A Nigerian Wedding in Newport, Rhode Island
When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Taiwo Odusanya, a consultant focusing on life sciences, was born in Nigeria before settling in Boston, where she met Devin Keefe, an emergency physician from New Hampshire. Though they married in New England’s favorite wedding town, Newport, Rhode Island, the September 2018 celebration was full of Nigerian culture — including the aso ebi “family cloths” they wore for the reception, the Yoruba band member who guided their playlist, and the “money spray” at the end. The after-party went until 5:00 a.m.
Devin: When we met it was my first or second year of medical school at Boston University and there was a formal. One of my friends came running up the stairs with something really important to tell me: “I just saw that girl in that dress take a flask out of her purse and spike her own drink. You need to go talk to her.”
Taiwo: I was a poor grad student, getting my master’s in public health. I was like, “I’m not paying $13 for a frigging cocktail.”
Devin: After five years together, we knew we wanted to get married. And we knew we wanted a wedding that was loud. Like Taiwo: She’s so loud, so full of life. She has this laugh.
Taiwo: We thought about a venue called Castle Hill in Newport, Rhode Island — because oh my God, it is beautiful — but there was a noise restriction. I am Nigerian; I was born there before coming to the States and first living in Charlottesville, Virginia, at age 10. There was no way my family was abiding by that. We’d end up with 50 Africans in jail in Rhode Island for being too loud.
Devin: But we still wanted to go with Newport, Rhode Island, as the destination because I grew up in New England, in New Hampshire, and Newport seemed like a good in-between town for friends coming from Boston, New York, Virginia. It’s known to be a wedding town, so it was easier to get all the wedding coordination done, pulling together services. It’s kind of set up for that.
Taiwo: Then we found the Belle Mer, which had no sound restrictions because it owns the part of the island it’s on. The walls were all sliding doors, so we could do an outdoor ceremony, outdoor cocktails, opening to an indoor reception (it cost $60,000, including the open bar and food). It was gorgeous. And it was a place where I felt like I would be able to incorporate my traditions — at the very least the dancing, food, music, attire. I needed my African stuff to be well-represented. I was also nervous because a lot of my cousins and family friends were visiting from Nigeria, and for some it was their first time in the States. I wanted to make sure they had a really good time.
Devin: I was brought up in an Irish Catholic family and we didn’t really have anything linking my heritage to the wedding. I think she’s just more tied to her heritage than I am. I’m extremely close to my family, though, so although the traditions were more Nigerian, my family was well-represented. The venue was the perfect place for all these people, about 160 guests, to mingle and flow freely — a big hall for everyone to celebrate.
Taiwo: My dress, ugh, I loved my dress. It was the Alexandra dress by Monique Lhullier, a sweetheart neckline with a corset bodice and a sculpted skirt [$8,000]. It had a little architecture to it. The bodice was see-through, so I ended up wearing a skin-tone corset underneath for my Catholic mother. During the reception, I changed — in Nigerian culture, you wear an aso ebi, the “family cloth.” You get a special fabric that represents you, your family, and the friends that are close to you. I chose that color blue because I just really liked it, and it looks good on different skin tones, and ordered mine from Bibi Lawrence for $200. The color itself isn’t really important. The importance is just the people you choose to wear the fabric, to celebrate with you. Usually, there are different fabrics for different groups, like a groom’s family might be yellow and blue while the bride’s family might wear pink and gold. Devin and I decided to wear the same color fabric.
Devin: For the ceremony I wore a navy Bonobos tux with a shawl lapel with two-toned Ferragamo slippers, then changed into an aso ebi that was like a crewneck top over some pants with a big kind of shawl [Elegance African Fashions]. Aside from our groomsmen and bridesmaids, six or seven of each of our friends outside our wedding party wore Nigerian garments, too. Dating Taiwo, I’ve learned the basics of Yoruba, and learned when to genuflect, how to show respect to elders, that kind of thing. I’ve learned through visiting her parents, hearing the little sayings that I can tell she gets from her mom. Everything she cooks is about eight levels higher in Scoville units than I would ever prepare for myself. I’ve had to develop an iron stomach and now I take Nexium every day but I’m in love with her so it’s worth it.
Taiwo: We got ready at Gurney’s Resort, where we were staying for the weekend, and did our first look there.
Devin: She tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and yeah, I think I almost passed out. I was glad I got to see her because we got some initial tears and “Oh my Gods” out of the way. It didn’t really help, because when it went down we were both pretty emotional. Bradley, one of my best friends from undergrad, officiated the wedding. He’s just very charismatic, very well-spoken. At first it was very solemn, very appropriate. The gravity of the vows —
Taiwo: We both wrote our own vows. I cried during mine, which is surprising. I am not the emotional one! But I guess I am. It took literally three times longer than expected.
Devin: It took her about 20 minutes to get through her first sentence. Then the ceremony kind of turned into a full-blown roast of me and my antics in college. Tastefully so. Same thing with Taiwo, just a little. Taiwo has some characteristics that are unique to her, these little -isms. She’ll have a list of something and say, “First of all … and then B.” Or “A … and second of all.”
Taiwo: After the ceremony, we had a cocktail hour while Devin and I were taking pictures [Kachi Eke Studios, $3,200]. There was a raw bar, lobster rolls, fish and chips. Risotto balls and mac and cheese. We were taking our pictures in the same area so I was able to do pictures run over, get food, or run over, talk to girlfriends, come back and take pictures. It was good but looking back, I wish I had more cocktail time, to be honest.
Devin: The venue was able to do some Nigerian dishes; otherwise we kept it pretty coastal and seafood-centered. For the reception, we didn’t do formal plating. We had the food arranged in stations around the periphery, and didn’t have seat assignments, so you could just go and get whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. It wasn’t that awkward, “everybody’s waiting to get served” type thing, which was nice. People were still talking and dancing.
Taiwo: It was so much food. A salad station, a pasta station, steak, a pescatarian station with cod tacos. A vegetable area. We had a sweetheart table, and everyone was seated around us like a horseshoe. For flowers, I worked with Flowerthyme [$4,800]. My theme was just “wild.” I am not a very manicured person. I like really crazy bouquets in peak color. We did a cascading bouquet, with dahlias, pepperberry, eucalyptus, a mix of wild greenery and wild flowers. She used an extra piece of fabric from my wedding dress as a tie around the bouquet.
Devin: We got a band called the Sugarbabies, who did a lot of funk, classic R&B, hip-hop. They played a lot of Nigerian music, too, and played it when we first came down after changing into our Nigerian garments. They were phenomenal — so much so that one of my friends actually hired them for his wedding nine months later.
Taiwo: I met with the band lead a couple of times so they could get a vibe of what we liked, what we didn’t like. I was like, If I hear a Bruno Mars song, or that “Happy” song, I will die. Nothing cheesy, just fun songs. I did want all the line dances because I love them. I wanted the Cha Cha Slide, I wanted the Cupid Shuffle, the Electric Slide. Our first dance was to Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2U.” It is not appropriate for a first dance for sure, as the meaning is kind of shitty, but I didn’t care because it is literally my favorite karaoke song. About two hours in, we changed into our traditional wear and were announced again, and that’s when the money spray happened.
Devin: It was just kind of everybody just jumping up and down and people throwing money at us, which was a new experience for me, at least. It was fun!
Taiwo: Everyone around you sprays money as the bride and groom are dancing, as a show of prosperity. You choose a song to dance to, and we chose a Nigerian song by Davido. It had to be done by a DJ, so we had to make sure the band was able to factor that in. I was very adamant that the band be diverse, not an all-white band. One of the bandmates was Yoruba, which is my tribe, so he was able to help me with the playlist for our traditional music aspect. I definitely selected the band partly for that reason.
Devin: Everyone was on the dance floor all night, and they let us extend for an extra hour. My stipulation was that we had to have live music, but Taiwo’s was that she was not getting married unless there was a cotton candy machine present.
Taiwo: He was like, are you serious? But I love cotton candy. It’s surprisingly really hard to find a cotton candy person that’ll do a wedding. And I wanted fancy colors, I wanted Pop Rocks, I wanted gold sprinkles. We had a cake-cutting moment — a dulce de leche cake with vanilla caramel frosting from Ellie’s Bakery — that no one saw. Maybe 20 people. We did it off to the side because everyone was having fun doing God knows what and we didn’t want to stop the party.
Devin: Then late night we had tacos, burgers …
Taiwo: Mini hotdogs, chicken and waffles, meatballs, and things like that. There was an after-party at our hotel. We had these friends and family traveling from Nigeria, from California, from South America and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t like, it’s 10 p.m, you gotta go. We’d told the hotel that we were going to have people over, so they put us at the very end of a wing — with sandwich platters and Champagne that lasted until 5 a.m. — so we could be as loud as we wanted.