Yemi Solade needs no introduction, he`s a household name in the movie industry both the Yoruba and English genre. For some time now, the University of Ife product who`s also flaunting 3 enviable Masters degrees in various disciplines has not been visible on Klieg lights especially where he cut his teeth-Yoruba industry. An eloquent firebrand by nature, the well educated actor addressed some salient issues on the shortcomings of the actors in the Yoruba genre and his views about the popular English movie world called Nollywood. In this interview with Enquirer`s Murphy Fadairo, Yemi Solade who claims he`s practiced acting for 35 years tells it all when we cornered him in his Surulere, Lagos office recently. He also spoke on what it takes to succeed as an actor, family life and other intimate secrets. It is very interesting.
You are known to be a pacesetter both in the English and Yoruba genre of the movie industry; like they say Rome wasn’t built in a day, how did acting start for you?
Acting started some 35 years ago during FESTAC 77. Then, one was just a very green horn who didn’t know anything about acting but as fate will have it I ended up studying DRAMATIC ARTS in the University of Ife and it gave me the foundation that I needed to practice the profession. So I am a dramatist. For over 30 years I have been doing it professionally and even as a student of Dramatic Arts, I started earning money for acting. And up till date I still practice as an actor. To have come that long and I am still doing it; it means I will still be very much around. So that was the very beginning; some 35 years now.
We all know this industry wasn’t very big back then; in your own case, you`re a degree holder; if you had seen a white collar job, would you have preferred it to acting?
I will be frank with you; I dropped all white collar jobs that I have got to be focused as an actor. I wanted to be an artiste: from the very beginning I had a focus and knew where I was going; I knew that from teenage hood that I was cut out for entertainment. I wasn’t dillydallying, I made up my mind that I was going to be an actor. Even with my three Masters I can work anywhere but I made up my mind not to do routine work. I am someone who does not like routine work; I wanted to be my own boss. I have worked in places where I earned salaries; the last time I earned salary was in 1993. When we started acting it wasn’t that lucrative. Any actor worth a salt then started from the stage and we added radio drama, TV and Nollywood, we started that some 25 years ago and we are still doing so; so any platform where acting is done, you will find people like me because a well grounded actor will ply his trade anywhere. So it wasn’t as if one was disillusioned as to what one wanted to do or one was disenchanted; I made up my mind that I was going to be what I am today and that is what I am.
35 years in the industry; how far and how well?
An actor does not measure his success by material things but in this part of the world, people relate with you based on material acquisition. I will say I have done so much for myself and for my immediate environment. I am not fulfilled yet but I have been accepted by my own people. Even people outside the shores of Nigeria show us love; that is an attestation that what one has been doing over time has been accepted and the affection is registered on people’s faces. That alone is an impetuous for one to soar higher than the present position that one finds himself. Then how well? I will say it is well going by the Nigerian social context (socio-economic situation); it is well.
What has the profession deprived you of; are there things you would be doing if you are not an entertainer?
I don’t think being an actor or a popular person has deprived me of anything. My privacy, I control very well. I don’t belong to the class of actors who imprison themselves; I do whatever I like to do. I am a free born Nigerian citizen; I eat in Bukataria. I am not given to unnecessary egoistic tendencies. If I feel like peeing while I’m driving, because Nigeria is a place where there are no public toilet I stand by the road and pee in the gutter. I have tried over time to just be myself; I am not given to things that I hear my colleagues pride themselves in. I just want to be the Yemi Solade, like the man next door. I am not given to all those encumbrances that surround stardom. First and foremost, I am not even a star; I am just Yemi Solade although I agree that I’m a known face but I am not a star. My privacy is here as a family man; I think I enjoy how I carry myself. I relate with everybody all rank and files. One moment you see I am chatting with a state governor and most time I am with those you call area boys. We are all human beings.
Which movie would you say brought you to limelight and opened doors for you?
I can’t point to a movie that did that. As soon as Nollywood started and I decided to add Yoruba genre to my collection of works; I started from playing lead roles. What I know is that I was doing everything with all my soul and I realized members of the society were applauding to my art. I have done so much really.
At a point you were the toast of all in the Yoruba genre but at a point too you fizzled out of the Yoruba movie industry; was it on purpose or scripts weren’t coming?
I am a man who controls his destiny apart from the one that God actually designed. I decide what I want to do; I decided I was going to do Yoruba movies coming from where my colleagues in the English genre thought I was not going to succeed. I went in there and I conquered. Having conquered, the people I met on ground were jittery; they were not comfortable. I am not just a regular actor who will exhibit his talent and will not express himself; I am very articulate. I will air my views on things that I find either good or bad in the system. So at a point I discovered a lot was not doing it for me; I was seeing so much of unprofessional conducts from fellow practitioners, things that I couldn’t live up with. For me I was just crying blue murder here and there; and they were looking at me like what is his stress. Some thought that because of my education I would not want to conform to their own dictates. Why will I conform to dictates that are not in line with my own beliefs? So at a point I said let me just chill out, I am not quitting acting. So I decided again that, let me select jobs that I will do. A producer invites me to a movie and I tell you’re my price; send me your script let me read it and let me tell you if I want the role. But what you find in the system is that somebody calls you telling you they want you to work for them in Oshogbo tomorrow; that is not professionalism. At my level how dare you treat me like that? This industry should be improving, 21st century. Don’t take us back to the stone age, the Baba Ogunde era. By the time you start trying to express yourself they feel uncomfortable. So I discovered that it wasn’t working for me.
But in the Yoruba movie genre they believe in assisting each other; don’t you want to help your fellow colleagues?
I have helped those I can, acting in their movies without collecting a dime. Am not a producer, if I want to produce I know the people I will invite. I can’t invite about 90% of people I have worked with because they are not professionally trained. Even the late great Hebert Ogunde never recorded his movie himself; he brought expatriates to shoot for him. Movie making is highly technical; you have to bring qualified and professional people on set to get it right or else your story, talent will not come out well.
So what is wrong in the Yoruba movie industry?
The issue of please help us do it is killing the system. I have not produced any movie yet I am still the king of all of them. I will leave Yoruba movie and still be king of acting. I am still acting; I am not confined to Yoruba industry. I did everything in Yoruba industry apart from producing. I have over 50 scripts in my library; I am not in a hurry to dish out everything. Let us add the business to the show so it can be showbiz. In the Yoruba setting you are seen as if you don’t produce you cannot succeed. And I am saying that am I not a success story. You will see a Yoruba producer who has produced 100 movies, he is still jumping Okada. How do you relate to that? A producer is a businessman; if you don’t do the business the way you need to do it you will be impoverishing yourself and killing the system. That is why the English or non Yoruba are doing better than the Yoruba artistes. Ramsey Noah, Aki and Pawpaw, Pete Edochie are not producers but they are highly regarded than the Yorubas. Get your budget right. One other thing that has killed the Yoruba movie industry is this group thing. Tunde Kelani, Tade Ogidan do not have a group. It is the group that is killing the system.
Even with your qualifications we still see you in more of soap operas, does it mean you can’t break into the English genre?
I decide what I want to do. It does not cost me anything to work with these guys. The beauty about what we are talking about is that I follow my instinct. It is my decision not to work with the English settings; if I release myself to them you will see me in their movies. It is not for lack of not having the skills there or not being able to express one’s self. I tell you what affects the Yoruba movie industry affects the English too; they are even more arrogant. The one that affects the Yoruba is education. Kola Oyewo will become an Associate Professor from being just a grass root actor; he is a head of department at Redeemers University. That is the most successful story that I know of an actor. It is not the amount of story buildings you have or cars; what have you got up in your brain. I am a member of AGN, ANTP, I cut across. I can ply my trade anywhere. What I do is that anyone that wants to enjoy my drama in English language, look at the television you will find me on television. That is why education is very imperative. If I had not gone to school; with what my colleagues in the Yoruba settings have done to me you would have forgotten about me. But they can’t trample on someone like me because I have equipped myself with education. If I leave the industry today I can be anything I want to be. RMD is a Commissioner today in Delta State; if he didn’t go to school he wouldn’t have been a commissioner. It is not all about popularity, it won’t make you grow. If you know how to go to the Embassy to apply for visa and travel to US, UK, Germany you should be able to afford a tutor. I hate it when I see someone that is talented that cannot express himself; it is an eye sour to see people like that. I am sick and tired of antagonizing the ANTP, I am a one man riot squad; I don’t believe in this caucus thing. I just believe that I have gone to train myself to be an independent artiste. I don’t have Oga and I don’t have Omo ise.
What should we expect from you in the nearest future; is it just these TV soap operas or you have projects you are working on?
I am using the soap to break from the Yoruba movie or circuit since what I see presently nauseates me. You just see children all over the screen, they appeal to their own setting and it is not all encompassing, it is just a one sided thing. Let them enjoy their time, I trust the style of the Yoruba movie industry it is just a matter of 2 or 3 years they bench you; they look for other blood but we will be there as long as we have good health. Anybody that wants me to feature, we talk price; if you are not doing this don’t call me again. Gone are the days when I compromise.
What is your fee to feature in a movie?
I don’t have a fee. I look at your story; it is your story that will determine what I charge. I understand the Nigerian market very well; I know that I will not ask for any outrageous fee. I know a couple of producers I will not mention their names; my name will never be in the register of actors they paid. I don’t want to mention their names; they have paid every actor worth his salt but they will not pay me because I don’t like their films. It is my choice; I became an actor by choice and do what I want to do by choice.
But people may see you as being proud or arrogant
Well, it is their choice. I just know I do my thing my own way and I don’t follow trend. If that is arrogance; well let them say. I don’t have to tag along with everybody.
What else do you do apart from acting?
I anchor wedding ceremonies that who is who in Nigeria will be there, I do motivational talks, I’m a UNESCO Cultural Ambassador, I write and I direct some shows too.
So is that bye-bye to the Yoruba genre which brought you to lime light?
I will not shy away from registering the fact that because of the amount of work I did in the Yoruba movie it gave me leverage. That is what a lot of people still relate with till date. If you have a story and you accept my terms we do business. I am not leaving Yoruba movies. I have shot a Yoruba movie this year before I stopped and focused on soap operas. Acting goes.
Is Yemi Solade married?
Yes, I am married and I have kids.
How does your wife and kids relate to your busy schedules?
When I’m not with them the phone does a little there. They understand what I do, they know daddy is out there to work for money and at the end of the day whatever I make I bring it home.
How long have you been married?
I have been married for a while; I don’t want to be specific.
Have you ever been romantically linked with an actress?
I don’t know about that but if you must know I am married to an actress. Her name is Hanahmash; she is a Swiss–Nigerian. She is not acting presently because she is taking care of the home front.
How do you relax?
I relax with friends; I play music and I like to be alone, it gives me time to meditate. I stay away from trouble. I don’t party. If I have to step out I stay with my close friends who are not artistes.
Where are you from?
I am from Igbeyin in Abeokuta Ogun State. I was born in Lagos; I grew up in Surulere; school home and abroad. And I am an actor; a Christian. That is just me.
A lot of your colleagues now go into politics, are you also towing that line in the nearest future?
I won’t deny the insinuation that I am looking in that direction; I want to call it community service. One has been in a profession for this long and my ideologies of life are beginning to push me away from my field. My ideas are a little bit too elaborate for the people I practice with. So it is better I move a notch higher and relate with people who understand my language. My work as an actor is communal, we preach through our acts. Then I think I can do better with community service. So if a governor of a state calls me to come and serve I will gladly move. The reason is because if I move in, it will be a pointer to people who do not have that belief that one can really move ahead. So people who think that acting is the end will now realize that it is not so. If it pleases God to move me within the political terrain I would gladly embrace it. So that most of the things I want to achieve as an actor and I have not been able to achieve, moving to the larger society politically will afford me the opportunity. We have known the powers that be, one can go to them and say this is your dream; do you share in this dream with me? 2015 let’s see what happens; it might happen before then. I belong to two state governments, Lagos and Ogun States; if any of these governors see any pedigree or potential in me then I am open and easily assessed.
Do you have any word for your fans?
To my family of orientation, the Solade family home and abroad; I thank them for producing me. I also thank my wife and children for tolerating me and bearing all the stress. I want to thank my fans for believing in me; I appreciate the love they have for me. I just want to say I am not relaxing, if they are not seeing me in Yoruba movies let them tune in their TV stations they will see me in at least 4 soap operas. In the meantime I am also working on my own movies, so they should just keep supporting me.
It has been nice chatting with you.