Moved: Lagos - London

Makes: ìrìn journal

Say what you will about Instagram, but my perception of Africa has evolved over the past year and it’s entirely due to social media. I’ve only ever seen the continent through the lens of foreigners, on the news or shows like Comic Relief. Now, young Africans are showing us their own countries on their own terms. One of them is Mimi, who’s been highlighting African cities and the stories that make up their unique identity through ìrìn journal, a biannual magazine that explores African culture through travel, people and community. She shares her love for Lagos, how her global citizenship led to ìrìn, and her mission to change the stereotypical narrative that we see far too often with Africa.

Where did you grow up and how did that shape the person who you are today?

I grew up between London, UK and Lagos, Nigeria. I was born in London, however I spent most of my formative years in Lagos. Growing up as a child in Lagos taught me the value of hardwork and gave me a sense of spirituality. Here I learnt the importance of education, discipline and how important respect is in our culture. All of which helped shape me so that at the point of moving back to London as a teenager, I had already developed a strong sense of identity.

You travelled a lot when you were younger and described yourself as a global citizen. Can we hear more about your travels?

My passion for travelling actually came from my mother. Aside from her interest in travelling, her work had her visiting various cities in Europe to the Middle East and Asia and she was always more than happy to take me along. At a young age, it was simply the experience of packing a bag, flying and arriving somewhere new that excited me. Our adventures spanned from taking ferry from Dover to Calais, stuffing my face with all the various flavours of gelato in Naples, walking up the great pyramids of Giza, to discovering Moscow with my uncle who was the Nigerian Ambassador to Russia at the time.

However, with time it grew into something deeper. I not only yearned to see more of the world, I wanted to know more of it. To learn and immerse myself in their culture and ideals,  meet people and understand their way of life. I began to realise that with every new place I travelled to, it only fed my curiosity more. I began to forge connections with the various locations and and use these experiences to enrich my life. I never saw myself solely as a Nigerian, or British but more as a citizen of the world - this is what I feel makes me a global citizen.

How did your experience of growing up between Nigeria and London affect your sense of ‘home?’

Funnily enough, I was never conflicted. Home is both cities. The majority of my family are in Lagos. It’s where I grew up and where I was raised, so in that sense it is home. However my spirit is at peace in London. It’s where a huge chunk of my heart is. Isn’t that home too? Home to me isn’t a fixed place, it is a feeling. A feeling of peace, joy and light.

Tell me about Lagos! What do you love about it and what would you like to share about it with the world?

I’ve been back in Lagos for the past three years and all I can say is that the city is an enigma! Within a split second you can go from hating the place to absolutely loving it. It is loud, energetic, frustrating, chaotic but underneath these extremes there are subtle moments of light. I want to share its history with the world, its energy, its sound - be it generators, traffic horns, people shouting across the street to laughter or the latest song on the radio. I want to share its amazing people - tenacious, intelligent and ambitious. It’s soul food from ewa agoyin, agege bread, dodo to hot eba and ogbono soup. I want to share the innovation happening here, from people taking it upon themselves to create spaces and solutions to everyday challenges, to the low level welders and technicians who have carved a niche for themselves.

Lagos is a city of over 30 million people who have decided to thrive, to “hammer” (make it big) against all odds. And this is what makes the city. It’s people.

Africa has obviously had a huge influence on your work. Can we hear about Ìrìn Journal and why you decided to create it?

Ìrìn is actually a Yoruba word for “walk” and the prefix for “journey”. Ìrìn Journal is a bi-annual magazine that explores African culture through travel, people and community. We explore what it means to be African in the particular city we feature, through the people there, stories from the past and present that shape the cultural fabric of the city.  Covering stories, essays, conversations about its history, rhythm, food, art and many more. We are not trying to glamourise life here, we just want to portray Africa and Africans as they are. The good, bad, ugly and beautiful.

I started reading and collecting magazines at 14. At first, it was the usual teen magazine but one day at the newsagent in South Kensington underground station I stumbled upon Cereal Magazine. I had never seen anything like it before. It was so beautiful and so strong. From that day, I dived deeper into independent publications and started collecting them. Over time my excitement turned to frustration as I observed the lack of diversity amongst these publications. Where was the magazine for me, for people like me? It just got to a point where my perspective changed from asking whether or not these magazines existed to wanting to create a space for it to exist.

You mentioned before how important it is to document African culture and keep hold of that unique identity. I think until recently everyone wanted to be the same - or rather more Westernised - and now we’re getting all these younger generations growing up and actually going against that and celebrating traditional parts of their culture. Have you noticed this yourself?

Most definitely! It is not the norm but a shift is happening. There seems to be a movement of not just Africans or black people, but people from other marginalised cultures looking back at the cultural and spiritual heritage. Trying to understand what was before and how it can shape what is. In Nigeria I see this in music, art, poetry, dance, architecture, film, food and even in business practices. In all areas of society. From new companies building upon traditional Yoruba investment practices like “Ajo” to fashion designers hand dyeing indigo fabric in the historic dye pits of Kofor Mata that was established in 15th century Kano. It is a shift from focusing outward to our own history and heritage.

What’s a misconception about Africa that you’d like to change or have found frequently on your travels?

African travel is little to non existent and especially so within the continent. We want to get our readers to consider new locations and expand their mindset. For people who get the most from travelling there is always something that draws them to a sense of  place. Whether it’s the sound of Havana, to the warmth of the Greek Isles. We haven't yet developed those stories about Africa. In the mind of most people in the world, Africa is the land of wild animals and even wilder people. We want to change that narrative, not by spreading a fake positive campaign but by showing the truth. We believe by doing this, more people will be encouraged to explore the continent, bring more understanding to this beautiful, diverse place and hopefully get that same sense of home in whatever African city we feature.

What’s the future for Irin Journal? Where would you like to take it?

With irin journal we want to get more Africans to know about themselves, and to build a shared identity. We want to inform, educate and solicit a desire to “participate”. Through travel and other means. Whether it is by cooking our food, playing our music, wearing our clothes to buying our art. That is when we know that we are doing our job. We’d love to be involved in publishing other bodies of work - from city guides, to cookbooks, maps. There’s so much to explore.

The vision for ìrìn as a brand is much bigger than the journal, it’s bigger than publishing. It’s organising and curating travel experiences, it’s organising events, it’s possibly working with various governments, it’s connecting local artisans or creatives to global audiences. There is honestly so much we can and would love to do.

Ìrìn Journal is currently crowdfunding! Mimi’s trying to raise £8000 by March 5th. Head on over to the Kickstarter campaign to find out more, and if possible, pledge what you can to help rewrite the African narrative and diversify the magazines we currently read - no matter how small, every bit helps!