Nigeria’s Izzy Odigie is a force in every sense of the word, however, dancer, choreographer, business owner, performer, barely scratches the surface of what she does and her growing empire.
Her execution on everything she’s been assigned and pursued has seen her do work for Davido, Olamide, Afro Nation and more.
We recently sat down with 24-year-old Izzy Odigie to talk about all things Afrobeats, choreography, and her collective agency, TRŸBE.
You’re only 24 and have worked with some pretty big names from across the diaspora. You recently worked with Davido during his time in New York. How did that transpire?
As you know, Davido dropped his album, A Good Time, and one of the founders of Melanin Unscripted saw that I did a tour in Japan but I guess she’d been following my dance career for a while now. She reached out to Lang, who’s my manager, and said she wanted to set something up. Lang also had the idea of doing something similar to how we normally do classes in New York City but creating it into more of an event for artists’ album release. So they figured everything out. They presented it to the label and they gave us the budget to go ahead and do it. We made the class free as a way to get my fan base to come out and just, you know, have a good time and celebrate and listen to the album.
So after you got the green light to throw this event for Davido, how did you prepare? What helps you come up with fresh choreography that you always do?
The label sent me the album a week before the drop. I just wanted to create the experience through the whole class. So what happens is you start off with walking music. So if they walk in, they’re hearing music from the album as well as his old songs. And then you go into the warm-up section, you hear music from the album as well. And then I picked two songs for choreography. So literally the whole week I was just listening to the whole album, trying to figure out the mood I wanted to create for the class. And I decided to choreograph to Disturbance and Sweet In The Middle. So literally I did one routine for the Disturbance and then used it on both songs so that they can kind of the essence of the music and you know, fall in love with the two songs. I think those are my two favorite songs on the album.
On that note, who are you currently listening to? And a follow up to that, what’re your thoughts on the current state of African music specifically Afrobeats?
I’m listening to a lot of people actually. I’m listening to Fireboy. I’m listening to Joeboy, I listen to Rema. I listen to Burna Boy of course. And you know, obviously, I’ve been listening to Davido. But as for the wave that’s happened now in America, I think it’s exciting. This has been like a very successful year, you know, from Burna being nominated for a Grammy to a lot of artists getting recognition on American platforms even though I feel like America is a little bit late to the party.
But it’s exciting because even with the music moving far to dancers to, especially the dance culture in the U.S is moving far like, you know, from dancers being able to like choreograph and perform with Rihanna and Beyonce, me choreographing for Empire and you know, people are like really moving and you know, the commercial market here, they’re really open. I just hope that like, they, it doesn’t just stop after a while and they actually dig deeper and not just listen to the Burnas and the Davido’s and the Wizkid’s, like they actually dive deeper, you know, travel to countries in Africa and actually get familiar with the music and the culture and the dance.
What’s the market like for choreographers?
Well in America I would say the biggest hub is in New York, the biggest hub of like dancers and choreographers are in New York. You have Meka, you have Sarah, you have me, you have E-jay, you have a whole plethora of dancers. So we utilize social media a lot, but like if you go to Nigeria, the dancers are everywhere. If you go to Ghana and go to South Africa, Kenya, there are dancers everywhere in Europe, the dance scene is huge. Even the movements, even the movement in America here music-wise. The music here in America was actually facilitated by dancers. So the majority of non-African people who weren’t really familiar with the music got familiar with the songs through dance videos they saw on Instagram.
“So a lot of us are trying to change that narrative because dancers are technically the ones pushing the culture here”
So dancers actually were one of the few mediums to push music out here. So, you know artists in Nigeria who’s blown in Nigeria will see you teaching to a let’s say on average a 40 to 50 person class in New York. And people are actually listening to the music to the point where they’re like, “Oh Izzy, what’s the name of that track that we danced to?” So they go home, they practice it, they go home, they record it, they put it online, it’s circulating dance pages are picking it up. So there are dancers everywhere. It’s just that the higher you go up the industry ladder, to corporations, they only see the artists. So a lot of us are trying to change that narrative because dancers are technically the ones pushing the culture here.
Which choreographers would you want to work with are, who are you looking up to? Is this a type of industry where you can say you have a mentor?
There are people before us. I won’t say there are a lot, I’ll say there is a few. Those few people before my generation has turned it into a business and actually lasted, but they’re not really a lot. I don’t have any mentors. When I decided to do this, there still is no blueprint to do this right. So it’s having your own playground and sometimes it could be scary because it’s like, I don’t know what steps to take. However, it’s like you could also find that exciting because you can kind of create your own rules as you go.
I would say a choreographer that I admire and would like to maybe shadow one of these days to see how she works and how she thinks it would be a choreographer called Pariss Goebel. She’s from New Zealand and she works within the commercial market. She mixes hip hop with dancehall a little bit. She’s worked with Rihanna and Nicki [Minaj], she’s worked with Sam Smith. The way she creates and the brand that she’s created is very independent of the artists. She has a fan base where she can decide she’s going into music and they will support it. She directs, choreographs and shoots her own dance videos. If she drops a video, it’s kind of like, for example, an artist dropping a song.
It’s huge. So someone like her, like she’s into fashion, I’m into fashion. The way she just creates her styles, her genre of dance is different from anybody in her field, so she stands out. She has a brand, she has a fan base, she even wrote a book. She’s so free and that type of independence to be able to create in any field, that’s the type of thing I want for myself within the African industry.
You mentioned some of the big names she’s worked with and, and you’ve worked with some big names as well. Is there anyone you want to work with next?
I’ve worked with a lot of people. So I would like to work with like the newer faces. So like your Rema’s your Fireboy’s and your Teni’s, they are the voices, they’re the next generation. I would love to work with them because there’s more room to like experiment and grow and learn with people. Just starting out and just as talented cause they already have powerful catalogs just starting out this early. So definitely the upcoming artists. And I would like to work with maybe an artist from North Africa. I’m not so familiar with the music up North. An artist from North Africa, that could introduce me to this scene and teach me something new.
What was the toughest thing you had to overcome in your career?
I would say this past year I think I was the most fearless. Even though I surround myself with people who are fearless and just as creative or like childish as me.
So it was like oh, you have no inhibitions. But this past year I decided to go on tour in Japan. No Afrobeat dancer has ever done that. And I was just like, you know what, I have this routine, it makes sense, I want it in Japan and we’re going to Japan and we went to Japan. Not letting the fear stop you from just asking, you know, because with the tour and everything I’ve been able to do this past year, from BeautyCon, Burna at the Apollo to Trinidad to Japan to Afro Nation, everything I’ve been able to do is because I’m not letting the fear stop me. Because sometimes it’s like, oh my God, this is a lot or things are coming in a little bit too fast. You start to doubt yourself and you’re like, yo am I going to be able to do it? So for me, it’s just like overcoming that, surrounding me with people who can tell me the right things at the right time even if it’s constructive criticism. Not being afraid to ask for help or not being afraid to share the spotlight. That’s definitely something I had to learn this past year and that has helped with everything.
With all the performances you just mentioned from this past year, like is there a favorite one you have?
I would have to say Japan because that was off the strength of just me. It’s not like, oh I’m performing with an artist. So each year since 2016 we’ve gone on a class tour and each year it gets a little bit bigger move a bit better. This time around it was kinda like, oh, I don’t know if I have a fan base out there. The host that actually pulled me out there, she came to my class like two years ago and I literally just found her online and you know, I hit her up and we just got everything done. It was like 10 days of nonstop movement. The love there was crazy and they were like you have to come back every year or so. They’re so like into black culture, dancehall, Afrobeats, traditional dance style. It was really exciting to see Asians interested in what I could give. So that I would say was one of the most fulfilling gigs for me this year?
Is there anything that I haven’t touched on that you’d like to say or share?
So right now I’m currently building a tribe, so it’s called TRŸBE. We’re trying to build an agency for dancers all over the world. At first, it started off as a dance team. But one thing I realized is that asking people to commit might be a little bit tough because people have different plans for life and life takes you in different directions. So what we do with the agency, we’re able to work with dancers for specific gigs. So if an artist comes to America and he needs dancers, we can provide them with dancers in Atlanta or we can provide them with dancers in LA or we can provide them with dancers in Boston. If they want dancers in Nigeria, we can provide them with dancers in Lagos. So creating a network for dancers all over. That’s the goal with TRŸBE.
Photo Credits: Alexis Brown and Oliver Atkins