The story of my 50 years of acting –Adebayo Salami (Oga Bello)
Actor and producer, Mr Adebayo Salami (fondly called Oga Bello) needs no further introduction. Having established himself in the Yoruba section of Nollywood at an early age, Oga Bello can easily be described as one of Nigeria’s veteran actors. He talks to NEWTON-RAY UKWUOMA about his love for the movie industry, among other things.
It’s either ‘Oga Bello’ or ‘Uncle B’; what is the story behind your stage name?
In 1970, my group was to handle a show for the (Nigerian Television Authority) NTA 10, then in Victoria Island. It was a 20-minute comedy show called Comedy Train. While we were casting for the show, I was given ‘Uncle Bello’ because the producer knew I came from Ilorin, Kwara State. That was how the name came on board.
Was the show in Yoruba?
No. It was in Pidgin. We wanted it to cut across. The segment was given to us by Oladele Bank-Olemoh, the producer, and it was anchored by the late Art Alade, the father of Darey Art Alade.
No. That was not the beginning of my acting career. I started acting in 1964 with the group, Youngsters Concert Party. It was a dance drama group. Youngsters Concert Party later became Ojuola Theatre, and we joined the British Council as a theatre group. This was a group of young people who had nothing but talent and passion. We toured a number of states in Nigeria showcasing our cultural heritage. Our first major outing was the Festival of Arts organised by the Lagos State Arts Council in 1970. I took a major role in the play that saw our group to the first position.
When did you do your first movie?
It was not a movie. We started with stage drama, not movie. You see, the history of film industry in Nigeria started with stage drama. It started with Alarinjo, before we graduated to television. My first commercial stage drama was Banye Banye; that was at the Global Foreign Hall. We did the same Banye Banye in 1969. I remember very well that the chairman of that night was Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle.
What is the title of your first TV movie?
That is the one I told you at the NTA 10. We started from NTA 10, to NTA Ilorin then to NTA Ibadan.
How was beginning like?
It was fine. I had a great time. We thank Almighty Allah for giving us the strength to overcome all the challenges. We could have gone under had we not overcome all the challenges. I think the most important things are to be prayerful, focused and disciplined in anything one does.
We would like to know one challenging experience you had that still instructs you?
I have had a lot of experiences. Do you want to talk of the days we were robbed on the way? We did travel theatre too. During the periods of travelling, there were series of accidents. Sometimes when our vehicle went bad in the middle of the night, we slept beside the bush. I mean, loads of experiences. But we thank God today. I don’t like to talk about these things that God has made me overcome. I like to put them behind me so I can move forward.
Do you also think it is important that younger people get to know these things?
Yes, but all young people need know is that there are challenges in everything worthwhile. There can be no meaningful success without challenges. One has to believe in what one does.
How did the travelling theatre metamorphose into the Yoruba movie industry as we now know it today?
Really, the film industry has its origin. I mentioned earlier that we started with stage performance, later to television. In order to commercialise it, we travelled round the country, hence the traveling theatre. I have performed in Maiduguri (Borno State), Sokoto, Yola (Adamawa State), Warri (Delta State), Onitsha (Anambra State), Cotonou (Benin Republic) and Ghana. Later, when technology improved, we changed from stage performance to film production. It was Ola Balogun who shot the first commercial Yoruba film and the title is Ajani Ogun. It featured the late Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love). That was how it was. Then, if you had your money or idea, you could shop around for talents and you had a movie made. That was how the Yoruba movie industry transformed to what it is now.
Like you said, language is important to cut across all peoples. What was the language you used during the traveling theatre days?
It was Yoruba. There is nowhere Yoruba communities are not found. Even in Maiduguri, Yoruba were there. However, those who did not understand Yoruba would come and watch the dance. We made sure the dance interpreted the message of the drama. Those who missed the drama enjoyed the dance. We made sure we composed the play to meet the needs of the host communities at least in the area of the dance.
Beside the dance, were there other major changes in language to accommodate the host community?
My brother, Yoruba is our language. It is filled with our culture. So, we cannot drop it for anything. That is why we are there up till now. If we throw away the language, we also would throw away the culture. Do you want us to embrace another person’s language? We know how to do it. Anything entertainment started from Yoruba. We have a good identity. Our culture is very rich. We are trying to propagate what is ours.
How would you assess the level of development of the Yoruba movie industry today?
It is going up fine. It is growing also because we are original. If you watch Yoruba films, compare them with any other film, you will know that Yoruba film is very original in terms of the story line, dialogue and interpretation.
Can you throw more light on the word ‘original’?
What I mean by ‘original’ is that we don’t adapt stories. We have so many stories to follow. Others may try to adapt foreign stories to their own, but we don’t because our culture is rich.
Are you saying adaptation is wrong?
Adaptation is not wrong, but you have to be original. For instance, I can take Femi Osofisan’s play in English and adapt it to Yoruba. That is not what I am saying. But if you are taking a foreign material and try to adapt it here, you will miss out on cultural relevance of your own culture. We appreciate foreign culture too much and that is what is affecting our lives at the moment. For instance, some people put on suits because they want to imitate the White man – even in hot weather. Is that our culture? There is an inherent culture in Igboland; there is in Yoruba and also in Hausa. We have to project our own culture.
Speaking about language, would we have understood one another today without borrowing a foreign language?
That is the problem of our history. Indeed, it would have been difficult. English is our official language. And we have our own mother tongues. We cannot stop speaking English. It has become a kind of property. I am saying that we should make use of our culture. It is currently going away due to this foreign influence. You see how Osun Festival, the Calabar Carnival and so on attract people even from outside our country. We should appreciate what we have.
You talked about other people appreciating our culture. Is it possible to have an entirely Yoruba cultural movie done in English language?
You are talking about a Yoruba movie in English language. It is possible. I have seen so many plays like that. I am working on one English movie now.
What is the title?
I only have a working title for it: Don’t show them is the title. Oduduwa, which is a play that tells the history of Yoruba, was produced by an Igbo man in English language. I happened to be part of the directing crew. Andy Amaechi and I directed it. We have been doing it. There is nothing wrong. It is mere language.
How many movies have you acted in so far?
Since 1964, don’t you think I would lose count?
Which movie would you regard as the best of all that you have done?
Well, I don’t have any favourites. As soon as I’m through on set, I don’t trouble myself with my work. I leave the comments to my fans.
Which one was more appreciated by your fans?
A lot of them.
Which is your latest film?
We call it Aye Kale. The inspiration behind Aye Kale is a Yoruba fable about an ant called Aye Kale. Aye Kale is a black ant that loves children so much that she dies guarding her children. The message is to guard your children jealously. Aye Kale dies because of her children. Parents should take care of their children. And while your parents are taking care of you, you should also not forget your responsibility as a child.
How was growing up without much technology like?
As you can see, we survived. Every generation takes care of itself. We lived. We are also adapting to the current situation. Where you start up in life is very important. God understands while he wanted us to grow up without laptops, phones, cars and all. I also think the best way to live life is to adapt to the situation you find yourself.
How was your childhood like?
I didn’t have the best things. Talk of the environment, food and everything. I was not born with the proverbial silver spoon. It was difficult for my parents to send me to school. They didn’t support my passion; that is, acting. I basically trained myself. There were times there was no food. All of these made me serious and focused. I later left my parents in Ilorin to my uncle’s house in Lagos at the age of four. When I finished school, I worked at the Federal Ministry of Housing. Even with my job, I was acting.
At what age did you start acting?
It was about 12 years when I started acting.
What do you think is the challenge facing Nollywood?
I think infrastructure is our major challenge. I believe we can get there. Already, I hear a lot of things are being done about it now.
How do you cool off after work?
Most times I am here, at work. Some other times, I listen to music.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I love Fuji, Apala and Juju. I don’t listen to all this hip hop things.
I miss television; it’s the best job in the world–Abike Dabiri
Former TV girl, Hon. Abike Dabiri- Erewa was quite popular in Nigeria before she joined politics. She was a journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Lagos and she became famous with her innovative reportage on News line every Sunday, especially during the ‘MARY saga’ in 2008.Today, she is a legislator in the House of Representatives representing Ikorodu constituency in the National Assembly. In her second term in office she was appointed Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Affairs, a new committee with the challenge of ensuring that Nigerians in Diaspora are integrated into developmental activities of their motherland. Recently, she was in Lagos to receive Ayoyemi Ajimatanrareje who is Miss Nigeria Florida. She spoke to CHRISTY ANYANWU.
You are a very busy person, why are you in this gathering today?
In things like this, where we have a Nigerian like Miss Nigeria Florida, what I think she has done is to celebrate the culture of Nigeria in America. That’s why one took time out to come and encourage her and people like her to continue to do what they are doing. You can see that she is giving back to the society with her title as Miss Florida. She’s not only propagating our culture in America, she is coming back to do things for the younger ones here in Nigeria. I’m very encouraged by what she is doing. At her age, she has done so much, any mother will be proud to have her around. So, she’s my adopted daughter.
What are your views about Nigerians in Diaspora?
There are Nigerians, especially our women that are amazing success stories even more than Americans. All we need to know is where our people are. We don’t have the data of our people in Diaspora. We are dealing with 16 million. We are supposed to have a database and then break them down in a way that it will be easy to locate Nigerians easily. So, let’s have a database, which is what we are trying to do right now. Even Ghana has it. You must know where your people are, and what they are doing. There is nowhere Nigerians are not extending, although you have a downside. You have Nigerians in jail for committing crime, for when 10 Nigerian
What are the challenges you have with Nigerians in Diaspora?
There are many challenges. The first one is that we have man Nigerians in trouble in many parts of the world. We just came back from South Africa, we have more than 409 Nigerians in South Af-rican prisons and some should not be there. If you commit a crime, you will be punished for it but when you did nothing, maybe you are just guilty by association, there is no trial and you are stigmatized. Really, I think Nigeria should intervene and we are pushing for that. Second, we need to have a database of Nigerians in Diaspora to know exactly where our people are, what they are doing. We are talking about local content.
There is nowhere Nigerians are not excelling. That is just the truth. If you want Nigerian experts in any field in the world, you can always get them, but we need to encur-age a synergy between Nigeria and the Nigerians in the Diaspora. We plan to establish a Diaspora commission. Alone, 26 countries have a full-fledged Diaspora ministr. Yet, we have the largest number apart from Brazil that has the largest number of blacks outside Africa. The next number will be Nigeria. We need to have that commission so that when people like Miss Florida comes here, the commission knows she is here and the commission knows you are there, and they can work with you. It’s going to be a full-fledged commission wher you can now tap into enormous resources. These are the immediate basic things that I think should be tackled.
As part of your official duties, how do you feel when you are out there and found Nigerians doing all kinds of jobs?
I think the first thing is, lets tackle the cause, which is unemployment. We met a Mass communication graduate in prison in South Africa. When I heard him speak, I know he is well educated. He was looking for a job and someone invited him to South Africa. When he got there, there was really nothing there and he finds a way to survive and got into trouble. The first thing is, lets solve the problem of unemployment in this country. I know there is greed, I also know there is desperation. Some people were brought back from Libya, 24 of them. Four of them are graduates of University of Nigeria Nsukka. Ghadafi was going to kill them.
They went to look for jobs and they were actually working before they were arrested. So, we need to tackle unemployment. Government does not create jobs but government creates an enabling environment for jobs to be created. So, that has to be tackled. We are paying lip service and we are deceiving ourselves when we say we are creating jobs because we are not. I think that is the major thing. Again, a lot of awareness for the younger ones is necessary. Look at what she is doing. You can say she’s privileged but she could have been in America and gone into something else. So, we need a lot of awareness for the younger ones to know that it might not be greener out there because some are there out of ignorance.
Take Cairo for instance, they have told the boys they are going to play football. They get there and there is no football to play. Now they are already stuck there. The devil has a workshop for idle hands and they want to do this and that to make ends meet and they get into trouble. Basically, there is need for awareness and we keep saying that if you commit a crime, you will be punished for it. There are some that are defendable and we are glad that we have been able to prevent such. We intervened in some and we succeeded. The next thing is to tap into these talents that are with Nigerians everywhere in the world. We have the best doctors in the world. In America, we have the best doctors that are Nigerians, and look at the state of our hospitals in Nigeria. A lot of things are happening, so we must have a Diaspora Commission. I hope we can, so that we won’t be left behind in Diaspora matters. There is going to be a regional summit sometime next year.
So, how do you cope? I mean juggling your work as a legislator and travelling back and forth the globe.
I think work is work. Whatever you are told to do, you just do it responsibly and ensure you put in your best. You are not going to work forever. You have to balance your family with your job, which is the most important challenge for a woman.
So, how do you spend your day?
The first thing is to pray. I’m a Muslim. The first thing I do is to pray in th morning and get to sleep again; I enjoy sleeping. Then get ready for work. I won’t say I have a typical day. Everyday is unpredictable, whether as a journalist or as a politician. But I always place my family first in whatever I do. Whatever I do, I will not sacrifice my family fo any other thing. I give them the priority. No point being successful in your career and not being able to raise successful children. I don’t have a structured day but the first thing is, you wake up an pry to your God for guidance till the rest of the day. And of course, as a woman, you must have to take care of yourself, do your spa, your facials, massage and relax.
Do you miss anything about your career as a journalist?
Of course, I miss television. Aah; I miss television, it’s the best job in the world. First thing I do is news. As am seeing you now, I’m wishing what I could do with you. I do miss it and I hope I will still do a few things in journalism, just for the fun of it.
What are your plans for 2015?
We take a step at a time. I’m a member of House of Representatives; I still have a lot of work to do. I have put in my best.
You dress nicely, what is the secret?
Regalia makes my outfit. I just wear what I feel suits me.