Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

Real Weddings: Tolu and Francis

Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

As told to Andrea Yu| Photography by Infinity Films and Rose Gold Productions
| July 24, 2023

Francis Atta, a social worker and therapist, first connected with Tolulope (Tolu) Ojo-Atta, an equity, diversity and inclusion specialist and model, through Instagram in 2013. After sliding into each other’s DMs, the two dated long-distance, with Francis in Toronto and Tolu in Brantford and Hamilton. The couple got engaged in June of 2019. After a few Covid delays, they were married in July of 2022, in two ceremonies that blended their Ghanaian and Nigerian roots. Here’s how the celebrations come together.

Tolu: I downloaded Instagram in January of 2013. I was pretty late to social media, and I didn’t really know the “rules.” Apparently, if you’re liking a bunch of someone’s photos, it means you’re trying to send them a message—which is what I did when I stumbled across Francis’s profile. I was intrigued by the work he was doing in his community. I also thought he was attractive, and I liked that he was athletic. 

Francis: At the time, I was a motivational speaker and ran workshops for JVS Toronto, an employment and job search organization. Tolu liked a photo of me winning a “community hero” award from the Toronto Mirror along with a photo of me playing basketball. I was like, Who is this? I went to her page and I saw that she was beautiful. I liked all five or so of her photos. You couldn’t send DMs through the app then, so I commented on one of her photos, saying, “Hey, how are you doing?”

Tolu: I responded, but I didn’t know I had to tag Francis for him to see the message. 

Francis: I thought she wasn’t replying, so I figured I should try something else. I found Tolu on Twitter and followed her. She followed me back, and then we could DM each other. We exchanged numbers and spoke on the phone a few times. I learned where she was from, where she grew up and about her education.

Tolu: I was at Laurier in a contemporary studies program with minors in criminology and human rights and diversity. Francis and I connected over the fact that we had both immigrated from West Africa to Toronto. I was born in Nigeria and moved to Toronto when I was nine; Francis is from Ghana and moved when he was five. We found out that we grew up in the same neighbourhood near Jane and Wilson. We had even lived on the same street.

Francis: I was working and living in Toronto, but I was excited to meet up with Tolu in person. So we made plans in late January to have dinner in Brantford. On the day of our first date, a huge snowstorm came through Toronto. I didn’t want to let Tolu down, so I still went—the one-hour drive ended up taking three hours.

Tolu: I was concerned about the storm and didn’t want him to come, but the fact that he was so determined to see me made me feel good and excited to meet him. Because of the storm, we just got takeout from a nearby Boston Pizza and hung out in the common room of my dorm building.

Francis: We talked about everything: family, school, work and our goals. I come from a big family—including step- and half-siblings, I have 14 brothers and sisters. Growing up, our house was always a lot of fun. My family is a huge part of my life.

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Tolu: My family is smaller—I’m the oldest of three siblings. We’re all close. At the time, I was really focused on school and getting my degree. Francis told me he was interested in going back to school to become a social worker, which I admired. After that date, we started a long-distance relationship. I’d take the bus to see him, and he’d drive to visit me. We’d go to the movies or to Blue Jays games, which I hadn’t been to before. I also introduced Francis to sushi. 

Francis: She had to teach me how to hold chopsticks, but now I’m a professional. 

Tolu: We stayed long-distance for most of our relationship. After I graduated, I worked in Brantford, and then in 2018, I got a job in Hamilton working as a human rights specialist for the equity and inclusion office at McMaster. 

Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

Francis: A year after Tolu moved to Hamilton and six years after we started dating, in the summer of 2019, I was certain that Tolu was the one for me. She’s kind and generous, the type of person who asks strangers how they’re doing. We always had amazing conversations about our upbringings and goals. She has a great relationship with her family, which was important to me.

Tolu: We’d been together for a while and had talked about getting married. Francis is sweet, thoughtful and committed. He shows his love through food. One time, when he was studying to be a social worker and living in student housing, Francis surprised me by scattering rose petals from the elevator to his room, where he’d cooked a salmon-and-rice dinner.

Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

Francis: I wanted to come up with a creative way to propose to Tolu. I talked to her sister and her best friend, who helped me choose a ring—a pear-shaped diamond with 24 smaller diamonds on the band—and planned a surprise proposal. Tolu models on the side, so I decided to stage a fake photoshoot. I contacted her modelling agency and asked them for help. Her agent put together a fake call sheet and told Tolu that she was booked for a bridal shoot and would have to get her hair and makeup done.

Tolu: I thought it was legitimate because my agent was in on it too. She sent me the call sheet with the details of where I needed to be. 

Francis: I hired an actor to play the groom model, and we booked the rooftop of Lavelle for the shoot. The photographer and videographer were all in on it. During the shoot, my family and Tolu’s family gathered downstairs at the restaurant. At one point, the photographer had Tolu turn her back to the door so she wouldn’t see us come in. The photographer then gave the cue for Tolu to turn back around, threw petals in the air and caught the moment when she saw me on one knee, asking her to marry me. 

Tolu: I was so surprised—I ugly-cried. Francis is so thoughtful and detail oriented. The fact that he went to the extent of creating something that felt so real made it such a beautiful, memorable moment.

We always knew that we were going to take a year to enjoy our engagement before we started planning our wedding. Then Covid hit. That was a big stressor because we have large families, especially on Francis’s side. We decided to push our wedding back, and everything finally came together in July of 2022. 

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Francis: In our cultures, you’re not officially married unless you have a traditional ceremony, and we knew that we wanted to have one. We had to find a creative way to blend our cultures and incorporate both Ghanaian-Ashanti and Nigerian Yoruba wedding traditions. 

Tolu: We held our cultural celebration with our families at the Terrace Banquet Centre in Concord. A family spokesperson, called an Alaga in Nigeria and an Okeyhma in Ghana, negotiates the marriage on behalf of our families.

Francis: The spokespeople are hired professionals, sort of like officiants. My spokesperson tries to convince Tolu’s family that I’m the best fit for her. Tolu’s spokesperson hypes her up to say what a great person she is, and they also test me to see if I meet the criteria to marry her. 

Tolu: It’s a very lively and very funny process. There’s a lot of banter back and forth. For example, my spokesperson wanted to test Francis’s strength and dancing skills, so she made him pick me up and dance while he was carrying me.

Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

Tolu: We wore blue Yoruba outfits representing my Nigerian culture. Then, for the reception afterward, which was at the same venue, we changed into Ghanaian outfits made with kente fabric. It’s traditional in most African cultures—especially in Yoruba culture—to shower the celebrants with money. It was a fun evening with party vibes. We had about 300 guests, including a lot of our extended family and our parents’ friends.

Francis: We served traditional Ghanaian food, like waakye, a bean-and-rice dish. During my family’s entrance, they did the adowa—a traditional Nigerian dance style that uses the hands and feet—to express their happiness to meet the bride’s family. For our Western wedding, we knew we wanted to do something outdoors, then move inside for the reception. We pictured something light and airy, and the Globe and Mail Centre was the perfect venue for that. 

Tolu: We’re both very vibrant people, so we chose bright colours for our florals: pink and orange with some purple. On the day, we got ready in separate rooms at One King West. I didn’t feel nervous—I was excited. But we ran into a few hiccups. My custom-made reception dress didn’t arrive in time. Our wedding planner called around and found New Bridal in Vaughan, which made my alterations via FaceTime while I got my makeup done. Then a friend picked up my new dress for me.

Francis: I felt really excited. My groomsmen and I were cracking jokes, and everyone looked super sharp. It was a perfect day; the sun was hitting just right. When I was standing across from Tolu on the terrace during the ceremony, I was so focused on her and what we were about to do. It was like it was just us up there.

Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

Tolu: Francis looked so handsome. After years of knowing each other, it felt amazing to get married. Everyone looked happy and was dressed so beautifully. We had a saxophonist playing during cocktail hour, and then we switched to a DJ for the evening reception.

Francis: Our DJ played a lot of old-school R&B, hip hop and Afrobeats. We danced all night. At 3 a.m., there were still 50 or 60 of us dancing.

Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration
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Tolu: We had such a good time that I forgot my bridal bouquet at the venue.

Francis: It felt incredible to marry the woman of my dreams and for my friends and family to be there celebrating us. Everybody was excited for us, which is a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I catch myself thinking about all of the special little moments from the wedding. I wish I could live that day over and over again. 

Real Weddings: Inside a double-ceremony Ghanaian and Nigerian celebration

Tolu: After the wedding, we moved into a condo together.

Francis: We’re now saving up to buy a home. We went to the Maldives and Dubai for our honeymoon in the fall of 2022, and we’re hoping to do more travelling. It feels amazing to be married. We’re growing together, making our place into a home and looking forward to the future.

Cheat Sheet

Ghanaian (Ashanti) and Nigerian (Yoruba) ceremony

Date: July 15, 2022 Planner: Oruka Events Decor: House of Silny Photography and videography: Infinity Films Location: Terrace Banquet Centre Ghanaian spokesperson (okeyhma): Mr. Appiah-Kubi Nigerian spokesperson (alaga): Mrs. Ola Ojelabi Catering: Made’s Kitchen Cake: Afro Coco Cakes Entertainment: DJ Fresh Tolu’s hair: Arthur Hair Tolu’s makeup: Philippa (msphilly21) Tolu’s headtie (gele): Motola Signature Nigerian outfit (aso oke): Xclusiv Couture Nigerian jewellery: Tavins Beads Tolu’s fan and Francis’s cane: Synach Palace Ghanaian outfit (kente fabric): H.G Kente Kiosk Kente dress: Pistis Ghana

Western ceremony

Date: July 29, 2022 Planner: Grace Arhin Events Florals: Coco by Covers Couture Furniture: Details Furniture Rentals Photography: RoseGold Productions Videography: Infinity Films Getting-ready venue: One King West Hotel Wedding venue: The Globe and Mail Centre Officiant: Pastor David Komolafe MC: Femi Lawson Catering: King Catering Cake: Sweet Selena’s Dessert Saxophonist: Jay Smooth DJ: Revy B Photobooth: Ineffable Views Tolu’s hair: Hair by Estylez Francis’s barber: Cliptomanic Tolu’s makeup: Afia Beauty Tolu’s wedding dress: Elisabeth and Beau Tolu’s reception dress: New Bridal Francis’s outfit: King & Bay Custom and Bespoke Menswear

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