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

Devastation hit in 2016 when one of the core group members, Emmanuel, drowned in a pool saving the life of his younger brother. Emmanuel was 22-years-old. “I remember the ride back from the hospital that he had gotten flown out to,” said Bonney. People were praying heavily for a miracle because doctors were saying there was no more hope for Emmanuel.

“I texted the A.V.O chat like, ‘Yo, it’s really not going to be the three of us anymore?” remembers Bonney. “I remember typing that and just tears falling down the screen. It took a lot of prayers for Stephen and I had to pray for myself as well.” This tragic incident brought the African community from different religious backgrounds together as a family to pray and embrace each other. “Muslims and Christians were praying together in one accord. That’s how much of a thing Emmanuel’s death was back in 2016.”

“When my brother passed, we stopped dancing. I stopped dancing, Caleb stopped dancing and A.V.O was at a point of being dissolved because we just lost a core member of the group and it just wasn’t the same where rehearsals were just the two of us,” said Ojo. “When we first started getting back into dancing we were still in that mindset of us being three. That when we started creating, we were still creating ideas, moves and concepts for three people and then we’d have a reality check that it’s not three anymore, it’s two now.”

Late 2017 is when A.V.O started picking dance back up again and teaching classes sporadically. “Sedo would want us to keep dancing because he loved dancing,” states Ojo. “We have to keep the mission going, we have a purpose we want to fulfill.”

Right after coming back into the dancing scene and teaching classes sporadically, the guys booked their first big show, performing alongside Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller at the 60th Grammy Awards in 2018. “Right after that performance was over, my phone was like a hot potato,” laughs Bonney. “Notification here, notification there. Earlier that night before we performed live and dropped the news, everyone was like woah because like, this has never been heard of on such a mainstream scale like that in the community.” The big talk during the “Wild Thoughts” performance was Rihanna doing the Gwara Gwara, a popular South African dance taught to her by Ojo and Bonney during rehearsals. “We got to showcase Afro vibes with Rihanna on a stage like that.”

In addition to dancing, the A.V.O Boyz are no strangers to other creative outlets. Recently just releasing his new song, “Beremole,” Ojo reflects on his love for music. “I always wanted to do music but was always insecure about it.” he said. He is also taking his acting more seriously and starred in a short film called “Privilege.” Bonney also refuses to be boxed in as just a dancer. “I’m a creative and always have things bouncing through my head. You’ll definitely see me venturing into other things. Dance, fashion, entertainment. I’m a creative first so just be on the lookout.”

Bonnet and Ojo both promise that this is not the last that you would hear of them. They want to be remembered as authentic young men who are continuing to leave a positive impact on the world. “You can come into this world and just live but I don’t believe that’s God’s ideal will for anyone,” states Bonney. It’s important to them to not just build a legacy for their family, but also other creatives, in New York, Brooklyn and Africa as a whole. Bonney continues, “There’s more to be done, more that will be done and no one should ever get comfortable with where they are. “We’re going to shake the room as Pop would say.”