I Didn’t Know Arts Exists in Me
•As a child my mind was wired towards engineering
•My parents didn’t object to my new found career
•I have amazing husband and supportive in-laws
•I am in the center of God’s will for me
Her passion was somewhere else before she stumbled on arts. She never dreamt of becoming an artist as her mind and brain were wired towards engineering. Artistry runs in the family: Her father is Raymond Dokpesi, owner of the first independent broadcasting stations in Africa – African Independent Television (AIT) and Ray Power. Mother, Mrs. Moji Dokpesi, a society matriarch, an industrialist with a sprawling outfit in Apapa; uncle, Keke Ogungbe, ruled and still dominates the Nigerian entertainment industry after three decades. Dolapo Phillips’ like other new generation Nigerians pitched her tent with a terrain once not revered. From Nigeria, to the United Kingdom and faraway Japan, she got the best education money could afford. A visit to the pool side of Eko Hotel and suites awakened that talent in her. Today, she has embraced her passion for the arts. She speaks with Funke Olaode
What was it like growing up in the famous Dokpesi’s family?
Growing up was normal. My dad was an engineer who was very particular about education. Naturally, that was what I grew up with believing I was going to be. He was really serious about education and my formative years and part of my adult life was purely schooling.
You mean your childhood didn’t prepare you for what you are doing now despite the fact that you were raised in ‘an entertainment circle’?
No. As a child I was wired to be an engineer and that was the only thing I knew. In fact, my educational trajectory was tailored towards that line. I went to Corona Primary School, then Nigerian Navy Secondary School and moved to England for my Advanced levels in Kent after which I moved to University of Birmingham where I graduated with B.Sc. in Electrical and Communications Engineering and MSc in Entrepreneurship, Science and Technology – Notthingham University Business School, U.K CNA International – Business Development, London, U.K – six months GEOS International English School Suzuka, Japan – English. – two years. While studying Japanese I was teaching English. I moved back to Nigeria and joined my mum’s company to run Whao Beverages Limited, now Whao Industries limited, a manufacturing company. The company originally produced bottled water and fruit drinks and then went into the production of plastics – performs, bottles and nylon film and recycling plastic waste to produce dustbin bags. I set up Alpha Fitness Nigeria in 2012 with the main goal of making people live healthier and fitter lives as well as boosting self-esteem and confidence. After 10 years working with my mum (Mrs. Moji Dokpesi) I quit my job in 2014 to pursue my passion in performing arts.
At what stage did you develop passion for the arts?
I discovered my hidden talent in the arts when I moved back to Nigeria after my education in England towards the end of 2004. I left all my friends in England and didn’t have any friend in Lagos and had to look for hobbies. My routine is gym, work and church. I used to go for gym at Eko Hotel and Suites and in one of my visits to the gym I just heard a fascinating Latin music. I went to the pool side area and saw some people dancing. This was 2006. Right there, I met the guy who owns the group and joined them.
It was something that started like a hobby and became a profession. In 2008, I had my first stage role in dance drama called ‘Eye of the Tiger’ performed at the American International School, Victoria Island, Lagos. From there, I just started getting calls for different jobs. Obviously, because I wasn’t a professional dancer at that time, I was acting based on learning and all that and had to start going for dance training. I would take a leave from work during weekends to go for dance training to perfect my arts. And when I clocked 10 years working for my mum, I just called her and said “Mum, I think it is time for me to move on’ and I quit.”
Until recently, Nigerian parents perceive entertainment an ‘unserious’ profession. What was your parents’ reaction to your choice?
Well, they first saw it as a hobby, or I am just doing it to entertain myself. And because I was still working full-time they didn’t see it as a profession. And of course, they were happy for me that I have made new friends and had a life. But when I left my mum’s job in 2014 that was when it dawned on them that I was serious. I also spoke to my father about it. Ironically, they had attended a few shows and were quite impressed with what they saw. Since then my parents have been extremely supportive; my mother didn’t stop me because I had had proper degrees, pursued a career in corporate sectors before my new-found profession so it was very easy for me.
How did your husband and his parents take it?
Well, my father-in-law owns one of the outstanding consultancy outfits in Nigeria, Phillips Consulting. How did they take it? Funny enough, they embraced me as well. To be honest, I have not really spoken to them about it but they were quite fascinated. Again, it was like ‘Dolly has a hobby that she enjoys’ but when they see how serious I was going abroad for dance training, they were coming to watch my shows and the shows were becoming more professional, they got used to it. And my husband? He is an amazing guy who is supportive of me. I am so blessed. Normally, Nigerians would not look at this profession as something serious and even because you dance with other dancers (female and male) they may be a bit averse to it. But my husband, Bamidele Phillips is being extremely supportive of my new vocation.
How have you been able to juggle being a wife, mother and on artist?
Again, I will give kudos to my husband. He takes my children as a project because he knows how busy and demanding my job is. He is also busy with his work but he doesn’t play with our kids. Again, we have two fantastic nannies. God has really blessed me with those women. One has been with me since my older son was a baby and the other lady has been with me for a while. Oh! My mum too is a mother in a million and my in-laws too are wonderful. My mother-in-law is based in England and every time I need to travel she is always there to take care of my children. She would take them off me so that I can go to America, France etc. for my dance training.
How rewarding is tyour job?
My life has always been tailored towards science and I didn’t know I have this artistic talent in my body. I can’t explain it because it is almost like I am in the centre of God’s will for me because the way I have grown on it is not natural. That is how I feel. It is like unseen hands (providence) pushing me. Every time bigger jobs come I would be amazed that ‘this is God in action’. I get calls from different directors. It is amazing.
You recently featured in Bolanle Austen-Peters Production, Saro, The Musical staged in London and sponsored by the MTN Foundation. Was it your first international outing?
I was part of the Wakaa the Musical in the same Shaw Theatre in West London last year. The experience was explosive. Nigerian entertainment industry is going global, showcasing Nigerian culture to the global audience. This is amazing considering the fact that Nigeria has always been painted in black light. Generally, when Nigeria is mentioned you see people’s reaction as if everything about us is ‘fraud and corruption.’ If the international community see the artistic side it can start to change the way they perceive us as a nation and people. That is why this stage play is very important. Yes our Nollywood movies go far but sometimes the content of our movies don’t project us in a good light. But theatre production’s story line shows improvement and the richness in our culture without doubt will project us in a good light. It is like taking a History class or taking non-Nigerians through historical lesson of Nigeria’s diverse cultures. And the more we do it the more it will bring and create that positive image everyone is craving for. I salute MTN Foundation for this initiative of supporting indigenous production.
Are you planning to float a company?
Not really. But I have a pool of dancers that I can always call for any performance. Right now, our hands are full because we are booked till January (2018). After the London show, we have Wakaa in Abuja and MTN still has a tour of about three states in Nigeria. Bolanle Austen Peters Production (BAP) is unveiling another production in December and I am looking forward to that. So far, it has been a roller-coaster discovering my passion and talent. I am inspired by Mrs. Austen-Peter’s story, who is a lawyer and a diplomat. Now, she is fully involved in theatre production. If I had had my way I would have studied Theatre Arts but I didn’t even know that arts exists in me. For me, it has been a wonderful experience that I pray it continues.