NO HOLDS BARRED INTERVIEW with Nollywood Veteran, Chief Yemi Solade

In this edition, we present to you one of Nollywood’s top male veteran actors, Mr. Yemi Solade.

Charming crew met up with Mr. Solade recently in a posh London apartment whilst on a brief assignment as a brand Ambassador for  Landmark Realty, Nigeria.  In a very relaxed atmosphere, Mr Solade talks passionately about his humble background, shares his love for Nollywood and his stance on Nigerian politics.

Good afternoon Mr. Yemi Solade, nice meeting you again

Yes, good afternoon to you.  Good we have the grace to have now met formally.

For the benefit of people that do not know the real you, could you introduce yourself to us please.

I am Olayemi Olufela Solade. I am a chief titleholder. I hold Agbaakin of Egbaland. I was born in Lagos, on January 31, 1960.

I attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School and Birch Freeman High School, both in Surulere, and there after attended Tile Hill College in Coventry, but returned to Nigeria after I got admission into University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where I studied Dramatic Arts  for four years and bagged a degree. I served in Maiduguri for my NYSC. I bagged a second degree in International Relations, then I added another one in Sociology from the University of Leicester. My last degree was obtained in 1990, in Public Relations from Ahmadu Bello University.

I also obtained a diploma in Theology from the Redeem Christian Church of God, I majored in Christology – which is the study of Christ Jesus, in 1994.  I am an actor – I majored in television film directing and I am currently the actor of the year in Nigeria. I am the pioneering President of my professional body in ‘Theatre Arts and Motion Pictures Producers Association of Nigeria’ (TAMPAN), succeeded by Dele Odule, and now Bolaji Amusan (aka Mr. Latin).  I have been practising acting for 42 years since 1977.

Has acting always been what you wanted to do from childhood?

I always knew entertainment was for me, so I started off as a dancer. I was the first national disco champion of Nigeria in 1978. I was an African dance king as well; I became number five in the world.  In those days no parent would encourage their child to go into acting, so the dancing to them was like ‘well this kid is just having fun’, but then that was how I got a passion for entertainment. Drama for me was more or less a happenstance.  Festac 77′ was around the corner and I was privileged to partake in Festac ’77. I later went on to train formally and obtained a degree in Drama, so that should tell anyone that I am well-grounded in what I practice today.

So how many films have you acted in from then till now, because we’re talking decades now?

Interestingly I don’t know.  We didn’t know we would get this far when we created Nollywood sometime in 1988. When we started I used to have a register which listed titles of movies I partook in but because of the rate at which we worked, I lost count of registering the titles of movies, but I know I have done quite a lot.

I am a Yoruba man, not a Yoruba actor

But would you actually remember the one that gave you your break?

I don’t think any particular movie gave me a break into the industry because at a point I seem to be about the only one playing those lead roles especially in movies done in indigenous language otherwise tagged as ‘Yoruba movies’. I don’t know why they called those things ‘Yoruba movies’. I tell people I don’t shoot Yoruba movies; I shoot indigenous Nigerian language movies and obviously movies in the official language which is English language. I am amused when people say I speak good English because as a man who has four degrees and being a lecturer in the university for six years, what do you expect?  No, it is an erroneous impression that because I have done so many movies in indigenous language people think that myself and other practitioners in that circuit are not lettered.  It is good that when people run into me they get shocked that I am this articulate, but it’s alright I am proud being a Yoruba man anyway.

As an actor what would you say motivates you?

I am motivated by my immediate environment.  I am a very observant person. I’m deep, I look around and you can never imagine what I am thinking. I grew up in a family where more or less entitlement was encouraged in the area of music in my home. so I got intrigued by most of the things I saw like music, dance, acting and fashion. I was particular about listening to speakers with good editorial skills, so I fancied anybody that had good diction.  When I got to the university, I had no choice than to add Drama to my dance,  knowing I was not going to dance for too long. I still dance very well at my age the latest steps, people look at me like: ‘this old man, you no wan’ old’, yeah but that is just who I am. It’s not about age, there is no particular music for a particular age that I know of.

What would you say are the major challenges that Nollywood industry is facing at the moment? On YouTube there is so much piracy going on, so how are they coping?

 One of the greatest challenges Nollywood is facing is the Entry Point. Nollywood has become an all-commerce affair.  Nowadays, you see all sorts of characters in Nollywood. When people like us come out in the open to appraise or assess our industry they  say: ‘Ah, they don’t want people to grow or they’re being envious. But because I am a thoroughbred professional I always speak my mind.  Once the entry point isn’t controlled then you find all sorts of things.

You can’t question anybody who comes out to say he is a film maker. Once they bring in their money they want to launder and they get hold of one story, they look for well-established faces and call us to work with them.  In the course of working with them we now discover that they know nothing about this business.  All they want to do is launder that money and probably look for fame.

Funding is another challenging entry point.  What we have been having in the past nearly four decades have been monies coming from individual hands. You have some ally in the industry who are in the marketing and distribution, they earn more money so they kind of dictate the pace and tell you what,  they want in films.  We cannot forget the fact that Nollywood is evolving very well. We still have the professionals, we know who they are – not to mention any names – but I am very proud when I see movies that are going to the cinema because there is a new revolution now or film culture where we can now go to the cinema and watch our works and that is serious business. And these are movies that you can see and really be proud of Nollywood.

On the issue of piracy, it is an endemic problem. It’s a global thing, and not peculiar to a particular country.  It is like smuggling or armed robbery, and it is only the government, not individuals, that have the machinery to successfully fight piracy.

Is the government giving any kind of support to Nollywood Industry?

Well it may not look like they are supporting but at least we still have the enabling environment to work. However, most of the time we create all that we need to work with. Even the security challenges there, when we work the area boys can just barge on you and disrupt work because they feel you owe them, the government is not looking into that issue. Some producers avoid filming in certain places they feel may be prone to violence and disruptions. It can be as bad as running away from Lagos – and filming in some states like Osun where the risk of disturbance from area boys is slim.

Another challenge is where Power supply is left to the government to supply us with and that is a national issue anyway. So if you want to film, you should just have your generating set and then again the practitioners too these days are not sincere. There is not so much of respect for those actors who have actually paved the way, because they do not want to pay what should be commensurate to that pedigree, experience or talent, so they’d rather decide to bring in their family members or friends which is Nepotic, but you cannot compel a producer to using any particular face because no one knows his source of funds for the production?

The good thing is, the fact that we have a new cinema culture is encouraging to those that are really deep and serious professionals including myself; we still have hope that we can still smile.

Charming: Where do you see Nollywood in five years?

It will always get better. Five years ago it wasn’t even like this, so it’s getting better. Our movies are beginning to enjoy global reviews and the world now knows that there is Nollywood and its getting serious. More serious investors are coming in so it can only get better. We are not competing with Hollywood or Bollywood because we do not even belong to the same clients, but then we will only get better and project the image of Nigeria positively well as we have always done, and then encourage real professionals to be part of Nollywood.

Is there any financial support scheme in place for Actors by The Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN)? If so, why would some actors go public to solicit for funds when they fall ill or in any form of dilemma?

Most actors live in a world of make-believe and are untrue to themselves, misleading the public in the process

Well it is appalling to see colleagues who are unwell end up on social media, soliciting for funds from the public to get them back on their feet. This is where I have issues with my colleagues. More than often, actors do not portray what is happening in the system. We live in a world of make-believe and are untrue to ourselves, misleading the public in the process.  For instance, you bless me with an automobile, that is between the two of us and the next thing I’m on social media flaunting it. What statement is that? That is telling the world that ‘you have arrived – not even letting people know that this is a gift from a fan. I mean why should I create an impression that I earn five million naira per film?  Then suddenly that person falls ill, and people start saying ‘We want you to help our colleague’. So you cannot correlate all those things you read on social media with things you witness when you run into some of us.   I mean why should you create an impression that you earn five million naira per film when that is not the case?

Now, I refer to these Nigerian professional bodies in acting as splinter groups and they suffer the problem of Nigeria in itself, which is tribalism. If truly there are professional Bodies, no member of that Body will go down and run out to the public to solicit funds when we parade ourselves like we are made already.  Can’t we just do all that internally and take care of our members?  That shows you that there is no sincerity.

The tribalistic tendencies and flavour that we find in Nigeria as a country, affects Nollywood. That’s why you may look at me and say, ‘I’m a Yoruba actor’, and I reject it. I am not a Yoruba actor, I’m a Nigerian actor. ‘But you shoot Yoruba movies’, no I do not shoot Yoruba movies, I shoot movies in indigenous language. . I’m a Lagos guy, how many proverbs do I understand but then I am not running away from the fact that I am a proud Yoruba man, but I am not a Yoruba actor.

Mr. Solade what do you do for hobbies and how do you relax?

I am  a very domesticated  person and except I am out on appointment or working I love being indoors.   I work hard, and I relax hard mostly with playing music.

Also I engage on social media and chat a lot on Whatsapp.  I love my space a bit, so you can’t find me in the crowd so easily, except when I am the one performing, or I am anchoring an event.

Mr. Yemi Solade with Charming Publisher, Maureen Layokun

I don’t drink seriously anymore; I went off lager 19 years ago in 2000, and I quit smoking   that same year.  Maintaining my physique starts from the way I think but that doesn’t mean I don’t work out once in a while.  I can go on the floor and do my push-ups, but again I wasn’t cut out to be a big person. I still wear some shirts I have had for like two decades now.

Back to our country and motherland Nigeria. What’s the situation politically?  People said the last election was fair, but some other camps are saying we need a change. So what exactly is going on?

It’s nothing unusual to find people cry foul when they are not in an advantaged position and it is not unusual to find those who have taken advantage of the situation to celebrate, meaning you have two forms of sound, the one’s crying foul and the other ones rejoicing.  The last election in February was a little bit different in the sense that the two major parties PDP and APC came out to do the usual and we knew it would turn out that way.  It had to be postponed at a point for logistical reasons as people tried to sabotage the elections.

For the seating president, personally I voted for him. I always believed in the man for his kind of low life.  Amongst the lot I would still give it to him again if he has to come back a third time. He may not understand the economy very well, but he has not allowed business as usual and you cannot take it away from him that he is a lot credible than the other candidates and you cannot attach corruption to anything you write about this man.  But he is just one man occupying an office and you still have the senate to contend with, the legislature, the judiciary, and though they’re not politicians but they play a vital role in the whole process.

He may be slow in a lot of people’s minds to address issues, mind you he has issues with his health but it is not an excuse. He has a very dutiful, indefatigable and very sound deputy in Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who is loyal to him and takes over whenever Buhari is out of the country.

Some former Nollywood top actors have now turned to Politics. Is Nigerian Politics something you may consider in the near future?

I can’t play partisan politics, but I would not mind being in government as a deputy act.

No I can’t play politics; I am too blunt. I wouldn’t want to lie to the people that ‘I’m going to fix your road  when I know I may not do so.  Most politicians in Nigeria don’t even use the resources they have to serve the people. They still bask on the same economy that is in tatters to run, that is why the budget is never passed in good time because they want to add their own to it.   

I’m not advertising for Buhari’s government, but Buhari got back on the strength of the masses, the programs his government have designed are people-oriented, they may not affect me directly as an actor, but other people like roadside traders have benefitted from these programs.   But those ones that sit on the economy who have always had a key to the central bank are the ones that are crying.  It’s as bad as even the self-stylized ‘men of God’ being part of the runs. Hence Buhari became their enemy after he told them it was wrong, and they had to go pitch tent with the opposition;  but since God is ‘a God of truth and light’, He will not let a just person go down the drain.

I can’t play partisan politics, but I would not mind being in government as a deputy act, and I’m not shying away from lobbying to get appointed to serve in the creative industry, where I would still be within the purview of what I do.  So, if you find me in government tomorrow, quote me, I wouldn’t say I’m a politician because the government is not solely for politicians.

Lastly what would you say to people aspiring to be like Yemi Solade?

Well nobody will be like Yemi Solade.  If they want to come into acting they should go and train – I trained.  Most of the problems we have in the industry are created by people who were brought in through a back door.  I am not saying those that have not gone to train formally aren’t doing well, but most of the time, the negative news we get flying out from Nollywood emanate from untrained colleagues.

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