Black Couple Thrilled Guest With ‘Royal Wedding Of Zamunda”

The colourful wedding of the Black couple, Shanterelle P. Lewis and Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson was a combination of Africa and New Orleanian culture.

Last month the streets of New Orleans came alive for a wedding that can only be described as something taken from the page of a Black love story, according to The Root. When a wedding is dubbed the “Royal Wedding of Zamunda,” with an obvious reference to Coming to America, you know it’s not going to be anything less than spectacular. And “spectacular” is pretty much an understatement when it comes to the Black couple, Shantrelle P. Lewis and Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson’s wedding.

The wedding combined Lawson’s Nigerian culture and Lewis’ New Orleanian culture, and the end result can only be described as black wedding magic. And of course it went viral. Photos and images from the wedding flooded Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #JollofAndJambalaya, which signified parts of their culture.

But how exactly did they pull off the wedding of a lifetime? With lots of planning and love for their cultures and each other.

Although the Black couple were both freshmen at Howard University in 1996, their paths didn’t cross until 17 years later, thanks to a Facebook post. At the time, Lewis, who created the Dandy Lion Project, was tagged in a Facebook post that Lawson came across.

Tony sent me a message on Facebook in response to a post that a mutual Nigerian friend and fellow Howard alum tagged me in on Facebook regarding my Dandy Lion Project. The post popped up in Tony’s newsfeed and he sent me a private message,” Lewis told The Root.

Normally I ignore random inbox messages, but something told me to respond,” she continued. “I did some quick background checks and discovered that he was one of my classmates at Howard, a British Nigerian and a pretty cool guy. After going back and forth for a couple of weeks via messages, we Skyped for the first time while I was in Montreal for a conference. The next weekend, which was Halloween, he invited me to come spend a few days with him in D.C./Maryland. The rest is kind of black history.”

When images started popping up on my own personal social media feeds of Lawson and Lewis’ wedding, I had to get the story on how they pulled it off. From the custom dresses and suits to even the intricately choreographed video production, this wasn’t a fly-by-night type of deal. A lot went into their wedding, and it showed.

Lewis sat down with The Root to discuss the ins and outs, and hopefully their wedding can be a living Pinterest board for others.

The RootHow did you come up with the theme for the wedding?

Shantrelle P. Lewis: Tony pretty much tasked me with creating the theme for the wedding. Initially he wanted something much smaller (he’s since acknowledged that he’s happy that we didn’t get married more quietly). Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve had grandiose dreams of what my wedding would be like. There were certain aspects that I knew I wanted: The wedding had to be in New Orleans, we had to [have a] second line, more traditional New Orleanian ideas.

However, once I took into account that I was marrying a Yoruba man from Nigeria and had to consider his culture as well, along with my Lucumi customs and New Orleanian traditions, the “Royal Wedding of Zamunda” seemed like the perfect blend. We were able to incorporate the multifaceted aspects of our personalities, individually and as a couple. So we were able to throw an affair that was royal and Afro-opulent without being a literal translation of Coming to America. 

TR: What went into actually planning it, the outfits, just about everything?

SPL: What did not go into the planning? Oddly enough, I didn’t spend as much time “planning” the wedding, at least not as much as the average bride. This past year was an extremely busy year for me. I’m a curator by trade and had two major exhibitions open this year—one in San Francisco and another at the Brighton Photo Biennial. Additionally, I was working on my forthcoming book, to be released by Aperture next spring.

If that weren’t enough, I work full time as a chief dream director for the Future Project, and I was completing my yearlong initiation into Lucumi priesthood. So to say that my schedule was full is to understate. Luckily enough, when it comes to aesthetics, I typically have a discerning eye, and I tend to know generally, if not specifically, what I want.

I think, postelection and in lieu of the current sociopolitical madness we’ve been dealing with internationally, people needed a double dose of something magical and powerful. I have friends abroad who have even used the video in recent presentations at museum conversations to discuss the power of African-centered black aesthetics. That’s wild!

The wedding celebration of this Black couple was really a sight to behold. It was a colourful display of both African and American culture fused together.

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