A.V.O Boyz: The journey before ‘Black is King’

FAITH OSUNDE | 9/3/2020, midnight
In the late summer of 2014 after their first gig, Stephen “Papi” Ojo, his older brother Emmanuel also known as ...
Stephen “Papi” Ojo (left) and Caleb Bonney Contributed

In the late summer of 2014 after their first gig, Stephen “Papi” Ojo, his older brother Emmanuel also known as Sedo, and their best friend Caleb Bonney were brainstorming on their train ride back home, wondering what to call their newly found dance group. It was only after multiple failed attempts of looking at ads in the train cars and silly word combinations that they settled on A.V.O (Africa’s Very Own) Boyz.

Beyoncé’s “Black is King,” a musical film and visual album based on the 2019 album “The Lion King: The Gift,” helped to further introduce the Afrobeats dance group to an audience that was unfamiliar with their already growing reputation in the industry. Their involvement in “Black is King” started with a mysterious call for Ojo while he was in the gym and a random follow on Instagram from renowned choreographer Jaquel Knight for Bonney. Knight’s team reached out to Bonney through email asking if he was available on certain dates for a big project whose details cannot be fully disclosed yet. “Then I get a call from Stephen, ‘Yo Caleb! I think we’re about to work for Beyoncé!” Bonney recalls. On the phone they were able to put two and two together about who they’d possibly be working with. “They were like ‘Can you be at the airport this very evening?’ and we were thinking, it’s all going so fast! Like, can we do laundry?” Bonney laughs as he explained they left the next day for Los Angeles.

Playing the role known as “The Blue Man” in Beyoncé’s “Already” which features Ghanaian singer-songwriter Shatta Wale, Ojo represented an African prince’s subconscious to lead him back to his rightful throne. Before any dance routine was made, the guys told Knight about choreography they made to the song a few days ago for a class they were teaching. After showing him the class footage, they taught it to him and tweaked some moves for easier understanding. After teaching Beyoncé the dance, they also taught her Nigerian dances such as the Gbese, Poco, Kpakujemu, C’est Moi dance (Ivory Coast), The Network (Ghana) and more from different parts of Africa, even including elements of dancehall.

From working with artists such as Beyoncé, Teyana Taylor, Janet Jackson, Rihanna and more, Africa’s Very Own Boyz continually make the community proud. However, their humble beginnings and the tragic loss that took place before the mainstream breakthroughs are what truly catapulted them to new heights.

Nigerian born brothers Stephen and Emmanuel moved to Brooklyn in 2008 with their family. They stayed in East New York where things were rough at the time. “We went from the airport straight to Flatbush and we were like, whoa…” says Ojo. After attending a church in the neighborhood for some time, that’s where they met Bonney, who is of Ghanaian descent. “Less than a year after forming A.V.O Boyz, we booked a music video gig with Afrobeats star Banky W.,” says Bonney. The group’s buzz within the African community continued to grow as they became acquainted with Nigerian American disc jockey DJ Tunez, working with Banky W., going to the Nigerian Day Parades and parties trying to get their name out there.