Bimbo Manuel is a celebrated versatile actor who has carved a niche for himself on stage, television and film media. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, he recalls with nostalgia how he wanted to be a Disc Jockey (DJ). Excerpts:
You started as a broadcaster. How and why did you delve into acting?
That is extremely exciting really, because you get to be so many things, you get to be so many people; you get to go into faraway places to live in that world. It is an incredibly exciting world, and it can become an addiction. And maybe that is why they also say the cliché that ‘actors never retire’.
Because that world, once you’ve entered it, and, it is indeed your calling, it is what you are convinced you really want to do, you almost certainly will not want to go anywhere else. I wanted to be so many other things, before I stumbled into acting. I wanted to be a director because I was working on television, OGTV, but before then I was at OGBC. When I was growing up, I was living in Ibadan with my brother. In those days, Ibadan, especially, was where everything in the entertainment was happening. People used to leave Lagos to come to Ibadan. This was in the late 60s and early 70s.
That was where everything happened, and radio was incredible; the parties were incredible; the night clubs were incredible. And there were different kinds of people there in those days, especially in the 70s. You had the Tunji Marquis of this world, Funmi Ogunsanya, Alex Kondi, quite a number of them. I just loved what they were doing on radio, and I thought I could be a broadcaster. I thought I could be a Disk Jockey (DJ). I was in secondary school,and music was incredibly popular then.
There was Soul, Jazz, R&B, Highlife, Juju, but not the kind of juju music we have today. We were listening to Ojoge Daniel, IK Dairo, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Fela, Segun Bucknor, Hakeep Kareem, and a lot of foreign music – R&B, Country music and so on. We used to have notebooks that we wrote the lyrics, and we sang them on our own.
Then what happened?
So, I thought that I was definitely going to be a DJ because I have always loved music and I loved the styles of those guys on radio. I guess, as with all things with young people, other things got my attention. I went to school, University of Port Harcourt, and I later started work.
At OGBC, I was as an understudy for the Duty Continuity Announcer. Also, against tradition, in less than one month, I was left to run my own shows. And that was where I met people like Femi Sowolu, Bola Makinde, Gboyega Adeseye (who read network news on NTA), Ayinde Soaga. Later I transited to OGTV, which was just starting then, and there I was exposed to another world of broadcasting, which I found extremely exciting. I was jittery initially. When I went to the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), I trained as a director. I had a quiet life in UNIPORT, no nightclubbing, no girlfriend…
Can you tell us why?
Because I had a normal student’s life, I was very mature by the time I went so UNIPORT. So, whatever I was doing had to make sense to me. I didn’t have the kind of time on my hands like other students. After that, I came back to Lagos hoping that those directing jobs will just keep coming like that. We had ideas that we wanted to experiment; we were bubbling with energy. But those jobs in reality were few and far between. They were not coming as we thought they would, there were more acting jobs. And because one was also trained as an actor, I started to take acting jobs. And then NTA happened.
Which was your first experience on stage?
It was ‘The gods are Not to Blame’ by Prof. Ola Rotimi. I played the narrator and one of the chiefs. After that we had Hopes of the Living Dead, also by Prof. Ola Rotimi. I was the Superintendent of Police. As I said, when there no directing jobs, we went into acting and even the acting at that time extremely unrealistic. If you had any big aspirations it was clear that you could not depend entirely on acting jobs on stage, because rehearsals of those days, we were doing like three to four months of rehearsals before performance.
You had to get there yourself and so on. It wasn’t making any sense. To augment it we decided to go to NTA, we had friends there – Andy Amanaechi, Bond Emeruwa, Ifeanyi Anyafulu, Zeb Ejiro, Enebeli Elebuwa. The first show featured in was one of those Play of the Week by NTA Channel 10. We did quite a number of those plays and telemovies. I worked with Tade Ogidan, Lai Arasanmi and others. I was in ‘Sparks’; I was also in Village Headmaster, I played role of Councillor Balogun’s Doctor.
Then, Nollywood took off and I was invited to feature in quite a number of movies. So, Bollywood changed entirely our earning power; it provided a great platform for some of us who were convinced about our skills and craft to actually show off a bit. The rest is history.
Which has been your most embarrassing experience?
You see, when you have lived as young as I have and you have worked as long as I have, some of those things begin to pale into insignificance. You even begin to lose memory of them. I really cannot remember those experiences. Maybe, I will remember some of them later.
Which of the films you have featured in do you consider most interesting and challenging?
Almost all of them, because in the first place, I only take jobs that I know meet all the criteria, the standards that I have set for myself. Usually, they are jobs that I feel have helped me and they have provided good opportunities for me to express myself. So, all of them have been memorable for me. I was away from the stage for about 14 years because television and film got my attention; they were paying a lot more, and they offered less stress. Also, they took less of my time, and I could move on to other jobs. I could devote my energy into doing other things.
But Chuck Mike brought me back on stage with the play ‘Death of a Maiden.’ It is a three-man piece, and it was staged at the then PEC Repertory Theatre, Onikan, Lagos. After that we staged Wole Soyinka’s Lion and the Jewel in London and Manchester. I played the role of Baroka. From that, I decided that I was not going to stay away that long from theatre stage any more. It meant that I was playing on many platforms. I already had radio experience; I have done quite a number radio drama with Irhia Enakhimio, Jide Ogungbade, Yay Mike Nwachukwu. So, I could play any role on film, television, and on stage. And all of that put together helped me hone my craft, and I was able to easily transit across media.
What is your take on developments in Nollywood?
In the first place, I think Nollywood has proven all doubters wrong. I thought at a point that many people were convinced that many things we do in Nigerian movie industry then, as a fad, that it would soon peter out, and people will lose interest and go back to what we used to have before.
But here we are, Nollywood has grown to the level that it is now, but of course, far from perfection. Considering all, Nollywood, I think, deserves a pat on the back. If you look at the kind of works that we are putting out now, even the people who worked have continued to work and have upped their game; they are producing better quality. We can always raise questions about the theme, the acting, and so on.
But it is not exactly the same as we had in the past. Everybody is trying. I think the measure of our industry should be what we are putting out in the cinemas and what we are taking out of this country, whether to festivals of whatever description, they get attention, and I think that is good.
Have you been embarrassed?
The way you carry yourself and the way you make yourself available to relate with people who fancy your work is a factor in determining whether they embarrass you or not. I am naturally a calm person and I guess that may have contributed to the way people had approached each time. It is has usually been calm, polite, very courteous and warm.
You have a project you are working on. What is it about?
I have written a number plays but the first one that I am producing, which is happening in May this year at Terra Kulture, is called Interview With A Prostitute. I wrote the play. It will feature Yibo Koko, Monalisa Chinda, who has also been away from stage for quite a while.
Values, morality as panacea for unity, development
Title: Music of the Muezzin
Author: R. Adebayo Lawal
Year of Publication: 2014
Reviewer: Mahfouz A. Adedimeji
Against the sorry state of our world that has lost its moorings, resulting in the Hobbesian conception of life as being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” Adebayo Lawal in his second collection of poems, Music of the Muezzin, offers us a way out of the miasma. Through a blending of soulful sounds, delicious lines of pure poetry that offer us sense from the pervading nonsense beclouding our global horizons, the poet draws our attention to the need to uphold morality and promote character in our lives.
Basically, Music of the Muezzin is a collection of 38 poems divided into six unequal parts: “Pro-Song: Symphony of the Lonesome Lark”, “Invocation: the Cock’s Mystical Music,” “Smiles of Sorrow,” “Exhortation: Cryptic Clauses of Counsel”, “The Snail’s Courage” and “Epi-Songs: True Time is but Timelessness”. As common to most works of poetry, the themes are as diverse as the poems artistically woven in the compelling collection, but one thesis that reverberates across the work is the need for values and morality in our society. This the author does by distilling messages that tantalize or religious, moral, cultural and ethical sensibilities.
The first poem in the collection is the “eponymous” poem (i.e. the poem that gives the collection its title) where the poet explains the impact of the muezzin’s call to prayer on him. The rationale for putting the poem first is most likely informed by the fact that when a baby is born in Islam, the first thing he hears is the adhan or call to prayer. We then have the poet’s interpretation of the magnificence of His Creator, Whose majesty he celebrates in “The paradox of your presence” (p.12).
However, the first two parts are not about Islam and faith alone. There is a striking poem, “Lines for a don”, dedicated to his teacher, Prof. David William, with which the poet decries the decline in the academics, which is of interest to every lecturer or don. In his usual inter-lock of sense with sound, a major stylistic feature of the collection, our poet takes a swipe at academic shoddiness and intellectual laziness, a cankerworm that seems to have seeped, or sneaked like a thief in the night, into our ivory towers. The sense is compelling in describing various types of dons in lovely lines and repetitive sonority before upholding the standard as symbolised by the teacher: “There are dunces / And there are dons. / Dons by distinction, / Dons by connection / Dons by compassion / Dons by constipation. / The mafia don, / Done by cruel connection, / Is the Don Juan / Thriving on a code of terror.” … (p.20)
There are interesting poems in Part Three, which begins with “The multinational tycoon’s theory”, a witty and humorless poem that ascribes the black man’s tragedy to the accident of creation. He lampoons the archetypal politician in our era of politics without principle describing him in powerful imagery using the bat metaphor: “Bird by day/ Rat by night/ The bat vies with the vulture/ And races with the rodent.” (p.25).
In “Damsel of the ivory tower” (p.31) and “City damsel” (p.32), Lawal has urgent and pungent messages for the students who waste their present and future on illicit sexual adventures.
For the latter poem (i.e. “City damsel”) that exploits the computer imagery, the warning to men is that the city damsel is not more than a lovely laptop with a caveat: when you “insert a randy flash-drive / You end up with a vicious virus” (p.31).
The third part under consideration contains the longest poem in the collection, “Smiles of sorrow” (p.34), which drives home the need for character and morality in our society.
In Parts Four and Five, the author offers antidotes to our troubled and troubling times while canvassing the virtues of love (i.e. “True love”(p.38); “We are all one” (p.39)) reason (“Who are you? (p.40); “Rat race or human race? (p.41)), religious tolerance and righteousness (i.e. “The cannibals” (p.42), “The bubble shall burst” (p.48), “Blessed are they” (p.52)) and other poems of similar thematic concerns. There are also well-crafted poems in this section like “Ilorin” (p.45) which offers a food-for-thought that everyone would like to relish and “In the long run” (p.47) which gives poetic expression to the maxim, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Generally, this collection is “larger than its frame” in terms of the profundity of the timeless messages that make good sense for our troubled season in a world that is going amok. It is a call to action to eschew what is morally bad, religiously sinful and ethically repugnant in our day-to-day interactions.
Unravelling the mystery of Tola Wewe’s ‘stolen’ painting
A mild drama played out mid last month when renowned Nigerian artist, Tola Wewe’s oil on board painting titled ‘Iye Boabo’ surfaced at the auction house, Arthouse Contemporary Limited 29 years after its production and disappearance. ‘Boabo’ is an annual cleansing festival at Igbobini, an Apoi-Ijo community in Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. In this community, contemptuous flouter of socio-moral order and hardened committers of taboos are cleansed with a ritual during the festival; and this is meant to rid the community of any burden of deviant or flagrant upsetting of societal order. Wewe was then a young lecturer at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, and the painting was among some works kept in the Ile-Ife home of his colleague, Moyo Okediji, after a group exhibition held at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan.
On Wednesday, 18th of April, 2018, Tola Wewe received an image of the painting and a message from Nana Sonoiki of the Arthouse Contemporary Limited, requesting him to authenticate the painting, which was submitted by “a client” to the Arthouse for their next auction already slated for May, 2018. The artist was shocked to see the image of his painting, which was “stolen” 29 years ago. He then quickly responded to the enquiry, “It is one of my missing works. I will give the title, stories about the work, etc. But I must earn my remuneration.” Apart from appreciating his response, nothing else was heard from Sonoiki for two days until Wewe broke the silence: “Still waiting for your response on the work,” and Sonoiki quickly replied, “I forwarded your mail to the owner and no response yet.” Wewe then reacted again: “We need to act quickly because I may be forced to make this public o.”
“How? That we stole your work?” Replied Sonoiki. “Arthouse has no problem,” buttressed Wewe, “In fact, you are my saviour now. If not for an institution like Arthouse, how would I have seen this work? Kindly tell him to link up with me so that we resolve the issue or I go through my own way.” And silence took over from the Arthouse, for 10 days, which then prompted Wewe to go public.
The story of this missing work, according to Wewe at the media briefing of Thursday, April 26, 2018, occurred in 1989. The Ona Movement, which was just birthed at the time, had had its maiden exhibition at Ibadan. After the show, all works, including those of Wewe, Okediji, Kunle Filani, were taken to Moyo Okediji’s home at Ile-Ife. Soon, Okediji relocated to the United States with his family. Unknown to Wewe, the house was burgled and many paintings carted away. Seven years later, Wewe went to the then Fenchurch, a frame gallery at Onikan, Lagos, to frame some works. There, he saw two of Okediji’s paintings brought to the Fenchurch for framing. As at the time, he had no idea that Okediji’s house had been burgled. Neither did he know that even his own works had been stolen. Wewe only saw Okediji in later years, and got to know about the burglary and the stolen works. In fact, apart from Wewe who lost about 30 works, and Okediji who lost all his works, Kunle Filani also lost many works to the burglars.
On her part, Nana Sonoiki expressed disappointment in Wewe and condemned his hasty run to the public. She confirmed the conversation between her and Wewe, but that the reason she didn’t get back to him for almost 10 days was because “the client” who submitted the work had taken ill and so could not read the mail she had sent to him. She, thereafter, divulged the name of “the client” as Mr. Mike Oduah.
Mr. Oduah later confirmed that he had been contacted by a few media men who were concerned to know the true position of things. He said, as a regular art collector, he had in his collection more than 1,200 artworks by over 240 artists, and therefore had no business stealing any artwork. He claimed to have patronised Tola Wewe severally and had had the work in question in his collection for more than 20 years. On the question of where he acquired the work from, he said it was a little difficult to recollect. In his words: “We always have families clearing out their collections, and agents seeking patronage of artworks. Such families probably have lost the family head, assumed a new life of being born again and decided to sell the works they suddenly tagged as fetish. So, through such processes, works are acquired. “Such families and artists hardly give you receipts when you buy directly from them. That’s why I love to buy works from galleries and at exhibitions.”
The visual art industry is getting stronger and more attractive by the day. It has become a money-spinning industry that demands absolute cooperation among all stakeholders: artists, galleries, and collectors. If receipts, as evidence of acquisition, are possible with galleries and certificate of authenticity signed by the artist can be obtained from exhibition venues, the issue of art vendors, agents and dealers is a different ballgame. Many of these so-called agents or vendors have no reliable forwarding contact, and thus can easily heat up the art market. And this can easily upturn cases of originality, provenance and authenticity. That the Arthouse, by their standard practice, often reaches out to artists for authentication or verification, is a way of placing the auction house on a pedestal of integrity. Perhaps if Nana Sonoiki had reached out to Mr. Mike Oduah on the telephone two or three days after sending an email message with no response, there would have been no lacuna that stagnated action for 10 days. Perhaps contact would have been established between them and there probably would have been no reason to bring the case to public notice.
On a larger format of cordiality, artists, collectors and galleries must be careful not to allow uncertified agents and vendors ruin their beautiful dreams of propagating Nigerian art.
Sam Dede supports PHLS Poetry Slam
The PHLS Poetry Slam has received a major boost from acclaimed and award-winning actor, Dr. Sam Dede, with the institution of the Sam Dede Prize for Best Spoken Word Artist.
Dede made the announcement in Port Harcourt when he spoke with the Resident Poet of the Port Harcourt Literary Society, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi. He commended the Society for energizing literature in Port Harcourt.
“What you guys are doing is quite remarkable and deserves the support of every well-meaning artist and sponsor of the arts,” Dede said.
The actor, whose inspiring performance in Isakaba earned him Africa’s top acting honours, stated that the Prize comes with cash and a plaque.
The Sam Dede Prize is in addition to the N100,000 already set aside by the Society for the winner of the PHLS Poetry Slam. Other prizes are N75,000 for first runner-up and N50,000 for the second runner-up. A fourth prize of N25,000 will go to the best Spoken Word poet from one of the secondary schools which have benefited from the Society’s monthly PHLS Literature for Teens programme.
The PHLS Poetry Slam, already described as Nigeria’s biggest Poetry Slam, will be judged by award-winning poets, Efe Paul Azino, Andrew Patience, Obii Ifejika and Graciano Enwerem.
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