Jide Tubi may not sound familiar to Nigerian music fans but they definitely have seen photographs by Michael Tubes. In the last four to five years, his work has become one of the most sought after, especially for concerts held in the UK. Most times when a Nigerian musician has a show abroad, chances are that Michael Tubes shot it. For once, he was in front of the camera and not behind it when he was interviewed by NET.
Born in London, he was sent back to Nigeria for secondary school. He endured the culture shock and attended Loyola Grammar School, Ibadan and returned to London alone as a 17-year-old. “After secondary school, I lived with my dad in Maiduguri where he was a bank manager for about one year… So I went back to London, went to Hackney College to study ‘Access to Law’ and from there I went to Middlesex University and studied Law. Although I’ve wanted to be a lawyer, I wasn’t happy. Something was not just right. I went back to school to study Information Management, the same thing happened again.”
Photography came to his rescue and he got a little camera to photograph events that happened in London. “I used to take photos at high profile events, movie premieres. I’d wait four hours for stars to arrive so I can get good shots and just put it out on Facebook. From there, things developed rapidly.”
His big break came when he made a trip to New York. “There was the 2013 Nigerian Entertainment Awards and I knew no photographer from London would go to New York for an event. I spoke to my godfather, DJ Abass who is friends with Ayo Shonaiya. I told them I wanted to go but I had nowhere to say. Ayo Shonaiya said ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He provided everything, hotel, feeding, everything. That’s how I got to New York.”
However it was his talent that set him apart when he eventually got to the US- he was well positioned to take a shot of the moment pop singer Dammy Krane got to meet his mother for the first time in ten years. She had moved to the US when he was a child and was unable to return home for many years- until Krane visited and she came to the show. The two of them were on the stage crying and Michael Tubes took the photo.
It wasn’t long before the touching story resonated across the Atlantic but nobody had the picture except for him. Shonaiya linked him up with a number of Nigerian bloggers who wanted the photos and overnight, he became a sensation of sorts.
Since then Michael Tubes has worked with all the top acts in Nigeria, from Asa to Tiwa Savage to Davido to Adekunle Gold.
He described his art as essential to the history of Nigerian and African music. “Our music scene is still underestimated. It’s the photographers’ responsibility to ensure that this generation of musicians is properly documented.”
While his career as an entertainment photographer is secure, he’s also taking on a bigger project. “I have an exhibition next year called ‘Women in African music. It’s all about celebrating our women who have contributed in one way or the other to African music. You have Angelina Kidjo who has won three Grammy Awards; you have Fato…even other female singers that you don’t know yet. Of course, you have our Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Salawa Abeni, Onyeka Onwenu. We’re not exhibiting only their images, we’ll also get to show some of their artefacts. Like the dress Yemi wore in Johnny, we’ll be exhibiting that as well.”
On the day he spoke to us, he had been in Nigeria for only a week but had attended Ninola’s concert, was part of Yemi Alade’s entourage to Cotonou and had signed up to photograph at some of the biggest shows during the yuletide season. Yet he insists that the subjects he views through his lens are what is special, not him. Anybody that has seen Michael Tubes’ photography knows it’s pretty special. He is too.
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