There are innumerable definitions of what the measure of a modern man is; each one has a brush wielded by subjective hand seeking to land a mark on an already soaked canvas of pop-opinion. However, there are men who don’t wait for society to paint a picture of who they should be. These are men who painstakingly carve themselves into the likeness of their own visions of themselves. Among these men, stands Kojo Baffoe, writes Vusi Ngxande.
The outermost layer of a cigar, which is called a capa in Spanish, is what gives the cigar its visual character and sets it apart. Meeting Kojo Baffoe, you’re aware of the man’s effort to style and detail his appearance. The well-groomed beard, vogue spectacles, skull ring and meticulous tattoos that adorn his arms make him look like a character from a cross between Fight Club and Love Jones.
A venerable polymath who has evaded any singular title – of which he holds a few but there’s one thing that this man is known for and that is being Kojo Baffoe. One of his favourite pastimes is smoking cigars. The process of creating one of these tightly-rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco leaves is very similar to how Baffoe has crafted his own life.
Baffoe’s new-found interest in motorbiking is a clear indication that the 40-year-old has no intentions of easing off life’s accelerator. While most people see this as an outlet for adrenaline junkies, he views it as a simpler affair; “There’s nothing like being able to randomly take a ride to get pancakes, on a Sunday morning, just for the heck of it,” he said with a coy grin.
Baffoe was born to a Ghanaian father and German mother in Munich, Germany. At 14 months, his mother passed away in a car accident in Uganda. While still a toddler, his father moved the family to Lesotho, which is where he spent his formative years. The second of 5 siblings, in a family with 3 different nationalities, Baffoe’s background and traveling throughout the continent is the result of an individual with a broad sense of understanding and belonging. His father, an academic and entrepreneur who instilled a love for literature and a sense of business in his son, had a strong impact in his life. He is also the person who encouraged Baffoe to begin writing. Which he did, on a typewriter. His writing during his teen years spoke of a morbid path.
Beneath a cigar’s capa, is the Capote – a binder that holds the cigar together. Underneath a well-articulated image of being a writer, being a storyteller seems to be what holds Baffoe’s vision of himself together. It was this love for storytelling that saw him climb on stages as a poet and even touring the UK. It is the same love that positioned him in various publication in South Africa as a columnist.
After being harvested, tobacco leaves have to go through a process of fermentation, in small wooden sheds – this is to prevent decay and disintegration. This is done to bring out the leaves’ distinct character. At some point amid the throws of hormonal teen angst and Joburg’s rave scene, the man found himself in a place where his disintegration needed to be controlled; rehab – through the church of Scientology. Baffoe does not shy away from his period of drug use and rehabilitation that followed with a frankness of a man who has embraced the inevitable necessity of duality and making friends with one’s demons.
“My whole life I was an introverted and shy kid. ‘You interact with people, make people feel comfortable. Walk into a room a say hi’ are just some of the things I’d hear against my personality. I’m a walk-into-a-room-and-find-a-corner type of person. However, when I was using ecstasy, I would be that ‘hey man, how are doing? What is going on in your life?’ guy. I stopped being shy” explained Baffoe.
“The thing about it is that I was what the world said I should be. The first thing I did during rehab was accepting me for who I am. I learned to accept that I’m an introvert and I interact with the world in a particular way. I don’t need to be the life of the party. I don’t need to be the person who puts everyone at ease. I’ve learned how to find my space and my comfort zone within doing things like that.”
The bulk of a cigar is called the “filler” — a bound bunch of tobacco leaves. There are 3 distinct variations of leaves in each bunch but to the uninitiated, these are just the same thing. When Baffoe speaks about his career, it’s an evident distinction between the astute businessman, the observant creative and the lover of life’s experiences. “When I was 15yrs old, my father sat me down and asked me, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’ and I replied, ‘I want to do what you do’. My father was into economics, political science, sociology and lecturing before he quit everything to start his management consultancy. At 14 or 15 years old, I started working there, fetching posts and helping with research. That’s how we planned my BComm degree.” Said Baffoe.
Baffoe went on to start a number of businesses and work in industries that spanned IT, printing and eventually television production and publications. But there was also the business of being Kojo Baffoe. However, he dislikes the concept of a person is a brand. “I am a human being, being human,” he exclaimed. Baffoe has constructed his online presence into an immersive and authentic experience of lifestyle, business insights, product placement, and creative writing all curated in a personal tone.
It 2010 he was appointed the editor for Destiny Man magazine, a position for which he is known for. “At the time, I nearly moved back to Lesotho. Things were bad in my personal life. Then the opportunity to work at Destiny Man came and I applied,” he said. During his 4 years at the helm of the publication, Destiny Man went from being an alternate-monthly, business-oriented title to a monthly men’s business and lifestyle icon. This came at a great price to his personal life as the constant traveling and long working hours took a toll on him and his family life, as he says, “I was living a parallel life to my family. I’m never home and when I’m home, I’m working.” Nonetheless, his departure from the publication was also part of his own predetermined plan to “give myself 4 to 5 years”.
At the very centre of a well-crafted cigar is the ligero leaf. This is the most potent of the leaves and is placed in the middle because it burns slower. At the core of Baffoe’s presence in the world, hidden from public scrutiny yet giving a burning sense of purpose, is his role as a father and a husband. “My passion is the lifestyle that I am building for myself and my family,” he said. The strong impact of his father’s presence in his life is self-evident in how self-assured he is in raising his two children, The Prince, and The Angel, as they’ve come to be known online through the quaint snapshots that he shares. “As a human being, I want to be known as a person with some element of integrity, a professional, focused on contributing and building,” he added.
It is said that the smoke from a cigar is like a song. When you sit back and take in Kojo Baffoe’s multi-layered life, it may not come across as a grandiose Beethoven-esque overture, but something more pragmatic. Like a jam session held together by a Questlove type of kick drum. At the core of any song, is the vision a man has of himself and the world he lives in. While he is showing no signs of slowing down, we can rest assured that we will be catching a whiff of the enigmatic, intriguing and enlightening song of Baffoe’s son for some time to come.
Writer: Vus Ngxande Photographer: Judd van Rensburg Stylist: Mpumi Sinxoto Creative Director: George Gladwin Matsheke