Dj Cuppy is a Nigerian-born international disc jockey who travels regularly for work while studying for a Master’s Degree at the New York University. Over the past year, she has entertained at elite events such as the Financial Times Luxury Summit in Mexico City, the MTV Africa Music Awards in Durban, the Oil Barons Charity Ball in Dubai and many more. Demola Ojo had a chat with her in Lagos, on her way to performing at an event in Kenya…
Dj Cuppy travels often for work
It’s a midweek afternoon in Lagos, Africa’s most populous city, where Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola – now famously known as Dj Cuppy – was born a little over twenty years ago. It’s late March, and over the past week or two, DJ Cuppy has been to London and Dubai, and is now heading for Kenya where she’s billed to show off her turntable skills at a Trace/Airtel gig headlined by African superstar Akon.
“I travel a lot. I live in New York but it doesn’t really feel like I live there because I pretty much leave New York regularly, which is amazing. I would say I travel every month without fail,” Dj Cuppy says as she settles into a seat at the Grill Room of the Wheatbaker hotel, Ikoyi, accompanied by her manager, Lola Adamson.
At the last count, she’s been to more than twenty countries and looks forward to exploring more. But her strong ties to Lagos ensure she won’t pass up the opportunity to stopover whenever she can, even though travel is primarily for work.
“I was born in Lagos, we lived in Ilupeju for about six years, then we moved to Ikeja, then we moved to the Island when I was like 11, then I went to London for my GCSE,” she says about her early life.
She reminisces about living on the Mainland, the drive across to Ikoyi on Third Mainland Bridge and the beautiful view of the Lagos Lagoon. “I have so many memories of being a child and listening to music in the car with my dad driving across the bridge.”
Now when she has some time, she tends to relax at home and catch up on sleep.
“Or sometimes maybe head to Yellow Chili for some Amala or to Maison Fahrenheit for a Bellini after a long day.”
Minimising Travel Stress
Being on the move, switching from one airport to the next could induce stress if not properly managed. Dj Cuppy concurs. “It is a lot of stress. I’m actually also fully enrolled doing my Masters at NYU but I believe I’ve become a traveller so I plan ahead.
“I already have my packing list. I can get up and go tomorrow. We’re all getting up and going tomorrow,” she says with a smile, as the thought of the next day’s trip occurs. “You get used to it,” she continues. “You start learning about tricks of how to travel without stress, how to plan ahead. I do research on airports, so I know what to expect. And I have a list of essential things I always take with me. Things we all tend to forget like chargers, PJ’s, flip flops and adaptors.”
Predictably, her DJ equipment is on the list of essentials. “I aIways have my pulley. It’s great advice, always put your laptop in your hand luggage, never check it in. For me it’s because I have music there. I’ve compiled a catalogue over the last five years. I would hate to lose it.”
Still on the issue of stress, she advocates drinking lots of water. “Champagne as well; it’s nice because it sort of calms you a bit. You know, a lot of travellers get anxious because it’s not natural for us to fly. It depends on the individual but for me champagne is nice.”
A few minutes into this chat with DJ Cuppy and you get the impression of a bubbly personality (just like champagne you might say) with zest for life. A smile here, a giggle there, she seems genuinely happy and is obviously enthusiastic about the subject of travel. It’s contagious.
“For me, something I find interesting, I have issues with the air pressure, so I actually have earplugs I have to wear when I fly,” she discloses. “Last year we went to Ghana and I didn’t wear them because I thought ‘Oh, 30 minutes flight’.
“Then we land, my ears haven’t popped, it’s like a whole drama and I was deejaying that night. We had to get doctors to come pop it for me.
“So even if you don’t have that problem to that degree, you should still try and protect your ears,” she advises.
The issues with ear pressure are not only when flying but also at depths too. She recalls a trip to Egypt a few years ago for deep sea diving with sharks. “It’s deep sea and high altitude as well…”
The reference to deep sea diving brings up another thrilling experience, this time at the other end of the African continent, South Africa. “We went to the lion park in Johannesburg and we had a private tour. It was epic, it was amazing,” her eyes light up as she and her manager recount a few incidents, some of them heart-stopping.
She continues, “South Africa is beautiful. Johannesburg, Durban…” I probe. What about Cape Town? There is an intake of breath from her, a little gasp. “That’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
And the most beautiful place she’s been to? She ponders a bit. “It has to be Rome. Oh no, wait. The Maldives, it has to be the Maldives. There’s nothing there but clear, blue water. It’s amazing. Amazing! But the longest trip as well. From London to Dubai, Dubai to somewhere in the Maldives before getting on a boat… we were travelling for like a day.”
In April last year, Dj Cuppy was designated a tourism ambassador for Nigeria by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation. “My role was to use music to inspire young people,” she says.
At the time, she had just remixed an 80’s song, ‘I Love My Country’ originally written by Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, and performed by Tunji Oyelana. “The song was what really fast-tracked my career and put me out there. So the ministry got in touch with me and said they love the song. At the time, they were planning for the centenary and were planning all the entertainment aspects and they wanted it to be the official song.
“So I went to Abuja to speak to the minister about it and he was really inspired by our conversation and said ‘wow, you’re in school, you’re a DJ, you’re such a great example for young Nigerians trying to follow their dreams but also stay in school. And the song, it’s great timing, we need a dose of confidence.’ So he was like ’it’ll be great to have you on board as one of our tourism ambassadors.’ At the time, the ministry had activated their campaign, Fascinating Nigeria.
“It was fantastic, I got on board, we had a couple of meetings with them, we had a lot of things planned. The first thing we planned was the Financial Times Luxury Summit in Mexico City. I was asked to DJ for that so I decided to go and represent my country. I thought it would be great to put Nigeria on the map and let them know that Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and there are loads of opportunities here.
“Unfortunately, the reason it wasn’t so publicized was because about a week before that, our girls went missing. And you remember that it was a very stressful time because, of course, tourism overnight became a non-priority. And you have to be sensitive to what’s going on. We were even debating whether to go or not, but I didn’t want to let them down so we went anyway.”
For the first time during the conversation, DJ Cuppy has a rueful look. “I wanted to convene a conference for young girls at the Nigerian embassy, inviting students studying in universities to come together, have a great day, network and talk about how we can be examples of Nigerians outside Nigeria.
“These are things I had planned, but of course with the girls missing, everything changed. A lot of plans we had got shut down. That’s why I haven’t been so active in that role which is such a shame really.
“We also had plans for a school tour for young girls between 12 and 18, where we were going to put together a documentary that was supposed to be titled My Nigeria.
“But despite these plans not coming through, there’s only – by God’s Grace – great times ahead and these things will happen eventually,” she says hopefully.
Being an Example
Education is a big part of DJ Cuppy’s life. Not content with a Bachelors Degree in Business and Economics from King’s College, London, she is currently studying for a Masters in Music and Business from NYU. But that’s not all. She wants a PhD too.
“I want to do it (in Musicology) because I think that the first step to success is educating yourself in your field, so as I’m getting a first-hand experience – literally having a career in music – I should also learn the theoretical aspect; be in a classroom a bit. Because if I want to teach people and be an example, I have to know what I’m doing.”
DJ Cuppy is proud of her Nigerian heritage. She spices performances with Nigerian dance drills (the Shoki dance is flavour of the month), waves the Nigerian flag and just had her toenails painted green-white, the national colours.
“It’s my job. I like to carry a piece of Nigeria with me everywhere I go. This is reflected, not only by playing Nigerian music, but by the way I dress and the way I present myself when I’m outside Nigeria.
“There’s a great video of me at the Oil Baron’s Charity Ball in Dubai, and I’m playing Skelewu. It’s hilarious,” she laughs.
“In Dubai, I wore a beautiful ensemble which was all Nigerian and it was fantastic because I had people stopping me and asking what I was wearing. And it’s not only about Nigeria, it’s about Africa, representing Africa all the way…Even though Africa is a big continent, we have a lot in common in our norms and culture.”
In Love with Arabian Culture
Dubai had a telling effect on DJ Cuppy. “I think I’m falling in love with Arabian culture. I love the fact that they’ve been able to modernize but at the same time keep their norms and culture. After Dubai, I’m looking forward to exploring more of the Middle East.”
Emirates also get the thumbs-up from her. “I love their uniform. When you get on the plane, there’s incense and Arabian coffee…
“Their London to Dubai route was with the Airbus A380, the double decker plane, and for me it’s amazing because it’s so quiet. You can’t hear the engines. The technology of the plane is phenomenal and what they do is that we board the plane from the lounge. There’s a gate at the lounge. So little things like that really get you ahead.”
Just Getting Started
Considering her age and her disposition, it’s a safe bet that DJ Cuppy has so many new frontiers to conquer; in her educational pursuits, in her chosen career path and of course new destinations. She has been to many countries in Europe, from the obvious choices like Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and France, to the not-so-obvious options like Lithuania, Malta and Denmark.
She wants more. “You know where I want to go? The Czech Republic.” The prospect of going to new places excites her. “I want to go to Australia, I want to go to Japan, Hong Kong, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Russia… Interesting choices right?” Why those choices? “Totally new experience,” she replies.
So apart from work, what does she look for in the places she goes to? “As a DJ, I always like to check out the nightlife. That’s really important for me…the music scene, what the young people are doing when they’re out of school, it’s great to see their other activities. “I also look out for the food. That’s a big part of it. I like to speak with the locals, try to pick up other languages.”
Other languages? Which ones does she speak apart from English? “…and Yoruba,” she adds with a smile, “A little bit of French and a bit of Spanish.” How much is a bit? “I can hold a conversation in French and I can ask for directions in Spanish. You know, get by.”
Bridging the Cultural Gap
DJ Cuppy believes that her Nigerian roots and a cosmopolitan lifestyle are the perfect blend for the brand she’s trying to project. “You need to be a brand that people can understand because if I’m trying to be an example of a Nigerian but if people outside can’t communicate with me or understand what I’m trying to achieve from a Western point of view, then I’m not bridging the gap. And I’m not representing my people well.
“I’m all about being that brand that brings some sort of synergy between both worlds, and I think I’m an example of someone that can mould themselves to fit an environment, and I think anyone that’s trying to represent any country has to be able to do that. I think it’s very important.
“Same way when I was in Dubai, I was playing Arabian music. I had no idea what it meant but they loved it. Because what’s the point of saying, ‘this is me I’m Nigerian, take it.’ Especially as a DJ as well, it’s my job to make sure that I’m embracing cultures and that’s why I love travelling because I learn so much.”