Olayinka Akanbi is a quintessential actor. One, who is cut for acting, writing and films directing, he knows his onions in interpreting roles in English and Yoruba soaps and films. In this interview with thegazellenews.com‘s FUNKE BUSARI, the brain behind a just concluded comedy series titled: “I Just Came Back” bears his mind on his latest works, challenges and other issues.
Can we meet you?
My name is Olayinka Akanbi. I am from Abeokuta in Ogun State. I am a graduate of Dramatic Arts from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife. I had my Masters in Theatre Arts from the University of Lagos and currently studying for my PHD at the University of Ibadan in the same field. I’ve been a film director, a writer and an actor for the past 22 years. I run Pisces Audio-Visual Limited formed some years back that’s what I do, I’m married and live in Lagos, Nigeria.
What’s your philosophy about life?
My philosophy is live and let live. I believe the world is a playing ground for everybody. Nobody is better than the other person. If you are gifted in a way, I am also gifted in another way because what makes the world thick is variety not that somebody is superior to the other person. God in His infinite wisdom has created that variety so that we can enjoy living with one another and no man should see himself better than the other that is why all I owe a person is respect not servitude. I don’t give shit and I don’t take it. So for as long as I give due respect to you as a person, it behoves on you to reciprocate.
Many were surprised at your fluent Egun in ‘Madam Dearest’, are you that proficient in Egun language?
Actually in ‘Madam Dearest’, I did not speak Egun, I only handled the Yoruba language with a colouration of Egun. If you move around, you will see people from Ketu in Republic of Benin, they would tell you that that’s Yoruba who speak Yoruba like this and they will tell you that it is the original Yoruba, as it used to be in those days. They believe that the Yoruba we speak now has gone through a lot of modification as a result of many factors: meeting and making friends with people, different food and drinks have all change the Yoruba language. In ‘Madam Dearest’, I spoke Yoruba with Egun coloration.
When you are playing a role, you need to make research about the role whether as an actor or director or even as a creative person. All I did was to do a research. I know a lot about people from that area. I have lived in Idiroko but that doesn’t give me the opportunity to just go into it without doing any research. I still have to go back and do research when this work was being done, other people were playing their role and I had the opportunity to do my own research and continue perfecting my acts before my time.
I must tell you that if I look back at ‘Madam Dearest’, it is the most commendable job in terms of review, critic here and there. It is the most reviewed job that I have done and I am happy.
Why have you not been in films these days?
People don’t get to see me on tube these days. I have always wanted to be an employer of labour. If I want to sustain myself on acting alone I have to continue paying salary that’s why I said I want to build my base. I stopped acting for a while because I have to run a company and I have another thing.
After ‘Madam Dearest’ I received about 10 scripts asking me to come and do the same role, wanting me to come and speak something akin to ‘Madam Dearest’ in the same way I handled it and I rejected all of them.
You see Tade Ogidan will not do a movie everyday. Tunde Kelani takes his time about his job. Jimi Odumosu takes his time about the job and the rest of them and it’s better for me to work with director that will really direct me.
I am not saying there are no directors out there but the majority of the job can’t stand the shelf of time. So I have not done most of jobs because I’m building my base, and by the grace of God, I now have Pisces Audio-Visual Limited with a high end sound studio, editing suite. It is a one-stop production company. Now, I am going back into acting then I can hire a director when I want to act to come and direct my job, and if I notice the director is not doing the job the way I want it done I can fire the director because a director must be very good in directing.
I must subject myself to the orders of the director who will break me down to pieces and then put me back together again so that the job can be good. I can’t be a mirror and at the same time be the image in front of the mirror. So let my people know that I am still there and I am coming, they will see me very soon.
Sometimes in February this year, you posted on a social media about an up-coming comedy series, ‘I Just Came Back’ and a super-hit seven track album. When are they going to be released?
Yes. Thank you, the TV serial, a comedy “I just came back’’ is what I want to finish as a-52 episode soap. I have done 13 episodes now and it’s ready for the market. It stars the likes of: Hafiz Oyetoro (Saka), Tina Mba, and Toyin Osinnaike among others and a lot of them who are veterans in the industry that we have come a long way. It’s going to be released very soon. I have also introduced new acts. We need to inject some freshness into the acting work, the job is ready right now, I’m speaking with sponsors. In the next few months, let me not give a particular time but in the next few months it will be ready, out of studio. On the music, I’m doing seven tracks music, I have done six and they are in final stages. You heard one of them when you came in and the last one that I want to add to it, is the one I did with Professor Wole Soyinka: The Song of the Lagoon Nomad. The song was written by him. I want to do it.
Infact, Wole Soyinka is the first person that introduced me to the public performance when we did the “Sisi Clara” workshop my first performance as a singer, I am going to add that song. He has given me the permission but I want to finalise things with him, thank him and take the music back to him and able to say fine you can go ahead with it because the man is still there, he’s still living. He is somebody I have benefited a lot from not seeing him physically everyday but being who he is. He is somebody that has legacy, things that you can benefit from. So by the fact that I have also worked with him, he’s there always as a guide every day.So the music is coming up. People should expect it. I’m going to throw it into some of the media very soon. We are working towards getting it released very soon. There’s going to be video. it’s going to be a stampede very soon.
What are the challenges you face in your career?
It’s mixed feeling. First of all, there is this feeling of joy and fulfilment, of having finished the job. The creative world is challenging in Nigeria where nothing is predictable. But then there is the anxiety I have when I see people who claim to be professionals and who you hire to come and do jobs. They don’t know anything about the job they claim to know and they all come. You can imagine, somebody who does not know about continuity, going ahead to say that he is a director, what do you expect? So, that’s my fear, that what is going to become of the job in the nearest future if you hire a crew and about 40 per cent of your crew will not be there and you don’t get to know until you now put them or give them the responsibility.
They just only try to cut corners here and there until the job is done, besides other challenges that is natural to you because you are a Nigerian. It’s a mixed feeling but I enjoy doing it, I will continue to do it, I love this country and I love myself where I am. I love the challenges and I’m getting by. So for me, it’s been a worthwhile experience and It will continue to be a worthwhile experience.
Apart from acting, are there other works you do?
I run a company like I said. I am the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Pisces-Audio Visual. I have hobbies. I swim, I play table tennis a lot. In fact, I play table tennis a lot with Tunde Kelani, T.K handles table tennis like eating Eba. He is so good at it. I miss playing table tennis with him, I swim and I sing. Those are the things I do when I meet with my friends, a few of them, anyway.
What was it like to do this present work(s)
The challenges I face in my career is the dearth of avenue or enabling environment. The environment is hostile to my work, it is not conducive, it’s very hostile to my work. The government has not done much for me in terms of creating enabling environment. I am the same person who provides power for myself, provides water, provides security, so it has been challenging and then my colleagues are not around. My age mates, most of them are not around. So, you lack that quality companionship.
Sometimes when you are suppose to sit down after the day’s job and you just want you share ideas over one or two bottles of beer with colleagues to rub minds; you discover that the people around you are those probably whose attitude to life are totally different and there’s a generational gap between the people I fraternize with most of the time because they are the people who are available. And you see, Yoruba man will say “Eni to ba ku eni ku laanba jaiye” so you have to make do with seeing them and coming down to their level here and there and not wanting to lord it over them so I learn from them the better. So any time I run into that quality companionship, I soaked it up and I revel in it. That’s one of the problems.
And then it’s like we are brought up in another age and time entirely, things have change even so fast and you need security here and there, those are the challenges and then the fact that I have the problem of distribution, the problem of working with professionals. The problem of environment that will give me the opportunity of training which is not always there but it’s been there once in a while. I have had opportunity of being sponsored for screen play, play writing courses by the American Embassy, by the British Embassy, documentary workshops here and there. So those are the challenges. Challenges of going to school, paying salaries and paying rent. The only time I feel the impact of the government much with the federal government is when I have to pay tax that’s all.
Do you pay so much tax?
See! Why must it be that it’s only time we see the impact of government in term of interventions in what I do that I have to pay tax. There should be something they provide for me. I don’t feel the impact of government in anything I do. Even when I am building a house, the only time the government has anything to add to me when I have to pay for approval .. you understand? In Lagos state they are trying the government is trying but generally, we are living in a country where we are not feeling the impact of government. So those are the challenges I face.
Will you say you are a rich man?
(laughs loudly) A rich man? (Laughs) When I can (stammers) I thank God in my life but I am not a rich man. Let me tell you who is a rich man in Nigeria when even those who have stolen our wealth are not enjoying the money the way they should. When you have money and you want to enjoy money, you must create wealth. I want to be able to create wealth that my children and grandchildren and other people can benefit, even if I die tomorrow or in next hundred year. Look at the Dunlops of this world, look at Michelin of this world, look at so many other people of this world who have institutionalised their lives, they have died so I want to die a rich man. When I am rich, I want to create wealth that keeps creating itself over time. Right now? (Hisses) I am not oh! I still try to live from hand to mouth.
Looking back at where you were when you started. What do you think are the prospects?
Well, for me the prospect is not giving up. If you do not give up and continue doing what you think is right definitely there will be some silver lining somewhere. So Nigerians are very hard working people. That’s my opinion. You are here, you have been calling me since morning and you are here and you are a woman.
You may do this until very late in the night and when you are going back home, traffic and yet you still have to go home and somebody will still expect you to give him food and the kids are waiting for you also. Nigerians are very hard working people all we need is leadership. So I believe that’s the prospect because we are hard working people that’s the only thing giving me hope. You cannot kill the spirit of the Nigerian, you can’t. So we are there in spite of everything that we go through.So we will get there. That’s the only thing that’s giving me hope.
How do you feel delving into other areas like some of your colleagues are doing? I mean going into politics or singing?
(Laughs) Like what? At my age? What will I be delving into? Into what? Politics? I don’t have anything to offer in politics now because what we play as politics is politics of selection and I can’t see myself going to school, now becoming the godson of illiterate somewhere who will now pick me and put me and lord me over people so that when I wake up all I have to do is to think of how to give him money to continue being a godfather, and not how to better the lot of my people? So I don’t have anything to offer in a system like that. I can’t go into other thing, because I won’t be fulfilled. Even if I wake up, let me tell you 50 percent of the satisfaction that we get of being an artiste, being into creative world is the expression not the money that comes. So I can’t delve into anything.
If it’s money that I want I will not be here for the past 22years. Though God has given me things I can look back and say yes God has helped me, let’s face it, I can’t go into politics Oh!. The only thing I can do is to move into another aspect of creativity like singing for instance. If I want to say for example I want to stand by singing and stop movie making, I can do that but not like living the creative world and go and be doing or selling rice somewhere. Only the thing that can give me is money but the fact still remains that I am not sure that I can survive that for two years it is either I die or because the only thing that’s keeping me bouncing as I am is that I can express myself and when I express myself some people can get to hear me and they know that I am there. That’s the only thing that is giving me satisfaction, not money, so for me oh!, I won’t go into anything else o.
What do you do for fun that makes you happy?
Sometimes I play my music, I lock myself in my room, I meet with people. I play with women, I meet with people of like minds sometimes all that I just do is if I have not heard from people for sometimes, I drive around go into their offices, play with them e.t.c. That gives me joy and the assurance that I am still doing something right. I told you I swim, I play table tennis and I play with my family and sometimes once in a while I go to the club, anything I do, I do it moderately. I drink, I share companion with women because you have a lot to learn from women, library of things to learn from women, so I sometimes fraternize with women, listening to them, quarrelling with them, fighting with them just getting reactions from them. Most of the time with Nigerian women, she is an experience. That’s how I relax.
Would you say Madam Dearest was your best?
So far I have done some movies like ‘Saworo Ide’ (Gong), ‘Madam Dearest’, ‘Out of Bounds’, ‘Evil Genius’, ‘Behind the Siege’ and some others that I can’t remember now well. Acting wise, I can say Madam Dearest is the most impactful because I was in South Africa. I went to a place in S.A and I was surprised that about a 7 year old kid ran to me and said ” mummy! mummy! Come and see, he is the one and it’s like I don’t know you and the mummy was like Aha! ha! it is true oh and they were like, they were Nigerians they have never been here in a long time, they only watched ‘Madam Dearest’ and somebody would walk to me and say look that your role in ‘Madam Dearest’, eh.So these days, even though I have not done much of acting, people have refused to forget. And Madam Dearest? It is very fresh.