“Sights and Sounds” is a new video series from the media platform For Africans By Africans (FABA), launching its first episode with an intimate video portrait of the Côte d’Ivoire’s largest metropolis, Abidjan. Made in collaboration with a few Ivoirienne creators who made cultural relevance and authenticity central to their creative approach, “Sights and Sounds” aims to offer an immersive look into various spaces where rural and urban life coexist, and spotlight the very people who give the city its character. 

Chika Okoli is the founder of FABA, a platform formed out of the growing need for proper visual representations of African culture online. When Chika reached out to our team, I got in touch to learn more about FABA’s mission to build a digital archive for preserving Africa’s cultural heritage to create avenues for Africans to take charge of their digital narrative, populating the internet with more nuanced visuals from the African continent. 

Take in the sights and sounds of Abidjan below, and enjoy the interview! 

When did you start FABA, and was there any particular catalyst that got the platform off the ground? 

I started FABA in 2016 with the intent of showcasing the diverse African experience through sharing visuals on social media. There was a huge demand for proper visual representation online in the African community. A lot of Africans, including me, were tired of seeing the same tropes documented about us. As with any other number of cultures around the world, the African experience is multifaceted — that wasn’t being translated in the narratives published. There are so many consequences that rise up as a result of misrepresentation, so when I started FABA, my motivation was to change how we see ourselves first before even tackling the problem of how the world sees us.

What sorts of projects has FABA been involved in before Sights and Sounds? 

Outside of producing documentary shorts that explore lifestyle and culture in Africa (which you can find on our Youtube, by the way) we’ve worked with several media and lifestyle brands to help produce stories from Africa in order to communicate more effectively to their audience. We also keep a large database of African creatives that we collaborate with frequently on visual media projects. 

How did Abidjan come to be the first location for a Sights and Sounds video? Was it a specific decision, or did it just happen naturally? 

It was specific. We started with West Africa because that’s where we have the most access, but chose Abidjan in particular because for a change, we wanted a Francophone African city to come first — this is usually not the case when mainstream media covers West Africa. It’s usually Lagos or Accra, so we wanted to disrupt that trend and let Abidjan speak for itself. 

There is an incredibly tangible sense of daily rhythm to this video, and FABA’s mission mentions documenting African life in this way. How do you achieve that feeling in your video, and why do you think it’s so important? 

For this video, we set out to shoot fly-on-the-wall style. We didn’t want to take away or influence the scene in any way. We observed and documented as candidly as possible so viewers could get an authentic feel of Abidjan by watching the locals go about their daily lives. We worked with content creators from Ivory Coast who helped us navigate our journey around the city. We wanted to represent Abidjan authentically, first for the Ivoiriennes but also to show people who have never been there that this is the vibe of the city, whether you are about to travel there or just really curious about it.

As someone who has never been to sub-Saharan Africa, videos like this paint a vivid and inviting picture that makes me want to see all this myself. I’m sure others will be inspired to travel there, too. Does that dynamic factor into your creative process at all, as a documentarian? 

I think especially when documenting in Africa, my foremost concerns are to seek out untold narratives, be intentional about not documenting from a monolithic lens or with any kind of bias, and to make sure that the stories being told open up spaces for deeper conversations within the community. Inspiring people to travel to Africa is an unexpected benefit that I’m certainly not mad about!

barber at workOn that note, what role do influencers and media platforms from outside Africa play in telling stories from around the continent, in your opinion? 

Influencers and media platforms alike play a major role in how African countries are perceived abroad through the stories they publish. The onus is on them to be accurate and unbiased about how they craft these stories because they influence how the rest of the world will see us. 

What was your favorite part of making the Abidjan video? 

For me, my favorite parts were the lessons I learned from this experience and my interactions with the subjects, because filming people is such a conversation starter! Taking on this project helped me understand that most Africans want the same thing — we want to be well represented in visual media. While filming, sometimes we had to relay our goal for this project to people and for the most part, they saw the importance of it and were very welcoming. Abidjan is such a friendly city and the people were very accommodating despite the language barrier we faced. Most of the lifestyle elements I encountered in the city reminded me of my home country, Nigeria, and the similarities that bind us together regardless of borders. 

What locations are next for Sights and Sounds, and when can we expect to see them? 

We will be following up with a second video in the series that showcases the ancient city of Stone Town, Tanzania mid-May and we have upcoming episodes shot in Kenya and Ethiopia to be released in the summer. 

Keep up with For Africans By Africans on their Instagram where they share daily visuals of African life, and look out for future installments of “Sights and Sounds” on YouTube

Interview conducted by Passion Passport editorial manager Joseph Ozment.