medium, I was writing on LinkedIn to the point where I became the first African LinkedIn Campus Editor.
I just wanted to write a lot. I wanted to have a creative discipline that was a craft for me. But I think when I decided to pursue it professionally was when I joined the team at Nasty Boy as managing editor. So Nasty Boy is Nigeria’s first LGBTQ platform founded in 2017. I came on board in 2020 as managing editor and for me that’s the moment I felt like… okay, I’m actually one foot in the creative world and that felt nice. It just felt like I was doing something that I kind of just was supposed to do.
What does Art mean to you?
I think my definition is going to be very basic but that is how I see art. I think art is any creative expression of our identities of who we are or where we’ve come from. The creative expression of those things for me is art. This can manifest through songs, through writing. This can manifest through like you said even football. Football itself is an art for people who are really into it. I am not into football. People who are really into this sports could have conversations at length. Players who get to reach the global peak are in for a career. There is a bit of themselves, a bit of their stories that is weaved into that pursuit of building this career. So that’s where a lot of the ambition comes from. A lot of the best songs, a lot of the best books are by creatives who poured themselves into the work. So that’s how I think about art. Anything or expression of identities.
What’s your dream life as a Creative?
I think as a creative what I’d want is to see a world where the works I did shapes a generation. I think as a creative what I hope to create or what I envision as a creative is a reality where works that I’ve done, works that I’ve put out helps shape a generation. When you see MTV as an example and what that platform has done to global youths and cultures over several decades, it’s just so incredible. A lot people, their ideas, their opinions, their entertainment interests, were shaped by MTV. The fact that we even live in a more liberal world is because of the content on MTV, because MTV just pushed contents that made everyone feel like they were all in this together. I want to create something like that. Work that doesn’t just sell for an incredible amount but actually has impact on generations. I think that’s the pinnacle for me as a creative.
“It won’t be easy, but never stop practicing. Mastery doesn’t happen to you; you earn it!” A few years back, you shared this highly inspiring insight which no doubt is most needed in the Creative Industry and beyond. Your performance at a TEDx stage led to this eye opening moment. Please share some highlights of this experience.
I think that quote was just more so about what went into the preparation for that performance, because that performance was in July and at the beginning of the year I had never played a piano in my life and I had challenged myself to learn how to play the piano and perform an original song. I was invited to perform on a TEDx stage and I was given the option to do a cover of an existing song or perform an original song. I wanted to challenge myself to write a song from start to finish and teach myself at least to like play the piano enough so I could play and sing on stage like my own song. It is a very painful process, a lot of people were annoyed during the process, most specifically my neighbours who would wake up in the middle of the night to me playing the same chord over and over again in a loop like a crazy person.That whole process of trying to master that craft is enough to level what I wanted. It was challenging, but the end result was great. I performed the song. I played the piano on stage, I ended the performance and received a standing ovation from the audience. It was a fulfilling moment for me. It wasn’t really about the performance itself, it was about everything else that went into it and for me it felt like that was an ovation that I had earned. It felt like I had achieved the mastery that I wanted to. From all of that, I learned that mastery isn’t something that falls on your lap, it is something you’d have to work to earn.
Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at advantage than those in developing countries?
I do think they have an advantage and also that is one of the things I want to use my lifetime to fix. One of the things that I’ve set out to do God giving me life is to create a school for the creative arts in Africa, because when you look at countries like the State and you’re a music prodigy there’s a lot of schools you can go to from as early as the age of 6. You can go to Julliard, you can go to Berkeley college of music. But if you’re in Nigeria, best case scenario you’d be sent to church to go and learn with the drummer in church. In Africa, we don’t have creative institutions that train African creatives on their crafts. When you look at people like Wizkid, a lot of the popular musicians that have come out of the continent especially Nigeria, when you look at how a lot of them found themselves in music, it was very accidental. They weren’t in training as musicians like the way people like Beyoncé was. So when you see the levels that Beyoncé is able to reach in her career, it is not necessarily that she is more talented, she is just more privileged because of the spaces that she was in. she was surrounded by a system that allowed her to train even when she was a child. When we look at our filming industry, a lot of the actors just found themselves in acting because they graduated, they finished their NYSC they couldn’t find a job or they found a job and were dissatisfied and now switched and now tada! I’m an actor and you now want to critique acting styles, it is because our actors are not as trained as the people on the other side of the hemisphere, so it is not necessarily because aren’t as talented. I do think that we are held back and creatives in the other part of the world are advantaged but then we just need to now ask why are they at an advantage? How can we create all these advantages for ourselves on the continent? Rather than realizing that we’re disadvantaged and just sit back and stay cool. We need to do something about it.
Kenga Magazine thrives in its uniqueness, beauty and style. We believe its impact is one that will stay evergreen. Can you share the inspiration behind the name ‘Kenga’ and what you consider most fulfilling about your journey as the CEO and Publisher?
So the name KENGA is actually inspired by the name Ikenga which is a horn deity in the Igbo tradition. I’m Igbo myself so growing up, one of my favourite books was ‘Arrow of God’ by Chinua Achebe and there was a lot of reference about Ikengas and what they signify and I was just very fascinated by an Ikenga and everything they represent. So when my co-founder and I were thinking about a name for the magazine, we came up with so many ideas, but my mind just went back to this name, because what the Ikenga symbolizes is what we want the magazine to be, not when it is completely built, but even right from the beginning. What Ikenga symbolises is influence and the pursuit of greatness and the embodiment of the belief that everybody has the ability to create their own greatness and that’s something that is at the core of what we believe at Kenga, that we truly have the power in our hands to create our own greatness, create a publication and a company that would be great. We as a company would inspire another generation of people that would go on to complete what we may not have been able to complete. To your second question, it has been a lot in the sense that even though I have always been a creative, I haven’t really learned about the business of the creative world until I became CEO of KENGA. So then it now felt like I was learning the business of media while being in media. I think having to create content while learning on the business at the same time and trying to monetize content and doing all of that at once was overwhelming and I think even just leading a team and different groups of people… Like you said, creatives are really different groups of people… I had never worked with as many creatives before I stepped into this role, because at Nasty Boy we were a very small team of four to five. At Kenga for each issue, we are collaborating with at least 50 different creatives. Before now, I was working at Facebook as a designer so I’m more familiar with the corporate world and that side of things. Making the decision to step into the creative world was in January of last year, I was 23, just very excited like okay, let me do something very different and challenging. I ended up challenging myself and I’ve learned so much about running a business, about the business of media, about people so it’s been a learning journey. Rough, but very very very rewarding.
As creatives, we understand the high tendencies of getting stressed out even while pursuing our passion. There are days when even depression may creep in or just that inexplicable feeling of overwhelmingness. Do you have any relatable experience to this? If so, how are you able to manage and thrive beyond phases like this? Any quick tips on ‘Mental Health for Creatives.’
I think when it comes to mental health, it is something that is very very important especially for creatives, because for us we’re working at the brink of sanity. For a lot of people that are pushing the boundaries of art, to do this you have to almost touch madness a bit and when you think of some of the most creative people in the world, they are in varying degrees insane. Think of Kanye, Think of Beyoncé, think of Rihanna, there is a craziness to it and that is just the craft. Now the industry itself is very unforgiving. Your creative output is not just a commodity that people are supposed to buy. Also from the moment you release it, you open yourself to review and criticisms that sometimes you didn’t ask for. For a lot of creatives who put a lot of themselves into their work, that can be very difficult to grapple with. You’ve poured yourself into this art piece that you’ve created and you’ve put it out there in a bid to just get visibility and potentially sell the thing you’ve created and they are bashing your whole swag. But then the subjectivity of the whole process is harder. Now you’re criticized for your work and you’re unable to make sales, because you’re criticized for your work. It is honestly just a lot. So I think for creatives, who are looking to protect their mental health, it is important that you surround yourself with the right kind of energy. This is something I’m very intentional about, the people around me are people who are pouring into me and just keeping me sane. If I realize that there is something or someone in my space that is triggering me, I would make a mental note of that. If I can correct it, I would. If I can’t, then I would just remove myself from the situation. And in some cases this might mean walking out from a really good deal because this might feel like the other person you’re trying to work with is not just bringing the fire as you would want or let’s say you’ve sold something to someone on credit and you’re now being gas lit. This is something that happens so much in the creative world because I speak to artists. Also because of how finances work in the creative world where a lot of creatives get paid per project. They aren’t salaried employees that have guaranteed income. There is the hypertension that comes with “when is my next pay going to come?” But if you surround yourself with people who can support you and encourage you when you’re down, that’s really all you need, that’s really a tight support group and tribe. Without my tribe, I don’t really know how to survive.
Balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives. Please share a few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?
I would be lying if I said there aren’t times when things slip into each other. It is a thing where I’m constantly trying to make things balance and in my attempt the ideal that I’m striving towards is a very strict 8-8-8 kind of day. 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest and 8 hours for play. That’s why we have 24hours in a day, to be very strict allocating: within these 8 hours, I’m doing nothing but work in these 8 hours, I’m doing absolutely nothing but nothing in these other 8 hours, I’m doing nothing but sleeping and being very strict with that. That is the ideal that I’m trying to create. I’m not quite there yet.
What does success mean to you?
This is a deep one. Success to me means being happy, being surrounded by love and being able to afford the things that one wants. I think when we think about success, we imagine a lot people with glamorous things. It is really not about that. We forget that it is possible to be completely successful and you’re living on 5 dollars a day. With everything that you need within that budget and you don’t feel like you need anything more and you feel like you’re happy in life and you’re surrounded by people you love, your family – that to me is success. But that’s on a broad human level. What success is to Arinze is what I described at the beginning. I want my work to influence a generation. That is what I would count as a successful life. It is not about the money. It is not about how many people know my name. It is about the work I did, to what extent did it help shape other lives – that’s really what a successful life looks like to me.
Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that pallette, what would that be and why?
I think Yellow, because yellow is around the middle. Very few are able to see the red, because the red in the sky usually fades out. You see the green more prominently but then what gives it that feeling that this is actually light is yellow because yellow by itself is a colour that pops, it illuminates all other colours around it and that’s the kind of person I want to be. I want to be that person that illuminates other lives around me. The work that I do, the person that I am, I help make people’s lives less stressful.
Please share something we do not know about Arinze Obiezue.
I think something you may not know about me is that I am 25% Jamaican. My grandmother is Jamaican. My mum’s mum is Jamaican
Massive Love Arinze!
The ICONIC Team.