We were lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel to Colombia for the second time to shoot a wedding! The first time was for Diana and Koko’s wedding a few years ago and this time we were asked to shoot Diana’s sister Alison’s wedding. Alison and Tolu are one of those couples who are just so clearly in love with each other. You can’t help but smile when you’re with them and it doesn’t help that Tolu has probably the best smile we’ve ever seen. It’s definitely infectious! Not only are they one of the sweetest couples we’ve worked with but their wedding reception was hands down one of the most fun we’ve ever shot! Their wedding was also filled with tradition and customs from both of their families. Read below to hear more about all of the fun from Alison herself!
Destination Wedding Photography: Alison & Tolu (in Colombia!)
From the Bride:
“So in order to understand this wedding a little bit of background is probably necessary. My mom is from Colombia (her family lives in Medellin), my dad was from the U.S. and we grew up all over the world. In 2004 I joined the Peace Corps and lived in the Republic of Benin in West Africa for a little more than two years. After that I went to the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University in New York to get a Masters degree in International Affairs. Tolu is from Lagos, Nigeria. He moved to the U.S. about eight years ago where he went to the University of Florida where he got a Masters degree in Communications. All this background is necessary to understand the inspiration and different customs for this wedding that had people from over 20 different countries in attendance (USA, Colombia, Nigeria, Bulgaria, Poland, Turkey, France, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, England, Iran, Spain, Ecuador, Venezuela, etc.).
“In just trying to please our families alone we had to take into account three different cultures, so at the end of the day we decided we wanted something simple, elegant and above all fun. As I said to anyone that would listen. I want a “big ass” (that must be the Texan in me) party with all the people we love, and if there happens to be a half hour ritual beforehand that would be great. For us it was all about being with the people who were making such a big trip to share our special day with us, and to make sure we all ate well, had plenty to drink and no one EVER left the dance floor. And after all was said and done, we got our wish. For Tolu and I, it was the BEST party we have ever been to. It also means we eschewed a lot of the traditions – there was no cake, no garter toss, etc. – because we didn’t want any pomp and circumstance, just fun.
“In terms of the look and overall feel, I think we posed an interesting challenge to our wedding planner. When she asked us what we wanted this is what we said: Tolu likes a clean post-modern look, I’m classic and a little bit hippy, we want to leave as small an environmental footprint as possible, and I also wanted to highlight Colombian industry as much as possible (flowers, fresh fruit, etc.), and Tolu hates candles. Now go! They did an amazing job. They let the beauty of the venue do it’s job and just shine through. It’s a cube in the middle of the city wrapped in wood; the mountains and the neighborhoods of Medellin rise up all around it. The inside of the venue was perfect. They hung the entire space with white pixie lights and the only decorations were the center pieces: mounds of in-season colorful fruit typical of Colombia with accents in greenery and orchids (Colombia’s national flower). I think those centerpieces (and the coffee bar) might have been my favorite elements of the wedding.
“The entire day was phenomenal, but three things stand out. First, as I walked up to the church I felt nervous for the first time since all the planning had started. I was late because of a downpour of rain and I got mud on the train of my dress! But as soon as I walked a little ways into the church and saw Tolu’s beautiful smile (the first thing I and everyone else notice about him) an incredible peace and calm washed over me – and my smile matched his. After that the sky could have fallen in and I would not have even noticed. Second, my mother gave an incredibly moving speech. She spoke about how she almost lost me when she was pregnant, about how she and my dad were so happy with me, and how happy and proud he would be. My dad passed away when I was 13, so you can imagine how moving and heartfelt her speech was. The best thing about that speech though, is the race car engines you could hear revving through it periodically. Apparently Juan Pablo Montoya, a Colombian former Formula 1 race car driver, was sponsoring an all-day race around our reception venue! It was great! People kept stepping out to see the action, and I believe I may be one of the few people that can say she got married in the middle of a carts race. When you decide to host your wedding in a developing country you have to be open for any contingency, including unforeseen car races through the middle of the city. And third, we got married the 30th of November. It is traditional in Medellin (and only in that city) that the entire city and all it’s neighborhoods and suburbs celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season at midnight with fireworks. Fortuitously, we had hired a band to play typical Colombian folk music as a midnight surprise for our guests. Once we realized that the fireworks would be happening, the wedding planner had the band stay outside (the venue has a big outdoor plaza) and play while we watched the fireworks and danced. It was incredible!
From the Bride:
“An important Colombian tradition we decided to observe at our wedding involved the first dance. Tolu and I began the dance (a Nigerian ballad), then my mom and his dad cut in. After that his mom came on the dance floor with my Godfather and our two sisters danced together as well. As the song died down the DJ played a typical Colombian cumbia (a traditional Colombian music/dance) and so all of us on the dance floor then formed a group and danced together. From there we invited our extended families and then our friends to join us, so by the end of the song everyone was on the dance floor. As my friend from France put it: it just shows the families coming together and just let you feel the love.
“The other tradition we followed was the Nigerian tradition of “spraying money.” It is traditional in Nigeria for family members and guests to spray the bride and groom with bills (money) as they dance. If you see someone you think is dancing well or having a great time, or you just want to join in the fun, you get on the dance floor and literally shower people with money. Mother in laws do it to each other, parents in law do it to their new son/daughter, and it’s a whole lot of fun with money flying everywhere. It is the job of the maid of honor and younger female family members to pick up the money (and make sure none is lost). I think some of the best moments on the dance floor were when people were spraying.
“Finally, a couple of days before the wedding we hosted a traditional Yoruba (the tribe from which Tolu’s family comes from) wedding ceremony. Tolu, his parents and I dressed up, and then his parents presented the dowry – which above all is a symbol of respect and gratitude for the bride’s family. It was important for me that we do this because I wanted to Tolu’s parents to know that it will be important for us that their culture be present in our family and in the upbringing of our future children. I also wanted my family to be exposed to the culture I would now be a part of, and to a certain extent as will they. I also think it was very important to the bonding of our families, and as corny as it sounds, making both of our families come together as one.”