The Storytellers: Yemi Oyediran

Filmmaker Yemi Oyediran holds on to his headset with his right hand while standing in front of a microphone, recording music for Queen City Kings

By Taylor Starek

Secret American lives.  

That’s what Yemi Oyediran calls the often-overlooked experiences of racial and cultural minorities. And those stories matter.  

So Oyediran, the child of immigrants from Nigeria, co-founded a company to tell them.

Oyediran—alongside friend and business partner JP Leong, who is Chinese American—runs AfroChine, a production company that not only partners with Cincinnati arts organizations on multimedia projects and events, but creates its own meaningful works of art as well. 

“We are more apt to look beyond the surface and really look deeper and expose deeper experiences of our community,” Oyediran said. “That’s really what we do and what we’re passionate about.” 

A true Renaissance man, Oyediran, 41, actually has many passions, and he pursues them all with unabashed enthusiasm.  

For example, his day job as a software developer with the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health led him to pursue his PhD in computer science. As he works toward his degree, he’s also teaching as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Cincinnati and at Xavier University. He’s an accomplished jazz musician, too, playing with many bands and configurations around the Queen City.  

Oyediran combined many of his loves to create the documentary “Queen City Kings,” an AfroChine project funded, in part, by an Ohio Humanities grant.   

The film explores the legacy of King Records, a Cincinnati-based label founded in 1943 by Syd Nathan. It’s known for launching the career of legendary artist James Brown. It also blended country, bluegrass and R&B—an amalgamation that many say led to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. And it was among the first companies with an integrated staff. 

It’s an archetype, Oyediran argues, for how to celebrate people’s differences. 

“We believe if we look at the model of King Records,” he said, “it gives us a model for understanding how to address racial issues, both in the Cincinnati area and nationwide, by being able to say, ‘Look, there are differences. How do we now benefit from these cultural differences?’”

Yemi Oyediran

An early version of the documentary was shown to a small audience in Cincinnati in 2018. AfroChine has been polishing a final version for wider distribution, and PBS plans to distribute it nationally. 

But the question of how to celebrate the region’s cultural nuances is one Oyediran is committed to asking long after the completion of “Queen City Kings.” And AfroChine is the vehicle for that quest.  

The company also helps to produce Urban Consulate, a series of conversations around racial disparities, how to address them and, ultimately, how to build more equitable communities. It’s also working with various arts organizations and Asian American and Pacific Islander groups to help celebrate the stories of Asian Americans around the city.  

These projects are a perfect fusion, Oyediran said, of their interests and their talents, and that’s what keeps them going. 

“AfroChine gets to be the expression of our emotions, of our passions,” he said. “Our motivation is our passion.”

Taylor Starek is a Senior Storytelling Strategist at Kristy Eckert Communications.