..Sabina was MBGN 1990Finding Love and Keeping ItI met my wife Sabina, my dear ‘Smallie’, and mother of the Kese Jabari ‘V’ clan. My heart, blood in my veins, my right and my left hand. I met Sabina at the University of Benin. She literally ran into my arms while I was walking the corridors of her hostel. She was being pursued by one of her friends. She inadvertently ran into me. I put my arms around her to break the fall. Indeed..bream the fall…lol. I held her in my arms, looked into her eyes and ‘ding ding ding’, I had an epiphany. I knew and she knew too. I told her that very instant, that very moment in time, now frozen in the deep recesses of my mind, that she is my girl, and shall one day be my wife. That was the beginning of our beginning. It’s been a wonderful journey…We exemplify the biblical instruction… “Whosoever findeth a wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth the favor of the Lord”. KJV Proverbs 18:22. We have indeed obtained the favored of God. Our jewels – Valentine, Vincent and Our twin girls Victoria and Vanessa.
Love and Relationships must be nurtured daily. No matter the love, the ‘killer’ sex, the fame, the money, we must, as a matter of course, constantly nourish our fidelity and give it ample sunlight. Relationship? It’s an unending work in progress.
Tell us about the years before everyone knew Kese Jabari?
I was born in the little village of Eku. The Eku Baptist Hospital to be precise. Born with the given names of Ekuriese Akamune. I am Urhobo by tribal distinction. From Ethiope Local Government area of Delta State, Nigeria. I am a humble son of the Agbon Clan.
I grew up in Warri. I’m a small Warri boy at heart, possessed and propelled by the spirit and vision of my peculiar baptism in the city we fondly call ‘Waffi Texas’. Growing up in Warri was and still is a total and rejuvenating experience. You are moulded into this person, cast and set on stone in a different way. It’s scribbled in your DNA to be ahead of the game, always working, scheming and hustling. Like they say in the local parlance “Warri nor dey carry last”.
I fondly remember the atmospheric popular music, the parade of colours, the reverberating ‘cantata’ of gospel preachers and solemn songs from the Broadman Hymnal. I remember, like yesterday, the fever and energy of the streets, the dance of masquerades (the Okere Juju, the Agbasa Juju, the Isan juju, the Omote Kpokpor e.t.c). I remember, in my minds eye, the display of royalty by the Olu Warri, the Ovie Effurun and the Okakurho Eku. The theater, the food, “damba damba”. I remember the mischievous game ‘suppy’ and ‘kowtow’…. . “Memories, like diamonds, are (indeed) forever”.
Immediately I graduated the University, I moved to Lagos. Suitcase in hand, barely packed but full of aspirations.
The decision was calculated. After living my infant and teenage years in Warri, I was unashamedly drawn to the bigger and more energetic city of Lagos. Captive of the ‘Eko o ni Baje’ fever. The sounds of music and the thundering clap of undulating voices, emanating from the ‘Isale Eko’ and ‘Maroko’ shanties, the bright lights bathing the flyovers of third mainland bridge, the cresting waves of the Bar Beach, the cosmopolitan and/or metropolitan fervour of Eko, the culture of its diverse people drawn from the nooks and crannies of the geographical construct we call Nigeria. The quintessential fashion – a phantasmagoria of fiery images and colours, the vibrant business environment, even the Yoruba Cosmology. Lagos then was both the capital and commercial city of Nigeria. It was and still is the place to be.
The next day, I walked into Silverbird Productions Ltd. All suited up, my fedora hat sitting pretty on my head, my walking cane in hand. I must have looked like a clown to some, Dandy to others. I insisted on having a meeting with Ben Murray-Bruce.
Silverbird had the franchise to The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, The Miss Intercontinental, The Miss World, and The Miss Universe pageants. They had brought ‘Cool and the Gang’ Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, Shalamar, to name a few, to Nigeria. I felt then, it was the place to pick up a job and learn from Ben – the Master Entertainment Guru.
Angela Morah, who worked with Ben brokered the introduction/meeting. Angela and I had crossed paths at the NUTAF (The Nigerian University Theater Arts Festival) where I acted the role of ‘Elesin Oba’ in Nobel Laurette Wole Soyinka’s ‘Death and The Kings Horseman’. Ben graciously offered me a seat. I told him why I was eminently qualified to work for Silverbird. I gave him reasons why he must hire me. He laughed at my sagacity, but hired me that day as Client Service Personnel. I rose to become Client Service Manager and then Artistic Director in a couple of years. Ben Murray Bruce, now Honorable Senator of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, moulded and taught me the ropes. I studiously and unshamedly understudied him for years. Everything I know in entertainment, I learnt under his tutelage.
Foray Into Fashion?
When the Silverbird rollercoaster ride ended – for reasons that Ben and I may take to our graves. suffice to say however, it involved power structures and professional differences. Venturing into the fashion industry was a natural inclination. I walked into the industry with my eyes wide open. I had taken courses in costume design in theatre school, consulted with fashion designers in my years at Silverbird. I also undertook a crash apprenticeship program with a road-side master tailor. A suit and shirt maker of Warri and Ibadan extraction. I needed to hone my talent and express my creative audacity with cloth as canvas, needle, scissors and thread as equipment”.
My fashion sense and designs are inspired by the classic man, the look of power and the intrinsic element of sartorial excellence. I am inspired by the spirit, the signs and symbols of my generation and culture. I am affected by ‘Sapeur’ culture of Congo Brazzaville and the elegant dress statement of the Niger Delta.
The Walk With Fame and Success
Yes, ‘Kese Jabari’….The Power Look was at the top of the totem pole. Yes, we were, without fear of contradiction, the most celebrated fashion brand in the local market at the time. Yes, we were indeed blessed with financial and professional success. But at the junction of the ‘Kese Jabari’ celebrity and experience, was a man in conflict. A man possessed with the spirit of a broader vision.
Fame and success brought its glory, but also the abuse of flesh. The attendant excesses of the creative industry, the abject lack of an enabling environment and the overbearing pressure from the powerful men you clothe and run errands for. Their mind bending desire to enlist you into the inner circle, some occultic, others patently barbaric. All in a bid to secure your loyalty and supposedly provide protection and guarantee unqualified success. By interaction and involvement, largely due to the fact I was the boy at the top of the fashion industry, I was being pressured to sell my soul to the devil.
How Did You Find The Light
I terminated the Nigerian experience and relocated. Yes, we were the ‘numero uno’ brand by 2002, but I was mentally, physically and spiritually bored. I was psychologically bankrupt after successfully staging our Fashion Project/Show – ‘Rhythm African…The Spirit…The Sign…The Sound. I felt I had lost the creative impetus to promote the brand as is or as was in a market that did not provide the operational basics and connectivity to the fashion Capitals of the world. Like every creative animal, I got tired of the ‘same ole same ole’ in a market that did not provide an enabling environment to fully express my creative impetus. I stopped enjoying being Kese Jabari – the designer, the actor, and the face behind the brand. I was ‘depressed’, paralyzed and did not or could not, at the time, see an enabling environment to catapult my vision to where I wanted it to be. I also had challenges in my personal life that needed drastic remediation. I decided to walk away from the fame and everything I knew to begin a new journey of expression in a land of supposed possibilities.
Powerful forces were with me and after me at the same time. Threats and attempts were made on my life. I had to walk away to stay alive. Looking back, I must say though, the market changed just about the time I exited. Better opportunities opened up, even with the advent of the Obasanjo/Atiku Political/Democratic dance macabre.
Also, about this time I got married. Without doubt, my priorities in life changed. I chose family.
Finding Redemption and The Rebirth
My strict Baptist upbringing imbibed my soul that when God blesses you, you are called to use the blessing to His glory. Not for self glorification or agrandizement. Not for the worship of ‘Baal’. The greater purpose for me was the realization that my body is the temple of God. My actions this must be instrument of change and contribution. I must use my body of work as an example to the many connected directly or indirectly with me.
But when you uproot yourself from a business environment you know so well, and attempt to plant yourself in a new environment, especially one that is structured and controlled, the task of success is even more challenging. But I welcomed the brunt, the fire, the baptism of starting all over again…and boy, did I suffer the pain of starting a business in the land of ‘white spirits’. No old school boy networks, no existing client base, and no clear understanding of the operational mechanics of the given geographical space. One had to go back to school. One had to work on the side. One had to support his growing family.
From being Kese Jabari, a celebrity and renowned designer and label, one became just another African struggling to secure the mirage that is packaged as the American dream, in a land branded as the land of ‘milk and honey’. There were moments of doubt… but the good Lord was faithful again. He blessed us, more than ever before, ‘with our cup running over’.
The fashion industry has witnessed impressive growth since you were away. How do you feel about it?
I’m proud to see younger designers who have taken the vision to great heights. In fact, it seems my exit was manure for their growth. Today, they have exceeded all expectations, done as well, even better in some cases. They have broken the continental glass ceiling. To them, I say thank you for continuing the vision. To God, I give all the glory.
The Return of Kese Jabari
Return? Did we really leave the scene? Allow me to posit we did not. Because I see the hand of ‘Kese Jabari’ in the works of my dear ‘brother’ m Mudi of Africa. I see our artistic rendering in the works of Luzol. I feel the audacity of ‘Kese Jabari’ in the garments of Ralph’s Naija Possibilities. Great designers we inspired one way or the other. We run a successful fashion label here. We make custom made garments for Entertainment and Sports Celebrites, Politicians, Media Personalites, World reknowned Preachers, upwardly mobile entrepreneurs but true talk…home is home; No where like home. We are planning to make a gradual comeback, but only at the Appointed Time. Only by His bountiful grace.
A preview of what’s in store?
Expect a turbo-charged and re-engineered Kese Jabari. A combination of sartorial excellence, quintessential style, ultimate class, panache and debonair braced in elements of the Power look. We shall continue to define and celebrate our interpretation of the contemporary African Fashion Statement, capturing the dreams and aspirations, even our rights of passage into our dress culture. It shall continue to be a parade of enchanting colours, a summary of the very drumbeat of our given experience. Capturing our idiosyncracies as a people, even our wild life – The stripes of the Zebra, the spots on the tiger, the adaptive tendencies of the Carmeleon. The Look shall continue to be our interpretation from the eye of Africa as opposed to the African fashion statement defined by the fashion capitals of the world. The biased Look, especially defined by non Africans, celebrated and presented as ‘Africanna’ on the catwalks of London, Milan and Paris.
I live and work out of Atlanta, Georgia, Miami Florida and Houston Texas. I work as a Master Tailor/Designer for The House of Kese Jabari.
I also own and work for Warrington Consulting, LLC – a strictly consulting firm.
A few years ago, I branched out into engineering, technology and drone systems. I work as Executive Chairman/Senior Vice President for Verstaad Inc and Chairman of GPTeknisk. I work with a group of dynamic engineers – Temitope Adebayo, Efosa Ighile, Chris Okotete and many more. Ofcourse our Vice President Sabina Umeh-Akamune, Mohammed Suleiman Onibo and the black genius Dr. Thomas Mensah.
Kese Jabari’s Little Things
Favourite Brands: Kese Jabari, Onajomo’s MUDI Africa, Austin’s Luzol, Ouch, Ralph’s Naija Possibilities, Tom Ford, Versace, Emenegildo Zegna.
Fragrance: I’m a Tom Ford and Hermes man – Tuscan Leather, Oud Wood, Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford. Terre D’Hermes, Lalique by Hermes.
I’m an Oxford and Brogues kind of guy. I wear Carmina, Grenson of Englands, Allen Edmonds. Some I buy off the rack, most I Custom make because I’m beautifully made with big feet and crooked toes. I wear slippers by my Nigerian roadside shoemaker/Cobbler – Akpobome.
Sabina Umeh-Akamune (born c. 1968 as Sabina Ifeoma Umeh), is a Nigerian singer/songwriter and model.
The daughter of a playwright, Umeh-Akamune, a graduate of the University of Benin with a degree in Theatre Arts, was crowned Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria (MBGN) 1990
While declaring that she would avoid scandals, Umeh-Akamune became enmeshed in controversy when months into her reign, a Nigerian periodical questioned her victory on grounds that her then boyfriend (now husband) Kese Jabari, might have had a hand in ensuring her victory at MBGN because he was an employee at Silverbird Productions at the time; Umeh-Akamine refuted the allegations by revealing she had contested earlier in 1987, but lost out to Omasan Buwa while Jabari was with the organization. -wiki