The Blueman PAPI OJO
Up Close and Personal
*This article was first published in Fusion magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
Since Black is King’s release everyone is talking about Beyoncé’s stunning visual album. The dance routines, the symbolism, and the styling. One person who has captured the public’s attention almost as much as ‘Bey’ is Stephen Papi Ojo, “the blue man” who is dancing side by side with Queen B throughout the album. The self-taught dancer from Nigeria talks to us about how he ended up teaching African dance moves to Rhianna, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé. – Maighread Ni Mhaonghail
F. The “Blue Man” is now synonymous with Black is King. People don’t mention one without the other. How does that make you feel?
S. You know it’s a blessing! I didn’t really know what to expect first but since the movie came out, there has just been so much love. I’m really happy to be at the receiving end of that.
F. Can you tell us a little about the man beneath the paint? How did your journey begin?
S.My name is Steven (papi) Ojo. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and I am an artist, singer, dancer, songwriter, and model. I’m the whole package. Now I’m the ‘blue man’ too.
I’ve been dancing for a long time but I started to take it really seriously around late 2014, early 2015. I’ve been dancing with my group, Avio boys. We’ve been training and working really hard for a long time. We post on Instagram and people see it and reach out; I’m just really happy that all the dedication and hard work is paying off and I was able to represent myself, the culture, and my family the way I did on this project.
F. In the film the blue man seems to represent Prince’s conscience, what significance did he have for you personally?
S. I really connected to the role because in my own experience I also have a blue man watching over me and guiding me through the journey of life. You know, I lost my brother in 2016 and ever since then he is like a guardian angel guiding me. So when I was asked to play the part of the prince’s conscience I just connected. I was really happy I was given that role because it reflected my story too.
F. The project was a year in the making, how difficult was it to keep it secret?
S.Well, you know how it is, we’re professional and we signed non-disclosure agreements.
Really though keeping it a secret wasn’t really a big deal for me because I know how it goes on this kind of production. I didn’t really know the time frame of the project from production to release. I just felt that whenever it was released was ok by me. Even if it took three years I would still have been fine keeping quiet. I’m happy that it dropped when it did though you know, because it’s our time.
F. How important was the positive representation of African Culture to you personally in the movie?
S. It was a crucial element. We had a one-time opportunity to get it right, this is not something as an artist you want to get wrong. I didn’t wanna find myself in a position where I would have to deal with backlash from my people back home or people here in America. So, I just pulled up my bootstraps and got to work to properly represent. I’m so glad that God gave me the wisdom and strength to do that and now here we are.
F. When you moved to the US from Lagos in 2008 did you ever imagine you would be dancing with Beyonce? Was that a goal of yours at the beginning?
S. Coming to the United States wasn’t the easiest transition for me. I came here when I was eleven years old and had to go through the whole middle school and high school system. It wasn’t easy you know, the cultural difference and language, and I was bullied a lot in middle school. I guess in the end that just made me a stronger man. I never really thought I would be where I am today. Growing up I wanted to be a professional soccer player or a pilot, I didn’t take dancing that seriously at first. But you know when God has a plan for you! I’m really happy where it has led and I just enjoy it.
F. You have worked with some of the biggest celebrities on the world: Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Teyana Taylor, how did that come about?
Well, mostly through posting content on social media, people seeing us (Avio boys)
cos we love what we do and love the excitement of people seeing us. Most of our opportunities come from people seeing us on Instagram and reaching out.
F. How did it feel dancing with Beyonce during the film & choreographing her moves?
S. It’s a dream come true. You know I didn’t get a chance to see Homecoming when it first came out so when I did finally see it on Netflix, I was just so inspired and moved by the whole project that I said a little prayer that one day I would get the opportunity to work with Beyoncé.
A few months later and that prayer was answered. So, I’m dancing next to her and it’s like a dream come true. Who would have thought that just by praying, putting it out there, and putting good energy into it that good things would happen.
F. How did it feel when you first got the news you would be dancing with Beyonce?
S. I was extremely hyped. I wish I could show you guys a video of my reaction. I was dancing around like a kid in a candy store. I was actually at the gym when I got the call and I just started dancing all over the gym, making little videos. It was a crazy feeling.
F. Did you know your character would play such an important role on the project when you began?
S. You know, I had no idea what the outcome would be. When you arrive on set you never really think about the impact of the project. Mostly you’re focused on doing the job. The final product isn’t really something you think about. You never know if you’ll have one appearance or ten. You’re just there to do a job. I didn’t really think about the magnitude of this project but I’m just really happy I’m here to see the fruit of all the hard work.
F. You’re also a music artist, can you let us know a little about that & your new single Beremole?
S. Music has always been part of who I am, but I was a little insecure about it when I was younger. I have gotten over that now and since last February have begun to focus on it more. It’s been great so far. I’ve been getting a lot of love. I feel like I’m ready to change the world with my music.
F. How do you feel this project has changed your life ?
S. It’s game-changing. This project will be streamed worldwide by people for generations and it’s always gonna be a monumental piece and I’m always gonna be a part of that. So people will always wanna know who the ‘blue man’ is and that’s gonna bring attention on me. I wanna flip the switch a little on that and let people see that I have so much more to offer. I’m ready to take this journey, and I hope and pray that people take this journey with me and be patient with me and see what I have to offer as an artist.
F. What’s next for you?
S. Well I was planning to teach choreography but Corona has put that on hold. I could do online classes but I prefer the personal connection and being around people’s energy.
I am dropping an EP next year and also want to take acting a bit more seriously so I can put myself forward for bigger roles. Hopefully you guys will see me on the big screen!
F. What advice do you have for other young artists out there who may be inspired by your journey ?
S. To all the aspiring artists and creatives out there, I’d say stay true to yourself. In this world there are gonna be a lot of people who will have an opinion and make you doubt yourself. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn. When God says yes, you have to be ready. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. Keep putting out good energy because people feel your energy. Remember, one day it’s gonna be your day!