A night of breathtaking African art, fashion, and music, we went to Bonhams for ‘Africa Now’, a refreshingly diverse arts event organised by Cuppy and Temi Odetola in aid of the Dangote Foundation. The Nigerian-born Odetola sisters have recently taken Africa’s creative scene by storm, featuring in British Vogue, Forbes Woman Africa, and The Times between them.

With the walls adorned with the work of artists from across the African continent, highlights of the event included fashion blogger Temi’s beautifully curated fashion presentation featuring designs from Lisa Folawiyo, Sophia Zinga and Machos by Laduma. More fashion picks on the night included the revolutionary jewelry of Adele Dejak and the work of shoe designer Richard Braqo.

The evening culminated in a spirited and lively DJ set from Cuppy, an ode to her love for Afrobeats and modern house fusions.

We caught up with Cuppy after the event to discuss her work with the Dangote Foundation and her journey to becoming one of Africa’s rising stars.

COZY MAG: Can you tell us a bit more about the work of the Dangote Foundation and how you got involved with the charity?

CUPPY: Mr. Dangote himself is a very close family friend and is such an inspiration as an entrepreneur. His foundation does amazing things, really big philanthropic projects, such as the eradication of polio. I went on tour around Africa last year and, alongside that, decided I wanted to partner up with them and start an initiative working with young women. With the Dangote Foundation, I went to around 8 different schools where we were not only able to donate but I also bonded with the girls and shared my journey with them as a young African woman. So when Bonhams approached us to do this event we thought it would be a great opportunity and some of the featured artists have kindly agreed to donate a percentage of their profits to the Dangote Foundation.

CM: Did you have a hand in picking the art that was displayed at the event?

C: Well, my sister Temi, apart from running jtofashion.com, is currently studying History of Art at UCL so she played more of a role in the curating of the art. As a DJ, I was definitely more hands on with the music side of the event.

CM: How did you get into DJing and which artists or DJs have inspired you?

C: I’ve always loved music. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria which is such a cultural city and, being a young person in that environment, it’s easy to fall in love with that, whether it’s art, music, fashion, or theatre. For me, that was music. From a young age, I’ve always been inspired by Fela Kuti. I have memories of listening to him in the car and my parents going for his shows at The Shrine when they were younger. That was the last record I played in my set at Bonham’s and it was really important for me to be able to do that.

I moved to the UK when I was 13 years old and music for me was a great way of dealing with the transition. I used to listen to Nigerian music all the time when I was homesick and I used music as an escape. Then as I got older I started getting into nightlife and would always look at DJs and think, ‘Wow, they are so powerful’ - the DJ could either really make or break my night.

I was 15 when I got my first decks and I’d sit on YouTube and listen to all these amazing DJs. When I was 18 years old, I was DJing at all my friends’ birthday parties. It was really amazing that all those same friends were at the event and couldn’t believe how far I’ve come. I followed my heart for the most part and it’s been really exciting.

CM: You’ve lived in here in London, in Nigeria, and New York. Where, for you, has the best music scene and which scene fits you best?

C: I’m still on a journey and I’m really trying to find myself musically. When I was in New York, I was on an MTV show playing hip hop records and then when I’m in Nigeria, I’m such an advocate for Afrobeats and play that over there. Here, I play a variety of different styles which I think is great but it’s also quite a burden because it’s stretched me quite widely.

But that is what I love about London the most - it’s so versatile. I’m living in East London at the moment and was walking down the street one day and I could here someone playing a Wizkid record in a cafe. The demographic there you’d think would never listen to Wizkid. That’s the cool thing about London. It’s so multicultural and people are very experimental. Our event being so successful is a real testament to that - people want to discover new types of art, new sounds, and I think a lot of the opportunities I’ve got have come from me being different. So for me the UK music scene is the most exciting. There’s definitely great opportunities for female DJs here too.

CM: We’re seeing more and more women, especially young Black women breaking into the arts, in fashion, music, film and the like. What advice would you give to other young women wanting to pursue a career in the arts and in music especially?

C: I think first of all it’s really important to have a passion-driven ambition. A lot of women, especially young African women, we really feel the pressures of society and back home it’s not always easy. Me being a female DJ is completely different to the usual traditional roles.

I’m doing this because it’s what I want to do but I did still take my education very seriously. I’ve got two degrees from King’s College London and NYU and, for me, despite following my dreams, I never once doubted the importance of education. You should not only follow your passion but also educate yourself in your field too. For me, going to NYU was really important because I wanted to learn more about the business side of what I do.

I’m still very much on an experimental path but no matter what I do I want to ensure that I inspire other people and I want to change the rules a bit. I’ve been very lucky to have parents who are so supportive. My dad is such an amazing entrepreneur and I very much look up to him so I when I told him I wanted to DJ, he said ‘Be a DJ but make sure you’re the best DJ’. You really have to be ready for hard work.

CM: Your reality TV show aired recently on Fox Africa. What sort of things can we be expecting from the show?

C: I think it’s me just really telling my story and building on my journey to becoming an advocate not only for Nigeria but also for the continent. I have to admit sometimes we Nigerians think Africa is only about us! But in the show I go to 7 other countries that are so different and I really learn, I’m trying new foods, playing new music, doing charity work for the Dangote Foundation. As I’m discovering countries like Rwanda, my viewers are discovering it with me. It’s been very exciting. It is a reality show but it has aspects of a travel show.

The feedback we’ve had already has been amazing. You really get to see the hard work and determination one has to put into making things happen. 

Interview by Olivia Odubanjo @Oliviazao  

Cuppy’s show ‘Cuppy Takes Africa’ airs on Fox Life Africa every Wednesday.