CHI & STEPH UGBANA
Chi and Steph ‘Soul’ Ugbana are a husband and wife choreography team. Steph is a white German lady and Chi, short for Chidiebere, is from Delta State. Since their move to Nigeria last year, they have been involved in a number of music projects like the Maltina Dance All competition, where they were judges.
They met in New York in 2006 on the set of Banky W’s ‘Capable,’ video and have a young daughter, Amaka, who turned two this month. They have been dancing and choreographing together since then and are in Nigeria to establish a company that will take care of some of the deficiencies they have noticed in the entertainment industry.
Chi was a dancer in the UK and US and featured in videos of the late Aaliyah, Lil Kim, Tom Jones, Wyclef and Mel B of the Spice Girls.
He has also played short roles in TV productions like Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Law and Order, Third Watch and the movie Elf with Will Ferrell. On the whole, he has been on the sets of about 13 films. He has spent most of his life overseas.
Steph studied Theatre and Film and taught dance classes before going to the US to further her dance studies. She started dancing when she was four years old and was registered in a ballet school at six by her mother. Then she practiced for around 15 years. She was also interested in different kinds of dance styles.
When she decided to take up dancing as a career, her parents were not really excited. They wanted her to study Medicine, which she did for two years. While at it, she took part in a lot of competitions and won a number of them, leading friends to encourage her to take it up professionally.
She dropped out of Medical School and moved to Vienna, Austria where she made a lot more progress in her career in one year, participating in more competitions, featuring on TV, choreographing for theatre and teaching dance classes. “I just followed my passion,” she says. “I then wanted another challenge, so I went to New York, studied more dance and continued my journey.”
Steph has also created a unique dance style which she calls the “Afro Ballet.” It is a combination of Ballet, Jazz and various African dance styles.
PLANS FOR NIGERIA
They are in Nigeria primarily to establish an entertainment company. The first business proposal we got was from Obi Asika, the CEO of Storm 360, who is our very good friend. “We are partnering with him on a dance reality show, but we can’t really go into much detail about it at the moment,” he says.
Steph plans to help put more choreography into music videos by working with artists on their shows, tours and stage appearance. “We are just going to take it to the next level and establish more professionalism in the industry. We are going to add more quality to what is presently available in both the music and movies of Nigeria.”
To do this, they have formed a company SoChi Dreams Extratainment, a coinage of ‘Soul’ from Steph and ‘Chi’, and the dreams they have for the industry. “We are trying to form a new type of entertainment company where we get to every type of artist from all parts of the globe especially now that it is very hot in Nigeria,” Chi explains. “We intend to connect these artists together and use the Nigerian factor to put it out. It’s not a Nigerian, American, UK or European thing, but it’s going to be international.”
They have a very unique arrangement; Steph takes care of the Nigerian end of the business while Chi is in charge of the German end. “I prefer to be here,” Steph says, while Chi adds: “Believe me, it is better that way. Steph is very passionate about choreography and creative directing in music videos, we feel it is better she mans that here while I take care of films, magazines and other things we are running in Germany.”
How interesting is marriage to a fellow dancer?
Chi: It has been very convenient. I couldn’t be with anybody that is not in the same business with me; it wouldn’t work. The relationship worked because of our personalities and because we love doing the same thing.
Steph: It actually made me fall more in love because we share the same passion. If you have a passion for something and somebody that is close to you shares it, it actually makes the love grow. And it is always something that keeps us together because we work a lot together.
Any particular artists you would like to work with?
Chi: We would like to work with everyone of them. We worked on ‘Maga No Need Pay,’ Steph choreographed the whole thing. We wrote the whole concept and Steph was creative director. That is how we started 2010 and by the end of the year we want to have worked with most of the people in the music industry and Nollywood.
Did you do a background study before coming home?
Chi: Yes, we did. Nigeria is the next big thing in entertainment. We have the music, we have found a winning formula and if we put as much effort into our videos and choreography like our songs, in the next five years, this place is going to blow. America is asleep right now; they are just repeating all they have done before.
Steph: I fell in love with Nigerian music that I hardly listen to anything else. I see a lot of potential; the music is very powerful, but when it comes to stage performance and management, there is so much more you can do. The culture is so rich, there are beautiful fabrics that could be incorporated into the costumes and there are various dance styles that can all be part of it.
Have you seen these artists perform?
Chi: We’ve been to a couple of shows and have studied a lot of tapes from different artists. They need choreographers and stage directors who would pay attention to every part of their performances. If you have a proper package of stage performance and music videos, you can blow outside of Nigeria easily. We coordinate the whole of an artist’s performance. We will give every artist an edge and help them project their acts. We would help them practice. Perfect practice makes perfect execution. We can guarantee that in the next five years, we can make Nigerian music one of the biggest on the globe.
How does Nigeria compare with Germany?
Steph: There is a lot of life outside, a lot of interaction between people; Nigerians are very passionate about life; they are very emotional people; very spicy. They just love life and that’s what I love about Nigerians. In Germany, people are generally laid back and inhibited.