Adebayo Salami: It’s stage, not movies that made me popular
Adebayo Salami (a.k.a Oga Bello) is one of the oldest thespians on the Nigerian stage and the big screen. Soon to clock 50 on stage, the award-winning actor spoke with IBIKUNLE LANIYAN on his career, challenges and the movie industry
Who is Oga Bello?
My name is Adebayo Salami. I was born in Lagos State, but I come from Ilorin, Kwara State. I was born in May 1952, which means I’m 65 years this month. I had all my early life and secondary school education in Lagos, before undertaking sandwich courses within and out the country. Good enough, all my sandwich courses were on stage and film productions.
What has been the experience working on stage for 50 years?
There are no special feelings, but I’m grateful to God for the grace to excel. I thank God in every aspect of my life, my family and for giving me the grace to stay on for 50 years.
How many films have you starred in and which did you produce?
I can only recall that I have produced 22 films, while I have lost count of the number of films I feature in.
What informed the formation of Young Star Concert?
Well, they are young people, who have talent. They gather to display their talents with the hope to be stars in the future. That is why we call the group ‘Young Star Concert.’
Was it the Young Star Concert that metamorphosed into Ojo Ladipo Theatre Group?
Yes, it is. There were issues in the group, which made some people to leave with Ojo Ladipo himself.
Who are your mentors in the industry?
They are Chief Hubert Ogunde, Alhaji Aina Olumegbon and the third is Ade Love.
How did your mentors impact on your life?
Well, let me start from Hubert Ogunde, who inspired me to be an actor because I watched his programme on television titled, Village Doctor and I desired to be somebody like him. I usually go to Olumegbon rehearsals and each time I returned home, I do mimic him. And with time we became close. I was one of his mentee before he died. Papa Ogunde taught me many things, including giving helpful advice. I learnt a lot from him. Ade Love; I also learnt a lot from him. I was his production manager for Taxi Driver, Part I and II and others, including Iyani Wura, Ija Orogun among others.
How true is it to say Alade Aromire started the Nigerian film industry?
No, no, you cannot throw away celluloid. We were first shooting our films in celluloid because that was the technology we had. The filmmakers used to travel to the U.S. or the U.K. to do post production. I shot my first film on celluloid in 1985.
However, Alade Aromire started home video by experimenting with VHS. At that time the economy was crashing with Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP); none of us could afford to shoot on celluloid anymore.
How was the level of piracy at that early time?
There was none.
Yes, and if it was there, it was not common or noticeable. Mind you, this is in the 1980s. That was how Aromire started home video. It was an experiment that emerged from filmmakers not having adequate funds to shoot on celluloid.
How would compare the industry back then in the 1980s and now?
We are today suffering because of piracy and indiscipline in the industry. Then, there was respect for call time; respect for location and video shoot.
You said you were once fined 10 shillings for coming late…
That’s part of the discipline. You are taking a role; if you come late to any venue of production you have to pay a fine as gate fee. You buy ticket to come in and perform. That’s a sort of discipline.
Since you were fined 10 shillings, how much was your take home?
Yes, I did pay.
How much was your take home?
I was not paid. I was paid nothing!
You mean, it was for free?
And you paid?
It is the passion for the stage that made me do that.
How many English movies have you done?
Why a few roles for a veteran Yoruba actor like you?
Well, I cannot speak for those people that did not invite me. They have their personal reasons and I don’t want to go into that, but I am sure if I’m invited as we are conversing now, I can express myself and I can interpret roles.
But you featured in Rita Dominic’s film, Damage, and many other English films, didn’t you?
I normally participate in English movies and I must confess to you: if you come to me and you want to offer me N1 million and I have another script, a Yoruba movie, and they want to pay N200,000, I would go for the Yoruba film because that is my language, which is what I want to promote.
Yoruba are all over the world. How do you connect with them in your movies?
Well, we tried it sometimes; unfortunately technology was not on our side. Technology has spoilt so many things unlike in the 1990s when we released movies and sell to the U.K. market. They used to pay us 2,000 pounds for our master copy. They would dub and sell them. Today, one cannot sell at such amount anymore because there is no more market for it. The movies can now be watched on Youtube for free and even downloaded.
So, how did the comedian, AY market his films? And how do Americans do it to gross so much?
That’s what I am saying. You don’t compare American market with Nigerian market. The Americans have established cinema culture. We also used to have the same culture in the past, but we lost it the period we began to close down film houses. Filmmakers recoup their money through cinema, by showing the film to television stations, and by selling it to video clubs for people to rent. All that has gone; that culture is no more and it is affecting our movie industry.
Maybe that informed A.Y’s decision to launch his film in the U.S., isn’t it?
Why are there no films on Sango and other cultural festivals?
That is if we produce any film related to Sango. Filmmakers hardly do those kinds of films because of production cost.
Are your children taking after you?
Not all of them.
How many of them now?
Five and they are all graduates.
Which of your movies brought you to limelight?
Movies did not make me popular. I started with stage and television production; they made me popular. Movies only added to it.
How true is it to say film industry started in Nigeria with Living In Bondage?
It is not true because I shot my first film on celluloid in 1985 and the second in 1987.
Were they English language movies?
Don’t say that because movie is movie. Nigerian movie is Nigerian movie. We own Nollywood together. Nollywood is a Nigerian expression; so, forget about the language the movie came, so far it is a Nigerian movie. History has it that Wole Soyinka shot Kongi’s Harvest in 1970. Bisi Daughter of The River is there. Dinner with the Devil is there. All these films came before Living in Bondage.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like traditional music. Apala. Agidigbo. Odulaye Aremu, Ponyon, Tanta law. If you listen to them you will be a wise person and do a lot for yourself. You would learn from them and I don’t sing and go round the street boozing or drinking. I am an indoor person.
What were some of your achievements as ANTP president?
I have mentioned so many of them in my past interviews. However, I will state a few. Firstly, I made the association to be recognised locally and outside the country. I partnered state governors on programmes. I also took the group to Baba Obasanjo.
What did Baba do for you?
He tried his best for us and I won’t say more than that. I injected discipline and formed a committee called Joint Action Committee (JACO) to make sure those video club rentals pay their royalties, which is working. We agreed and I partnered marketers to make sure all movies to be released should not be more than 10 per month.
Is that rule still in place?
They are no more, which is the reason filmmakers release more than 30 or 40 films per month.
Were they mostly Yoruba films alone?
Yes, at that time we sold more than 200,000 copies per film.
So 40 Yoruba movies are produced every month?
It depends, but I don’t know how many now.
Were you not an actor, what would you have become?
Well, a lawyer.