Born in Ile-Ife, in Osun State, Veteran Actor Samson Eluwole, popularly known as ‘Jinadu Ewele’ will, next year, celebrate his 70th birthday. He is one of the few veterans in the industry, who started with stage plays to the television series and now still relevant in this era of screenplays. In this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, he talks about his time working alongside legendary Ishola Ogunsola and his acting journey so far. Excerpts:
It’s been so many years for you in the industry; we learnt you started with the legendary Ishola Ogunsola Theatre Group. How and when would you say you joined him professionally?
I have been a very close friend to theatre practitioners even five years before I joined them professionally in 1969. My then boss, Ishola Ogunsola (aka I-Sho Pepper) was a friend to a brother of mine – Professor Tunde Awoyele, he is retired now, he is an author, even though he is a professor of English, he has passion for Yoruba Language and has written over 50 books in Yoruba language. So, my boss visits my brother who was living in my father’s compound. My boss was with Ogungbe group before he left to start his group. He initially started a group in 1966 with Afolabi Afolayan who was also under Ogungbe. They formed a group together and named it using their surnames together and called it ‘Afolayan Ogunsola Theatre’. In 1968, the group broke and my boss founded Ishola Ogunsola theatre. Afolayan also founded the ‘Afolabi Afolayan Theatre Group’ and later became jaguar. All these while I have not joined them officially but I was close to them and all these while, my boss was introducing me to a lot of these actors, Baba Agbako, who will called Booda Charles, Baba Jimoh Aliu and the likes. Then I was still an apprentice at mechanic shop in Ile-Ife and I wouldn’t stay in the workshop, I would follow I-Sho everywhere anytime he was around. Even though that mechanic work was what I believed I wanted to do then and be successful in it, since I never furthered my education. I was even planning to later settle down in Kano after my freedom after my apprenticeship, unknown to me, it was this man that love me so much has a mission for me, which was why he developed so much interest in me. In 1969 I had my freedom; he came to Ife to call me and asked me to follow him to Oshogbo and many other places. There was this hotel in Oshogbo called Fakunle Hotel; it was one of the best hotels in Oshogbo at that time. On the wall of the fence of that hotel there were paintings of some great theatre practitioners of that time on it. Those paintings were in the order of Ogunde, Adesewa Ogunde’s wife, Ogunmola, Duro Obakoso, and then I-Sho Pepper my boss, even as young as he was then, he was among those whose paintings were on the wall. This shows you that even though the theatre group where I started acting was small but we were really recognized and this shows we have a great future ahead of us. When I was sneaking out of our workshop then to follow I-Sho for his performances, they reported me to my boss at the mechanic workshop and he wanted to punish me, not until he got fascinated to I-Sho himself after watching his performance when he came to Ile Ife to perform at that time. Since then, my boss became a big fan of I-Sho and that gave me an edge at our workshop then. So, in 1969 I joined the group officially, but before then, I used to join them on their tours and would drive them, being a mechanic myself, I was very useful to the team. It even got to a stage, where their official driver’s driving became very scary to them that they had to tell me to drive the group’s van and when I drove, they fell in love with the way I was driving. The official driver started envying me that we had to get another driver and still they all left and I was the one standing in for the drivers, to the extent that people were calling me ‘I-Sho’s driver’. I was driving the van and anytime it broke down, I was also repairing it. All these while I was with them on their tours driving them and all, I never saw it as being part of them, I only saw it as just assisting them because I still have the vision to settle down in Kano as a mechanic and make it big there. There was this high demand for mechanics in Kano then, so I still had the plan to go there after my freedom. This was around 1969, 70, 71. So, I was with them and it got to a stage when I had mastered every person’s role and they would all laugh. So there was a day we were to stage a play at Modakeke High School, we were to perform ‘Iya Alalubosa’ which was what gave me the platform to showcase myself. The manager of the group then – Boladale was suppose to play the role of ‘Kasali’ in the play but he suddenly said he wasn’t going to act that day and they were already selling movie tickets. So, Isho told me ‘Samson, go and dress up, you are playing the role of Kasali’. I was shocked that I wanted to decline, but he told me that the philosophy of theatre is that show must continue no matter what, or else, these people will riot us and tear our drums and I didn’t want this to happen. So, I wore the costume, I did the first scene, the audience applauded me, I did the second and the third scene and we finished the performance. The audience never knew there was any issue at all. So I think from that day, I-Sho already marked me to be an alternative and I wasn’t looking at it that way, I only did what I did to stand in for the man who was not on ground and never saw it as anything. I never knew that the fact that I stood in for Oga Boladale was not cool with him, he looked for several ways to just make me leave the group, a group I was not even really into. The beef was too much that they came between me and my boss I-Sho, we both had a little faceoff and I decided to leave them on tour and returned back home. They went on with the tour, but Oga Boladale seized that opportunity of my absence to leave the group on tour, and he was the group’s manager. The group got to Asaba and got stranded; the next person that came to their mind was me. You know I already played the role and I did it very well and was also useful with the driving and also repairing the vehicle whenever it had faults. So, I-Sho had to leave Asaba and came to Ile-Ife to see my father and my father told him to check me at my current workplace where I was driving the Vice Chairman of the Ife-Ijesha School Board. So he came and he lured me into joining them back and because of the love I have for the group and the fact that I didn’t want the group to break, I rejoined the group and in no time I was made the manager of the group since Oga Boladale had already left. So, he told me I was the manager of the whole group and even his own boss and that if we became big tomorrow, it is going to be an honour to us all. It was then I began to see this job as what I actually want to do for a lifetime. That is why today, you cannot see someone like me in the industry. As great as Ogunde, Duro and Ogunmola were, I believed we would be greater than they were. That was what kept us going.
How did you get the moniker ‘Jinadu Ewele’?
You know we bear different names in our movies, if you look at the play ‘Iya Alalubosa’, I took the role of Kasali, in Efunsetan I took up the role of Latoosa. In ‘Omolaja’, a stage play we started in 1972 was where I first played the role of ‘Jinadu’ which was where I got that name. Then in the 90s when we started a series which we did till Oga I-Sho died, it was in this series that the name ‘Jinadu’ became permanent for me.
When was your screenplay experience?
That was in the days of Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), when we would be acting in the studio and it would air live to people watching at home. We get the feedback immediately after our performances then; it was the greatest theatre groups that were allowed to air stage plays live on television then. We were graded into groups A, B and C. We were started from group C then, and the likes of Ogunde were in group A. There was a particular play we did then that gained a lot of prominence and promoted us to group B. we had a rapid promotion and in no time we were promoted to group A.
Is there a particular movie you featured in or produced that you enjoyed partaking in?
If you look at when we started, it was the boss that took the glory. Take ‘Irun’mu lowo’ as an example, even though Yinka Quadri is the one taking all the glory, the initial title he gave the movie was ‘Baba Ewe’. He saw that I was the one who could play the lead role and deliver well. So, as he was narrating the story to me, I remembered a man whom I was worked for when I was an apprentice at the mechanic shop, that man was very stingy and that was the character I took up and gave them the whole dialogue and I used the line ‘Irun’mu l’owo’. It was later when I got home that Yinka Quadri called me and told me he was going to change the title of the movie to ‘Irun’mu L’owo’. I agreed and said ‘no problem’, because I never worried. So, that movie is a movie I love so much, even though I am not the producer. That is what makes us different from these new actors and producers. Every producer now will always want to make himself the lead actor, and that is why most of them don’t last.