How Gelede masquerade made me an actor, says Akanbi
Saturday, 10 March 2012 00:00
The name Olayinka Akabi is synonymous with documentary film productions, having written, directed and produced several documentaries, some of which have received high acclaim and featured in various festivals.
A graduate of Dramatic Arts, from the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, Akanbi has also made his mark as a thespian of repute and in television drama productions. His is a story of vision, passion and perseverance; although born into what could be called an elitist family, it took not just the remarkable childish exuberance, but determination to get into primary school, as he discloses in this chat held at his house in Lagos. He speaks on how the Gelede masquerade festival inspired him into the theatre, his passion for documentaries and what he thinks is wrong with Nollywood, writes TONY OKUYEME
“One thing I can say about my schooling is that it was my own idea, and there was a drama to my primary school. This was because when I went to join my other siblings in Ibadan, they were already in school, and I had not been registered. One day they were going to school, Army Children School, Ibadan, and I followed them. They tried to discourage me but I manouvered my way and followed them. It was the resumption day and those who had been registered were to be called in groups to their classes. They called from a register and then, they would march them to different classes. As a particular group was marching, I just joined that group as the last person on the queue. That was how I was registered,” says, Olayinka Akanbi, a seasoned film maker, reminiscing on how his educational career began.
This drama, as it turned out, did not however end there, as events that followed reveal.
Born in Abeokuta to a police officer and civil servant father and mother who was a trader, his education was characterised by movement from one location to another. His mother, Tina Abike Akanbi was from the Babayemi’s family in Abeokuta, while his father, Suraj Akanbi Dauda, an Owu man was from the Dauda family in Abeokuta.
Growing up in a very liberal atmosphere in Abeokuta added colour to the story. As he puts it, his father who was in the police force had gone to the war and that delayed his schooling for a while. But while waiting for the war to be over, in those days, he went to Ibadan to join his other siblings.
“My other brothers did not know that I was registered that day. At the end after closing from school, I could not find my way back home. Then I saw one landmark, place where horses were kept and I started walking along that road until I finally got home . Everybody was worried. I told them that I had been registered. That was how I started. Later on, my mother came and decided to take me to Abeokuta. So, I went back to Abeokuta where I concluded my primary school at Methodist Primary School, Oke Sokori, Abeokuta. I spent about two terms in Army Children School, Eleyele, Ibadan. Then my father had not come back from the war.,” he recalls.
But if he thought the engaging drama was over, he was wrong. Abeokuta, he admits, was another story for him; it further opened door for him. It was here that his love for the theatre took its root. He traces this to his encounters with Gelede masquerades. “I had lived in Abeokuta before then, even as a kid, I always had this love for music, and because of this, sometimes I sneaked out of the house and followed the Gelede masquerades, and that actually was what informed my interest in drama. More so because the Gelede festival is everything about drama. In those days I used to follow the Gelede masquerades from my own side of Abeokuta to the other end of the place, especially the market square. That opened my eyes to the world of drama, and I also had the opportunity.”
Akanbi says he was able to follow the Gelede masquerades from Ibara, down to the market square where. “I also had the opportunity to meet with friends. We used to go the the library regularly, there was a library there then, and as young students you must go to the library at least once a week, for at least an hour or so, then go back home. That was how it was growing up.
Then I lost my mother in 1974, later I moved on to Ansar Udeen Primary school, and finished my primary school. After that I went to St. Nicholas Commercial School as it was called then, and from there I went to Otta where I finished my secondary school at Ansar Udeen Grammar School, Otta.
After that my dad put me in a Modern School, Community Modern School, Oke-Ado, Ogun State, it was there I came to Ansar Udeen Grammar School, where I finally finished my secondary school.
“I worked a little after that before I went to Obafemi Awolowo University where I studied Dramatic Arts, specialising in play writing. The late Prof. Ola Rotimi taught me play writing. After that, I went into film and radio producing as a scriptwriter with Clapper Board. In fact, I was one of the first persons to produce on private television station in Nigeria, in terms of open broadcast, not cable. I am one of the pioneer producers in private broadcasting in Nigeria.”
At Clapper Board, he rose to become the manager, production department. According to him, it was at Clapper Board that his skills as a script writer and producer were honed. “Clapper Board actually gave me the opportunity to do so many things, because we were understaffed. I was the one writing, producing, directing and also camera, and shot the programmes myself, after that, sit down with the editor to edit those programmes. That gave me opportunity of working with Tade Ogidan who has a way of knowing what you can do. When we met he asked me what I can do, and I told him. Then he told me to write a script for documentary. When I finished and took it to show it to him, he said I should go and edit it myself. I went ahead and finished that job, and he asked me if I knew it was a network documentary that I had just done. It became the first documentary job that was broadcast. It was shown on all television stations in Nigeria. It was tagged Adworld Award 93. It became my first documentary. Tade Ogidan finally left us and went into private production. When I left Clapper Board, I also joined him and worked with him for sometimes.
“Later, I started Pisces Audio Visual, my own production company The first job I did was a mini-documentary on Ajinomoto. I also did a commercial for them. I later incorporated the company as Pisces Audio Visuals Limited-producing drama, documentary and television commercials. And when Clapper Board produced their first film, I directed.”
Akanbi adds that since leaving Clapper Board, he has been on his own, adding that it has been here and there, up and down like any other job that one is doing.
However, he says, “I told myself that it could only be difficult, it would not be impossible. I thank God where we are today. I have shot commercials for MTN; I have shot documentaries that were part of festival, I have done movies, collaborating with people. In fact I have worked with virtually all the notable or film makers or gurus, either as a director, an actor, producer or props person. I can’t be idle. I have worked with Tade Ogidan several times, many of his works, I have worked with him, either in writing the scrip or directing the script or acting in it or in whatever capacity I films. “
Looking back, he says that he has been part of so many films. His long list of film credits include Jimi Odunmosu’s The Morning After, Yemisi Owoleke which he wrote and co-directed, Ewo Laafin, an epic film, Tunde Kelani’s Saworeide for which he was the assistant director, and White Handkerchief also be Tunde Kelani.
“For television, I have done a lot. I directed Behind the Siege which I acted in and also wrote the screenplay along with some of my colleagues. I directed House Apart; I also directed Family Ties, So Wrong So Right, Wale Adenuga’s This life and Odd World, and many other television drama productions.
Speaking on his passion for documentary film, Akanbi enthuses that he has no special preference for documentary films. “For him, he says, there are two attitudes to documentary. “It is not totally devoid of drama, but you have opportunity to the basic idea of the script written.
In documentary, you want to tell a story-it could be about something that has happen in the past, it could be about something that is happening, and it could be about something that is going to happen.
“As the name implies, you want to document something, you want to tell a story, a narrative, so you have the ground to do what you want. It is like eating your cake and have it. You also have the opportunity to introduce a little bit of drama into it. For instance, a story about something in the past, you have to deal with reconstruction. In documentary, you have the opportunity to say it, act it, and reinvent it. But in drama, you have a script, you have a story, there are exchanges of words here and there, it is more of entertainment. But even though documentary is not about entertainment, you must not take a way the entertainment aspect out of documentary. How do you sustain the interest of those who are coming to watch? The dramatist in me has always helped me in my documentaries; it has always been my approach. There is always the dramatic aspect of it. There must be drama in documentary. The only thing is that documentary is rigid. The mere fact that I do more of documentaries now does not mean that I don’t want to do drama; it is just that drama is more time consuming than documentary; and drama may be more expensive to handle. I want to be seen to be doing the same thing.”
On Nollywood, Akanbi says practitioners are not given the chance to get it right. “I celebrate every film maker in Nigeria for taken the initiative and for coming this far. I celebrate anybody who has taken a job from conception, pre-production, production and post-production and at the end has something to present to the people. I celebrate them.
“Why have we not been given the opportunity to get things right. Our history of colonialism has created a problem, that is the problem of alienation from our culture. A lot of those who claim to be doing films in Yoruba or Ibo are disconnected from their culture. With the exception of the Tunde Kelani’s, the Tade Ogidan’s and some others, who do serious research for their stories, others are not getting it right. It is true that the medium we are using is foreign, but we are not the only country like that. So we have not been given the opportunity to develop in our own way. We are a talking people; we talk a lot, but we don’t talk nonsense. That is why we have proverbs; we are a cultural people; we are people who do things in an orderly manner. Why we are not doing things well in the film industry is because of the forces behind it.”