Our Folklore: Josef Adamu's Creative Agency Is Putting African Culture First
Creative director, photographer, and entrepreneur Josef Adamu is what people like to refer to as a renaissance man. Amongst his peers and admirers, the Nigerian multi-disciplinary artist's approach to creativity is noble. The common thread that connects all of Josef's work across mediums and genres is the incorporation of African culture and talent.
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Josef was exposed to a melting pot of cultures and people that deeply inspire his work today. Josef himself is West African but acknowledges the impact of Caribbean culture and other African cultures on everything from his speech, style, and subsequently, Pan-African spirit. From the beginning of his creative career, these interactions with Africa's global community inspired him to focus not on generalizations that would consume his community, but rather on the delicate details that made each culture unique.
While Josef's childhood made him aware of the beautiful diversity of Africa and the cultures with which it intertwines, it also made him acutely aware of the sparse collection of stories available in the mainstream media about these cultures. Josef saw the abundance of the cultures around him, and it motivated him to craft a platform where the communities that had been overshadowed could speak.
Despite never having received formal schooling in photography or creative direction, Josef gradually developed his craft by collaborating with fellow creatives who understood his vision to tell multi-layered and diverse African stories. Through these independent collaborations, Josef eventually developed Sunday School, a multimedia agency focused on sharing Africa and the diaspora's stories. What started as a fun passion project eventually led to the agency that Josef now calls a lifetime achievement.
Sunday School is a platform created by African people that serves to promote the voices of African people. The projects, interviews, videos, and other forms of media, made possible by Josef’s business, celebrate the multiple genres arising from various regions of Africa. In the five years since Sunday School's founding, Josef has already used the community he's cultivated to collaborate on work clients like Facebook, Nike, Shea Moisture, and Canon.
Although his client-based work is a major acknowledgment of his talent and reach, it's Josef's independent work that has had the biggest impact. In 2018, Sunday School released The Hair Appointment: Braiding as a Global Experience. The multi-media project was produced to highlight the nuanced and traditional aspects of natural black hair care. The goal was not simply to document the process alone, but rather to highlight the conversations that happened surrounding and throughout the process. The project eventually led Josef to embark on a multi-city event series that sought to mirror the feeling capture in the images.
Most recently, Josef and his team have released work from its latest series, Jump Ball: Basketball Meets Culture. For this series, the Sunday School team has traveled to New York and Manchester, New Hampshire to document the relationship African communities have with the game of basketball. Each segment includes accounts of individual experiences that describe how each person experiences the blending of the ever-growing influence of American basketball and their traditional culture.
The latest installment of the series includes an interview with the family of NBA player Wenyen Gabriel. For the installment, Josef and photographer Joshua Kissi sat down with his family to discuss how basketball relates to their experience as former Sudanese refugees. These hidden conversations sparkle as Josef brings them into the light, their brilliance acting as a clear message of pride and honor on behalf of the Sudanese community.
Listen to episode five of The Folklore's podcast 'Our Folklore' featuring an interview with Josef Adamu. Available now on Apple Podcast, Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Play, and Stitcher. Find excerpts from the interview and our debut 'My Folklore' video below.
It’s been inspiring to see how I’ve taken Sunday School from something that I’m doing for fun to something that I’m doing as a full-time thing, it's a lifetime achievement almost. I’m working on it every day and regardless of if I’m happy or not, it’s something that’s gonna fuel some form of motivation and the people that I’m tying it with see it that way as well. It’s kinda like hope for the community in a way because you don’t see too many of these types of things out there. It’s unapologetic. We’re not looking for approval from commercial companies. We’re doing what we’re doing, and we’re doing it really well.
I was exposed to so many flavors of cultures growing up, from the Caribbean to African, Hispanic to Arab, South Asian to East Asian, you name it. Bringing those all together, it always gave me an open mentality or wide perspective on how to interpret stories. I have Indian friends that would tell me about the ways they conducted marriage ceremonies. I have Carribeans friends that have taught me how they conduct funeral ceremonies. All of these different ideas and stories you hear allow you to really face things. I just come from a place where I’m exposed to so many different things that when I meet new people I’m just intrigued to know their life story, different things about them, and what makes them who they are.
You’d be surprised, a lot of these really big companies are starting to understand the importance of personal flair and letting people flourish with their own personal style. Still tying it to the brand, but it’s not as structured or as fixed as it was before. It’s more like, ‘Okay, we like what you’re doing. Can we adjust a few things?’. That’s what I feel it should be like as a collaboration.
It’s just a matter of taking these stories and continuing to push the envelope. To touch on these different communities or these different subcommunities. We touch on Muslim women from Somali. We touch on Afro-Latino basketball players from the Dominican Republic. There are so many different ways to tap into these stories. I’m excited to see where 'Jump Ball' is going to go.
Coming up in a family where I played basketball almost basically all my life but also where I had that cultural influence embedded in my everyday life. I was like, ‘I’d love to do a story that talked about this constantly evolving African cultural experience, being a part of the diaspora, but also how it’s tied in with basketball,”.
There was no real intention. I just knew that I wanted to tell a story that reflected my community. I got about six different groups of boys from six different countries: Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo. They all came out in their own cultural attire. Somalia wore their religious attire, so they wore the khamiis. and basically put together a project that spoke about how they play the game of basketball, and how they can do the street style but they can also do their cultural style. It was beautiful.
There’s so much potential in connecting back home [to the Diaspora] and having these conversations. I think it takes trustworthy people in the diaspora to be like, ‘I’m like you man”, to persuade these first and second gen kids that it’s lit back home. That they [kids in America] can really come up if we come together.
We [Africans in the Americas] still have privilege. We have to be translators instead of competitors. We shouldn’t be going back there and taking opportunities because we know we have the upper hand being privileged. We’re the Nigerians in America. We’re the Ghanaians in America. We’re the Jamaicans in America. We’re not the Jamaicans that never left the country. We’re not the Nigerians that are still in Lagos. We’re not the Ghanaians that never left Accra. So understand that, comprehend that, acknowledge that, and when you’re going home make sure that you’re finding ways to get them in those spaces and empowering them. It’s about them. It’s their time. You’ve had your time.
Written by: Paige Downie