Kaffy: My mind is my greatest asset, it has no limits

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Kafayat Oluwatoyin Shafau, popularly known by her stage name Kaffy, is a dancer, choreographer, dance instructor and fitness coach. In this interview with YETUNDE OLADEINDE, she speaks about her world, the things that make her tick, life married to an entertainer, her inspiration, clocking forty this year and more.

Would you say marrying an entertainer is a blessing?

Marrying an entertainer is work, it’s a problem; it’s not a blessing. Imagine me getting married to a PSquare that every woman wants to sleep with. If you are a wife to that kind of a person you are in trouble; that means you have to grow thick skin, have emotional maturity and spiritual maturity. So, it’s not an easy thing to be married to an entertainer. The only thing is that an entertainer understands what you are doing.

Tell us about the leading personalities that have impacted your life and career

As an entertainer, the leading personalities that have impacted my life mostly, I always say God first because there was a major part of my life when I had no one to turn to but God. I was really raised by God and I mean that literally. Secondly, books. I used to be an avid reader, but I’m not as avid as I used to be again. However, a lot of my knowledge, fluency and expression come from reading books written by John Grisham, Geoffrey Archer and others.

Are you not into African authors?

I think I was not exposed to African literature as I wanted, but I have been inspired by Wole Soyinka and his drive. Chinua Achebe as well. Their impact is what touched me most. Not directly by their literature but the idea of their existence.

Which other figures inspire and motivate you?

People like Bill Gates drive me with the idea that I can have a global impact on people. So I think I can choose mentorship from where I want to go. So, if I want to express myself and understand people and have emotional intelligence, that’s why I read the likes of John Grisham. When I want to feel like I need to understand how to globally dominate, that’s why I study people like Bill Gates and Oprah. I just study to understand how they are. When it comes to dance, Michael Jackson is one of my greatest influences. Not just from the idea of him being Michael, it’s about the essence of him being Michael and that essence is connected to God’s grace. As a person, I always marvel at that grace, that grace influenced me, that freedom of how he just became himself.

Beyonce pushes me mentally. Also from the drive of a woman that one can dominate her space as a woman and carry that on, and actually decide and dictate what you want creatively in life. I see Beyonce as someone who puts in what she is getting; it’s not something she just met. It wasn’t handed over to her. As I said, I don’t have one mentor. Dangote, for instance, is resilient in business entrepreneurship and economy. Being an entrepreneur can drive anyone crazy, you need to be mentally mad first. He proves that one can actually do business in Nigeria, multiple businesses. I can imagine how he spends his day. The first time I had opportunity to sit beside him, the calmness in his tongue was really inspiring. I only imagined what was in his brain.

You always talk about your past like there is something. Did you have a dark experience?

When I talk about my past, not from a dark perspective but from an idea that not everybody can get away with the little things in their lives that had the most impact on their future. Little things like parents not having money to pay your school fees. It looks like a little thing but the impact of not finishing school has made some girls to say that was the reason they became prostitutes and it has caused some guys to say that’s why they became armed robbers. For me, I looked at the situation and say I need to find a solution. My own solution came to me easily but it may not come easy to another child. My own solution was that I have rich friends and I can’t go to school, but my friends have books for school. I went to them and I started copying their notes. So, for a big part of my secondary school, I was self-taught. The government provided the curriculum; I made a photocopy of it and started following the term. So when my mom finally had money to take me back to school, I was not behind. In one instance, a teacher asked the school I went to, I was embarrassed to say I wasn’t going to school. So the teacher saw my expression and said that whoever was teaching me did a good job as my note was more complete than his own. Then, they used to give forty marks for note writing and I don’t want to lose that mark because I entered school during the third term. The day I brought my note to class, the teacher picked it and used it to write note for the class. When I say I’ve had it rough, it means that ninety percent of what people are going through today, I’ve experienced it. I’ve experienced sexual abuse by a family member but thank God he did not get through with it. I was in a situation where someone was touching me but I had the wisdom to scream before I could run away. I was five years old. How many five years old had that opportunity?

Do you teach your children sex education?

Yes, I do. When they come across certain words or utterances, I can’t just tell them not to say that. I need to let them understand that the word is not meant for them, and it is not their time to use such form of expression. It is better to teach them from the point of knowledge than to withhold it. There are some terminologies they will hear, even if you say it to them, they will tell you that you can’t say such expression to them because they are kids.

What would you consider your greatest asset as an entertainer?

My mind. It has no limits. There are no limits to what I can do. I don’t have any physical assets.

What is the most damming criticism you have ever received?

It pisses me off. What pisses me is the mind of the person criticising. It is an insult sometimes to my own intelligence. Some people think that because I’m a celebrity, I shouldn’t be vocal about my views. I don’t respond from the position of pain. I respond to let some people know that they are a fool. Some of the people on social media are babies, they use adult photos. 90 per cent of them have come to my DMs to apologise. I do not need to start showing screenshots. Some people feel like I should not respond to negative comments on social media but sometimes we need to. It draws one into the kind of mindset they have and helps one correct their mind set. For instance, they said that I criticised Naira Marley because I do not want his progress because I am an enemy of his progress. I contributed to the popularity of his song, ‘Issa Goal’ with over one million views because I danced to the song. I even have the dance routine in my Ijoda work out series. I cannot be an advocate for anybody’s downfall. I cannot promote anything against my philosophy, which is dance. Do you know what? If I do not speak up, that means I am not protecting the kids that come under me to learn. Some parents came to withdraw their kids because of dances like soapy while others left their kids because someone spoke up. He has daughters and he protects his family against vices but it is not possible. It is not me he insulted; he insulted a whole generation of people that will date his daughters tomorrow. One of those Marlians will marry his child tomorrow. That is why we all have to be careful and remember all our actions have consequences.

Do you think we do enough African dance in the various avenues dance is employed?

I am an active lover of our culture, that is why infuse bata dance into my choreography pieces because I find them very intriguing and fascinating. If you look at the Swange dance, the movement and footwork is out of this world. We don’t celebrate our own thing that much. I do infuse culture into my dance expressions; that is why some say they don’t understand some of my moves. It’s for this same reason we invited the Ooni of Ile-Ife to be part of The Dance Workshop and Conference last year. I recall telling him that there was too much damage done to our culture during the slave trade era by colonialists and missionaries. They deceived us by selling the idea that our cultures are evil and diabolic. They failed to distinguish the art and richness of our culture but condemned everything because they termed shrine worship as evil. I told Ooni that we should start having culture hubs with great artistic aesthetics that will be accessible to all artistes, irrespective of religion or creed. This will be located nationwide and attract true practitioners, fostering exchange of experiences, ideas and collaborations. This is how both the creative and cultural elements of dance will interact and grow among young people.

What’s your plan to mark your milestone 40th birthday?

This year, I’m going to be 40. I’m still strong. Also, I will be marking 20 years of being on stage in this industry, sacrificing, pushing, crying, pulling and being victorious about one thing: dance. So this year, we are scaling it higher; that has led to us extending The Dance Workshop and Conference to four days instead of three.

Dance can change lives, that is why I created the idea of a conference and called it The Dance Workshop and Conference (TDWC) Africa. We needed an atmosphere whereby we can have conversations with multiple sectors of the economy, and bridge the gap between the informed and the uninformed. To say ‘this is all the information on how you can use your talent to create wealth for you.’

The three days will include activities such as workshops, conference, trade fair, while the fourth day is the concert. The concert is what we call the Rise of the Phoenix. The phoenix is a bird that rose from ashes and is on flames, and it burns through everything. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always seen myself and everything as a fire. So right now, it’s not just a fire that burns through me, I’m now the fire. I’m ready to burn through anything and to build anything. As long as this nation is concerned, Nigeria is one of the greatest nations in the world.

What’s your assessment of dance in Nigeria?

My assessment is that it has grown geometrically in popularity but it has plateaued in technical delivery. Due to the influx of trending dances, the voice of rigorous and discipline art of dance is being silenced. Sometimes when I do some proper choreograph, while some will like, some others will dislike because it does not feature popular trending dances like ‘Gbese’. Even if we want trending dances to become sustainable, we need to approach it like a science. For instance, wherever I have taught shakushaku dance, 90% of the time, my students grabbed it at once.

Dance has taken you around the world and you have achieved a lot with it, what’s the best thing dance has done for you?

I would say it is empowering people. It is the best thing. It’s so fulfilling to see that girl that wanted to be a prostitute yesterday changed her mind and dance with me. The feeling is overwhelming. I have kids with different disabilities enrol for dance, such as autism, hearing impairment etc. I have watched their lives transformed.

Can you tell us about motherhood and how you navigate work-life balance?

First of all, being married and a dancer was a very gruesome journey for me because nobody prepares you for what happens in marriage but because of the love and fear of God, we are able to move on. I won’t tell you that my marriage was rosy; no, that’s a lie. It was devastating. It was so gruesome that I went into depression and came out of it. I can tell you these because we can’t continue to tell people a lie. We need to let people know that we can go through stuff and get out of it. God set up us to be able to encourage people overcome the things we went through. Motherhood is the best thing that ever happened to my life. God used motherhood to compensate me for all the pain. God blessed me with two amazing gifts; my children are a reassurance. They are also gauge to what I can or cannot do because, now, I’m conscious that I have to lead by example. I am their greatest inspiration; they absorb me like milk and honey. I am afraid to misbehave because these kids are going to take it from mommy. I had two Caesarian sections and I worked from conception to delivery. I remember I had to work five days into my CS when I was carrying my first child. I have an amazing healing body that doctors marvel at.

The Nation