Adebayo Salami may be a faintly popular name but when you mention the alias ‘Oga Bello’, you are bound to get applause and cheers everywhere. This Lagos-born Kwara man did not attain the fame he enjoys today on a platter of gold, it came from years of toil, struggle, sweat and plenty of other sacrifices. With over 50 years in the saddle as a Thespian that has traversed every labyrinth of the creative arts, Oga Bello is one of the first among equals.
So, when he talks, we should be all ears to draw from his fountain of knowledge, regarding the creative arts in Nigeria. He talks the story of acting in this interview, let’s listen to him:
Who is the world acclaimed, world famous Oga Bello?
Oga Bello is a character. Oga Bello is quite different from Adebayo Salami. If you are asking people who is Adebayo Salami, is quite different from asking for who is Oga Bello. Oga Bello is somebody who is interpreting the role of a particular character, in a script and his character depends on a script he has at hand. Adebayo Salami on the other hand is a father, a 64 years old man born in Lagos State, though he hails from Kwara State.
Since you started acting , how many films have you produced?
Well, the issue of acting is a two-way thing; the ones you produced yourself and the ones you featured in. For the movies I have produced, I can count up to 22 but for those I featured, it is impossible to count. Honestly, I have lost count.“
What informed the formation of Young Star Concert Party, the group from which you sprang at the beginning?
Well, they were young people that had talents , they gathered together to display their talents ,hoping to be stars in the future. That is why we called it, “Young Star Concert’’. The same group of people were under the leadership of Ojo Ladipo and it metamorphosed into Ojo Ladipo theatre group. Later on, there were problems of all sorts; misunderstandings, in-fighting and a lot of acrimony. At the end of the day the centre could not hold and the group broke up. Some people like me went with Ojo Ladipo while others went in different ways.
Could you name your mentors in the industry and how they influenced your career?
Those I can mention are Chief Hubert Ogunde, Alhaji Aina Olumegbon and Ade Love. These three great actors influenced my career in their different unique ways. Well, let me start from Hubert Ogunde, Hubert Ogunde inspired me to be an actor because I never missed his program on television titled ‘Village Doctor’ . From watching the ‘Village Doctor’, I developed the interest in acting and made up my mind to be somebody like him. Talking about Olumegbon, I remember I usually go to his“rehearsals and whenever I got home I imitated him, from there I respected him so much and he knew me before he died and mentored me. For Pa Ogunde, he inspired me from afar but I had the opportunity of meeting him and I eventually came close to him. He too, taught me many things. For Ade Love, I learned from him physically. During his widely popular film ‘Taxi Driver’, I was his production manager. I was also his production manager on his other popular films like ‘Iyani Wura’, ‘Ija Orogun’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ part 2. Oga Bello.
They say Hubert Ogunde was an occultist
That is a lie. He was a God-fearing person. He was a Christian. Our problem in this part of the world is that we mix up what is religion and what is culture. Religion is quite different from culture. He was a religious man who was trying to promote his culture. There’s nothing occult about that.
Who actually started the Nigerian film industry? Some people link it to Alade Aromire
No, no, no, you cannot throw away celluloid.We have two formats in the film industry – the one we were shooting then and celluloid, because at that time we could not even get anything locally here , if you wanted to do production , you had to go to America . You wanted to do post-production ,you had to go to U.K. I shot my first film on celluloid in 1985. At the time we were shooting there was no local equipment except you get them overseas .
Which other technology was in vogue at that time, apart from celluloid?
If they wanted to do television production, they used Umatic. For celluloid we had 65mm, 35 mm, 55mm, 16mm. Ade Love shot on 16mm. Alade Aromire started by experimenting. He did an experiment on home video using VHS . At that time, when the economy started crumbling, none of us could afford celluloid anymore. And if you raised funds by loan or by any other means to fund your movie, how do you recoup your money ? Even as at that time there was no piracy or it was at the barest minimum. So, at that time, it was Aromire that started home video by experimenting because we did not have money to shoot on celluloid anymore. We didn’t believe home video would be popular. All over the world what was popular was celluloid but here, our economy made it difficult to continue using it.“
How would you compare the industry of today and then?
The major difference is the issue of piracy. There wasn’t as much piracy then as it is now. The second one is the issue of discipline; that seems to be lacking in the artistes of today. Then, there was respect for call time, there was respect for location, there was respect for the shooting of the video. But these young ones want everything on a platter of gold.
How many English movies have you done?
Very few. The reason is simple, I don’t get many invitations. I cannot speak for those people that did not invite me ,they have their personal reasons and I don’t want to go into it so much, but I am sure if am invited as we are conversing now, I can express myself and I can interpret roles in English .Why they don’t invite me is left to them .“
But I saw Jide Kosoko in a film by Rita Dominic ‘Damage’ and in several other English films ?
Yea , Jide Kosoko normally features in English movies and I must confess to you, if you come to me and you want to pay 1 million naira for an English film and I have another script of Yoruba movie that wants to pay me 200,000 naira , I will go for the Yoruba film. The reason for it is simple, my culture and my language are more important to me than money. What is most important to me as an African is the promotion of my culture.
There is this saying that Nigerian film industry started with ‘Living in Bondage’ and you have been saying that history is not correct?
It’s a lie. If they say the film industry started in 1992 with ‘Living in Bondage’, what happened to the films shot before then. I shot my first film on celluloid in 1985, the second one in 1987. Whether English or native, a movie is a movie. A Nigerian movie is a Nigerian movie. We own Nollywood together. If they want to mention Nollywood all over the country, they would say Nigerian movies. Forget about the medium of expression whether its Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba , or English. They know the right history, they know it. Wole Soyinka shot Kongi Harvest in 1970. Bisi Daughter of the River is there . Abiola’s film, ‘Dinner With The Devil’ is there. How can they say film industry started in 1992.
So, what do you think brought about this distortion?
It is their style. I called their production people and told them. If they invite Yoruba actor, to take part in their movie, they would say the accent is too Yoruba. What is their own accent? Don’t they sound Ibo in their own movies? What is their problem?
Culled from Vanguard