Kanga Meets Zainab Balogun
"...This year, my strategy was to do a little less entertainment and more of my business stuff... but it's funny because a lot of entertainment stuff has been coming in and I'm not saying no!"
Lagos is the home of several talents. In it, we found model, actress, producer, beauty-preneur and TV Presenter Zainab Balogun.
It was a typical sunny Thursday afternoon in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Kanga met up with 'multi-career hat' wearing Zainab Balogun at the aesthetically pleasing Nok at Alara, which provided a colourful, soulful and friendly vibe for our casual sit-down. We spoke with Zainab about her career, TV presenting, pros and cons of working in the industry, her future plans and moments that solidified her drive for pursuing her career in entertainment.
Kanga Magazine - TV Presenting includes: Being in front of the camera, sometimes talking to an audience that isn't physically there, and having to be tip top in terms of your look, how you speak and address certain issues as well as working with a lot of different people and facing challenges here and there. How nerve-racking is that? Briefly take us through the process.
Zainab Balogun -
Gosh! How nerve-racking is it? See the thing is, people only get to see the end product and they don't know how much goes into it and there is a lot of work. I meet a lot of young people who want to be presenters and they think its really cool and sassy and you get to wear different clothes, you travel...i'm like no I get on set in the morning, I have to do my research, I have to know what i'm talking about because there is one person sitting at home waiting to catch me off and be like "you know what Zainab, it was a hundred and something million, not ninety something!" (Laughs) And then you have the crew, the people who you guys don't see, who actually make our lives easier. And because we have a studio, we are in a better controlled environment. So it's easier to shoot without any issues, but at the same time, the one thing that gets on my nerves is technical issues and that's one thing that you can't control. You might have a camera decide to go off or screens deciding to do whatever it is they want!
So basically, we shoot every 3 months (on The Spot). In 3 months, we shoot across 10 days. So imagine you get to work in the morning, by 7:30am you're in the makeup chair, and then you go on set and you have to talk literally for hours!
So sometimes we shoot 5 episodes a day and each episode requires about an hour to shoot and that is if you don't have any issues. If you are having problems, like technical issues or a guest is late, then it could turn into 2 hours or more. So you have to be on the ball. You have to be awake, because in one episode you are talking about love and relationships and the next one you are talking about the state of the nation.
I love the people that I work with, because me, Ebuka and Lamide, we get along really, really well on and off camera. So we have our little tricks. So if I'm not really in the mood for a particular topic, then Lamide is gonna pick up the slack or Ebuka will. So they make life easy because I'm literally talking to my friends. We chat on whatsapp and make fun of the same things, so it's a lot of work, but we are blessed, because we have a really good team of people.
I knew that I always loved to talk, I thought that I would be in a court room wearing little cute pencil skirts or a dress, stating my case, but I love what I do. It's fun and I get to meet a lot of different people. I get to profile a lot of great Africans doing great things, hopefully you guys!
I'm in this new realm of loving what Africa can become, with a lot of young entrepreneurs, so I'm inspired by all of that and we have a platform that allows us to share those stories, so it's great! It has been good for me. More pros than cons...most of the time! (Laughs)
KM - Have you ever had an issue with the teleprompter or maybe you were handed the wrong script? How did you handle it?
ZB - So, when I used to do EL Now, which was the first series that aired on Ebony Life TV, we had a prompter for that. So EL Now was my first time using a prompter and I was pretty good at it! But luckily our shows are not live, so if you make a mistake with the prompter, you get to pick it back up.
But the issues that I would have are things like maybe the prompter controller moving too fast or too slow, or certain words being missing.
I got a chance to step in for one of my colleagues on 'The Crunch,' which is a positive African news show. So I got to cover a couple of episodes of her show and I loved the prompter! It just makes life easy and you are just there talking and everybody else is taking care of every other thing. But between shooting that kind of show and my show (The Spot), I prefer my show, because I get to act more myself and I say a lot of stupid things, it's not a script so anything can happen. I love it! When people come on they're a little bit nervous, because it's not like a normal show. It's not an interview. We care about our topics, so if we are passionate about talking about something then we want you to share and it's literally just as it would be with you and your friends, sitting at home drinking and talking.
KM - Speaking of that, have you ever had to freestyle through an interview for one reason or another? What is your favourite thing to concentrate on when that happens?
ZB - Oh yeah! When I'm not prepared or things get switched up last minute, then you have to be on the ball and we do that a lot with 'The Spot.' We don't really have a script, we have notes that have points to touch up on and everything else is us. So sometimes you'll see us trying to maybe remember a particular story and we are like "oh you know! What's that guys name?" And we are being serious! We don't remember that guys name and then we are like "Oh ok, whatever! Just the ginger haired guy, it's fine, you guys will figure it out!" (Laughs)
So we are definitely off the cuff most of the time on 'The Spot.' It's ok to freestyle and make mistakes.
KM - Brief us a little bit on how you ventured into TV Presenting.
ZB - In 2011 I started an online web-series 'The Gist,' with a friend. So she studied Broadcasting and I studied Law and it was what she wanted to do. I don't even know how we came together, we just sort of did and I remember we would shoot little things in Shoreditch and we would talk about Africans across the world and shared stories, put that online and it did pretty well and we decided that we were going to come to Nigeria to interview a few celebrities and take the content back to London and we did that for 3-4 weeks and we considered staying longer, so I extended my trip for an extra 2 months and that was the longest period that I had ever stayed in Nigeria. In addition, we auditioned for a new TV series and we got offered the roles. The director asked if we were going to come back to Nigeria and what our plans were. I still had a year left in uni, so I booked a plane ticket for me to return to London a year later. My parents didn't really understand. So I went back home, I finished my degree, came back and in true Nigeria fashion, nothing happened with the TV series. So I ended up going through my savings, arguing with my parents a lot because they were like "why won't you go to law school, why are you coming back to Nigeria, things don't work here, why are you doing this?" And we argued back and forth for months because they couldn't physically see what I was doing and I didn't want to get a 9-5, I wanted to do my creative thing. Then I heard about a few different auditions. I heard about something for MTV, then I decided against it because I didn't want to be boxed into the music department, I wanted the lifestyle thing. So I heard about the Ebony Life TV auditions and I went for it and when I got there, they told me "so if you get the job, would you be prepared to move to Calabar?" And I was like... OK (hesitating). You know I never lived in Lagos and here I was moving to Calabar.
So I got the job, I moved to Calabar and lived there for over two and a half years. Calabar is an hour away from Lagos. It's a beautiful place! Very green, very clean. Very, very slow, not like Lagos.
I moved back once the channel (Ebony Life) decided to move their studio to Lagos from Calabar and I've been in Lagos ever since and it's a lot better because Lagos is the Entertainment Hub and instead of flying people back and forth all the time, it saves us money, we are here where everything is happening and I've never really looked back.
KM - So how far down have you gone on your check list? What are some of your plans?
ZB - I don't have a check list. I live by the day, by the month, by the year. I only have a few plans in place in terms of my 5 year plan or my 10 year plan. I know I want to get married and have kids but that's about it. Everything else I'm still trying to figure out.
KM - What exciting projects do you have coming up as far as 'Zainab Balogun' for 2017?
ZB - I'm at a stage in my life where I'm focusing more on the business side of things. The business ventures that I have going. So I have a digital/social media management agency called 'Think Social Ltd' and I am in the process of putting together a beauty product, so that is what I want to wake up in the morning for. I don't really see myself in entertainment in the next 2-3 years because I loved the years that I spent doing this and my career span has shifted quite often. I started off modelling and then TV and acting, but what I really dream of waking up to is my office, my business.
I've learnt a lot, I've made a lot of different contacts. The thing is, the market is very saturated. Everyday there is a new TV presenter. The economy is not super great right now, a lot of brands aren't spending a lot of money and I'm just trying to think forward. There are things in entertainment and TV that the world doesn't see, so you can meet somebody tomorrow who is a TV presenter wearing these really cute loubs and a Hermes Bag and there is no work for them. Or they are not financially smart or it's just an illusion. A lot of things in the entertainment industry are just illusions.
I'm shooting a lot of movies right now. I just finished shooting 'Love, Sex and Religion' and the new Ebony Life movie called 'The Wedding Party.' So I'm blessed to have shot quite a number of productions so far this year.
TV wise, I'm still hosting 'The Spot,' I work with other independent productions, hosted a reality show for First Bank, done some work for AirTel and a few other people, but truly this year, my strategy was to do a little less entertainment and more of my business stuff, starting to branch off, but it's funny because a lot of entertainment stuff has been coming in and I'm not saying no! (Laughs)
KM - You are also an actress. Who are some of your favourite actors and do you channel them in your work?
ZB - I love Meryl Streep! I love Viola Davis because I feel like she is the black version of Meryl Streep (laughs).
Do I try to channel them? Not so much. I mean, it's really hard for me to study as an actor because I love film. I love watching it, so I can't watch a Meryl Streep movie and be critical. I just fall in love and wanna watch.
KM - You had the opportunity to be on the set of "The Dark Knight Rises." How was that experience and did you leave feeling inspired or motivated to do more in the industry?
ZB - When I was in uni, I was modelling. So once you start doing print and runway, if they feel like you work, they start sending you for commercials. So I started doing a few commercials then I was also registered with this casting agency that casted for students. So they would get a lot of work and they would cast students for extra work. So I applied for one, I went, I had my pictures taken and they would't tell us what the production was. I think they called it 'Rex Dog' or something like that, it had a code name. So we got fitted in these fancy clothes, took pictures and then the day of the shoot, I had to be on set at 4am. So I took the night bus in to Westminster and I got there, still didn't know what movie it was, then I got on set and I was casted as one of the dancers.
So in the scene where Cat Woman was in the ball room with Batman and they were dancing. They had dancers waltzing around them. Then I was like "oh my gosh! That's Anne Hathaway! Oh my gosh! That's Christian Bale, this must be Batman!"
See they don't tell you because it's all under code name. I remember that she (Anne Hathaway) had said to me that my dress looked nice and I saw somebody scoot pass... It was Samuel L. Jackson! And it was just phenomenal to watch, because it was such a huge production and everything worked like clock work, everybody knew what they were doing and watching Christian Bale was amazing because he stayed in character the whole time. So that was great to watch. That was the defining moment for me and I was like "yeah, I totally could do this! I could get used to this a lot more!"KM - Let's get a little metaphoric! You wear so many different hats. Actress, model and entrepreneur. So if you had a Baseball Cap, Beret and a Fedora, which hat would you wear for what career?
ZB - Ok, so the baseball cap would probably be for the entrepreneur in me because when I am working on my stuff, I dress all the way down. I don't really care about looking cute.
The beret for acting! Because it just makes sense! (Laughs) and the fedora for modelling because that's just a cute look!
Keep Up With Zainab As She Changes From Hat To Hat :-
Twitter - @zainabbalogun
Instagram - @zainabbalogun
Set Location - Alara Lagos
Photography & Creative Direction -
Amira, Instagram - @miaidris