Yemi Solade is a Nigerian actor, filmmaker and movie director. The movie veteran who recently clocked 60 years of age in this interview by ADEOLA OTEMADE speaks on his journey, his achievements, and how the present state of the movie industry is of a great concern to him. Excerpt:
You celebrated your diamond jubilee on January 31st. How has the journey been since you came to understand what life is all about?
Well, it’s been the usual, ups and downs, life is a roller coaster. You smile, you cry, you laugh, you frown, the good and the bad moments, and that’s applicable to any human being. Whether you are the president, or a gateman manning the gate, its all the same. Life is just meant to be lived, you have to get something doing to give you livelihood and that’s what I am doing. I live my life as an actor, I go on stage, I go on location, I express myself using my God given talent to just live, and I think the world appreciates what I do and they applaude me. At least I have my own, I am just one of the millions of actors in the whole world. So, being 60 is nothing really, just that I have been around since 1960. But I don’t see any big deal about a particular age. Prophet Mohammed was 56 before he left the world; Jesus was 33. So it’s not a big deal, just come to this world and do what you have to do and leave when its time for you to leave. It’s not about the numbers of years you spend on earth, but the impact you made while you were on earth. I live in a liberal world, I practise the art and I have been doing that for 43 years and it’s all well and good.
As a veteran in the movie Industry, how have you been able to keep up with being relevant among your contemporaries?
The quality of one’s training will really speak volume in what one does and it has added to my relevance. I was trained in the University of Ife now O.A.U, Department of Dramatic Arts and I have a degree from that school. I was trained under the supervision of the only Nobel laureate we have in Nigeria, Professor Wole Soyinka. You can’t go through people like that and won’t get the best out of life. I was one of those very few minds that he tutored in Ife who had that projection of practising the art. We were only 17 in class during my set and I am the only one who went into acting fully. Some could not cope with the poverty we started with and they fell by the road side, some went into other fields even before we created Nollywood. I won’t blame them, but for someone like me, I have performing art in my blood, as much as I am an actor, I love music so well. I knew I was going to end up in either acting or music but acting had been it. On being relevant, I will attribute it to the quality of training I got from Professor Soyinka, at a young age. I began acting when I was 17, and I have been at it for 43 years now. I have continually trained and retrained myself. I accommodate a lot around me, I absorb so many things I see around me, I watch the news a lot, I listen to the news, I do all sort that would enhance my creativity. I try as much as possible to step up my game by keeping myself in tune with happenings around me. Also, I am a futurist, I look into the future and see if what I am doing presently can still make me relevant in the years to come. And again I have this mark for good art, I believe strongly in my talent, and my ability to deliver and that has been my driving force too, because I am that confident that I can give any actor run for his money, any actor in the whole world not talking about Nigeria. Take me any where, the language might want to be a barrier though, but acting does not have anything to do with language, acting is about body movement, facial expression and all that. We all dance to Awilo even when we did not understand what he was singing. He sang in French but we all danced to it because it was pleasing to the ear. I grew up in Surulere, we saw a lot of movies done in Indian and Chinese languages, and we didn’t understand what they were saying but we were watching the pictures and we enjoyed what we saw until we began to have the Ogundes, Adelove, and we created nollywood. We stepped up and it will continually move up. Relevance will come in form of training, retraining, upgrading and understanding the kind of art one is into and will be able to relate it with one’s environment.
The birth of TAMPAN was as a result of the plans, goals and ideas you conceived because you felt you had something better to offer the movie Industry. Would it be correct to say that you have been able to execute those plans of yours since TAMPAN was birthed?
My coming out in the open to tell the world that I created TAMPAN is giving some of my colleagues nightmares and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I am not coming from their background. One illiterate, one mechanic or one house boy joining one group and becoming an actor without going to school; being popular today and thinks that everybody is equal. Let’s agree this is Nigeria, any one can become popular. They had their issues in the Association of Nigeria Theatre Practioners (ANTP) those days, we started NANTAP, National Association of Nigeria Theatre Art Practitioners (NANTAP) which was more or less created by those of us who went to the university to train to study dramatic arts, performing arts or theatre art as it is called in different schools across the country and people always say that NANTAP is strictly for all these graduates of the university. So the core practioners, the Yoruba actors, because they were the ones everybody saw then, the Igbo were not into acting then, only a few of them were seen on television; we created Nollywood. That was when they began to show interest and we encouraged them. They had ANTP which was the body that was monopolising what was happening in the theatre cum let me say movie industry. When we started through Nollywood and the practitioners then felt that, well, they own Yoruba language, and anything that had to do with acting should be ascribed to ANTP. When I joined the movement, – the Yoruba thing, because I never acted in Yoruba until 1993, it was basically in English I was acting in English from stage to radio and on television. So I decided to try out acting in Yoruba to swell up my C.V and to learn some more trick, I experimented with my first movie “Oju Inu” and it became a box of visit at national theatre, and I decided to open up to all these names you hear today. I am not the most learned, I am not the most qualified academically, but I am one of the best Nollywood has to offer in professionalism, and that was because I was well trained. The first meeting of ANTP I attended in Ibadan was conducted in Yoruba language, a professional body meeting. I began to feel like let me just concentrate on working with them and leave their politics, but it got to a point where they won’t back out from attacking my media parley. Eventually, some younger ones began to like my style and those that were my contemporaries felt threatened but I didn’t bulge. So, they agreed to what I said and I gave them the name for the new association. I created TAMPAN in 2009 but I created it for people like me, who can ply their acting in both English and Yourba language so we can have a network. So, when I dropped the name, they loved it and I told them they should give me six months. Within six months, I got the association registered, accreditation, everything was done under six months. I had three national meetings, I designed the logo, came up with the motto: “Creativity for Nation Building.” But I can say that I was able to execute those plans I had by creating the association, despite all odds, the association still stands.
Dating back to four decades ago that you started your journey into the movie industry, would it be correct to say you have reached the peak of your career as an actor and a movie director?
Let me say this, I know of the beginning, but I don’t know about the peak and I dont know the end, it’s work in progress, I am as good as my last job, I wouldn’t know which one to call peak, there is no retirement age in what I do, if there was one I would have retired eight years ago, having spent 35 years as at that time. All I know is that I have been acting since when I was a teenager and I am still acting till this age. For me there is nothing like getting to the summit of one’s career, you can always evolve if you create forum for that. One needs to always upgrade oneself so as not to be outdated and archaic in one’s profession. The industry is evolving, some of us started before Nollywood, most of us that started then started acting from the stage or television. Then, there was no Nollywood, Nollywood came about in the year 1988, and we started from the stage till Nollywood came to be. So for me, there is no peak, it’s just me doing my thing till God says it’s time for me to take a rest from all my toils and hard work.
Is there any scheme or plan in the industry for the aged?
I am not in any professional body or administration to know what they are planning, but I will tell you that in any professional body, they should, as a matter of fact, have plans for their aged members. Little wonder we have some social media influencers raising donations for some actors on social media platforms, for people to help raise funds for them. If there were insurance schemes, and plans in place for the aged, or members of the industry, they won’t run to the social media to raise alms for their failing health conditions. So I don’t think there is any thing like that. There is too much show, and we don’t need that, we send wrong signals to the world, we are giving the world a different impression about us, people see the few ones who are living large on social media platforms, you see them, everyone celebrating their material possessions, and if somebody falls sick and start asking for donation, you starts wondering that these people have money. So we need to do things right and set a good mark for others to follow.
Are you pleased with the state of Nigerian movie Industry presently?
The Nollywood is not there right now. The Nolllywood you see now is all encompassing. It’s like an uncompleted building that is not guarded and what you meet there would amaze you. It has become an all comers affair, anybody can stroll in and act. All the Yahoo boy are now there, all the prostitutes that you can imagine are there. People cannot even differentiate between the core professionals and these class of clowns who have infiltrated the association, but they didn’t just fly in, some people whom you refer to as core professionals brought them in. It’s just so porous that anybody can become an actor, the entry point is so porous and annoying. It’s a profession and it must be handled and treated as one. I am not really pleased with the state of the industry. It’s a professional body and we must portray ourselves as one that has mastered the art and craft of the profession.
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