Mexican telenovela stars, Carmen Aub and Alberto Agnesi, were in Nigeria recently on a promotional tour for the upcoming telenovelas ‘Woman of Steel’ and ‘Lord of the Skies’. Vanessa Obioha reports that the series on Telemundo channel have developed a kind of cult followership, particularly among women

It was the evening after Valentine’s Day. There was still so much romance, or a hint of it, in the air. The enticing offers from many brands appealing to customers were visible everywhere: from dinner dates, movie tickets, shopping coupons to music concerts. On the see-through window of many shops, the display signage announcing Lover’s Day was intact.

On the cemented street of Kofo Abayomi in Victoria Island-Lagos, traffic was slowly building up as it was almost close of business. Soon the gridlock will reach frightening proportion. Inside the towering edifice of the Lagos Continental Hotel, it was business as usual-valets opening doors for guests, receptionists checking in guests and attending to other requests, staying guests as well as visitors wait or hold small talks at the reception area.

Once in a while, the guests stole glances at the setting at the far right of the stretchy reception hall where Soul Lounge is located. The gathering of persons, which was increasing steadily in number was redolent of a VIP event. A black carpet donned the floor. Black sofas lined the mouth of the lounge. Soft Mexican music oozed out of the lounge, as a group of people, mostly women, moved in and out. Some of them were drawn by the unfolding spectacle. Their inquisitiveness would later be satisfied when the stars of the night walked into the lounge.

If Amando Sapo, who works for Telemundo Africa’s PR company, was aware of the interest her team had awakened in the onlookers, she would have perhaps taken a break. Rather she moved from one place to another as if in a beeline; consulted with other colleagues. Most times, she was on the phone. The look of apprehension on her face could not be mistaken even if she masked it with a charming smile. There seemed to be that unspoken expectation in her motion. Will her guests show up? Will it be a successful outing?

This wind of uncertainty seemed to stem from the fact that it was the first time NBC Universal and Telemundo Africa were bringing their telenovela stars to Nigeria. Other meetings with the stars such as Ximena Duque-Adkins and Carlos Ponce took place outside the shores of Nigeria. This time around, they were bringing the stars close to their Nigerian fans. Their coming was strategically tied to the Month of Love. More so, it was a promotional tour for the upcoming super series telenovelas ‘Woman of Steel’ and ‘Lord of the Skies’ which the actors starred in.
Sapo’s expectations were finally met when her guests arrived few hours after the scheduled time. Perhaps, what finally calmed her was the warm reception her clients received when they were finally introduced. The two stars, Carmen Aub and Alberto Agnesi proved their mettle with the way they illuminated the dimly-lit lounge with their presence.

Without much ado, they gushed about their 24-hour stay in Lagos with much emphasis on the traffic when grilled by the host, Isabella Akinseye, who managed to string a few impressive sentences together in Spanish. “I don’t know how you guys deal with traffic here. It is something else. I can never drive here,” remarked Aub, who looked dashing in her golden glittering skirt and sheer top.

The light banter took a different route when Akinseye put them on the spotlight.
“We want you to dance the ‘shaku shaku’ dance.”

Screams of excitement immediately filled the air. Two journalists-a male and female, were randomly picked to be their dance partners.

Agnesi, who played Marcelo Doriga the FBI Agent in ‘Woman of Steel,’ quickly turned on his charm as he went down on one knee and asked the female journalist to dance with him. Their attempts at moving their legs and hands in the peculiar motion of the dance elicited great laughter from the guests.

The mood turned into a friendly one as the stars posed for photographs with guests, while smiling into the camera. With generous serve of lots of drinks and finger foods, the overriding spirit of friendship was infectious. Everything was working well for the organisers. They did not want any formal airs to spoil the fun. The night was strictly for mingling with the stars. All interviews were scheduled for the next day at the same venue.
In a way, Aub and Agnesi’s visit to Nigeria was long overdue. Since Telemundo’s debut on the DSTV Nigeria platform in 2012, it has become a staple in many households. Telenovelas in the past, had developed a kind of cult followership in many parts of the country. Thus, having a dedicated channel for entertaining and enthralling telenovelas was very embracing.

As the telenovelas grew popular so did the beautiful characters on screen. With the rise of social media, it was easy for fans to search for their favourite characters and follow them on their various social media pages. That way, they felt that sense of belonging and kept themselves abreast of information about their screen idols. Nevertheless, fans also longed to be closer to these idols.

Thus, bringing them to Nigeria was a very welcome gesture.
But the stars were somewhat surprised that their prominence had reached places like Nigeria.
“I wasn’t familiar with the fans here. I didn’t know we had fans here. When they told me that we were coming to Lagos, Nigeria, I was like ‘Do they know who we are?’ But when people began to comment on the promo pictures of ‘Lord of the Skies’ and easily recognized me as Nina in ‘Forbidden Passion’, I was like that is so exciting,” said Aub during an interview the next day. She was now clad in a flowing green gown that did justice to her glowing fair skin.
She continued: “I was shocked. But I didn’t know what to expect. I said okay, I am going but not expecting anything. I can see a people with energy, friendly and their ‘shaku-shaku’ dance, food and environment. And I would like to come back again.”

The reaction was no different with Agnesi.
“I can’t talk about politics in Nigeria because it will be unfair. I have been in the country for only three days but what I can say is that Nigerians like Mexicans have problems like corruption and other things. But what makes you common with my people is that we are happy. Even with our problems, we are still good people. We try to keep moving forward irrespective of our problems. That’s one thing I see in Nigeria.”

Travelling is no big deal to Aub, who has already been to Vienna, Bulgaria and other interesting cities before visiting Lagos this year. To her, travelling is the best investment in life.

“It opens our eyes and frees our soul. You know, sometimes living somewhere gives you the right and wrong notion of that place and culture, and you don’t realise that we have so many rights and wrongs and so many ways of seeing life. I think travelling actually makes us free and I love that. I went to these places because I wanted to see a little bit more of the world. Coming to Nigeria and seeing how people are so nice and friendly made me feel good. Sometimes in the USA, we forget to say ‘hi, how are you?’. Maybe it is because they are rude or so involved in their life. But here in Nigeria, it is different; the people are so nice, friendly and receptive.

“We went to the Lekki Reserve and it was amazing. I told them that I was giving a cleansing to my lungs from all the pollution in Mexico. Sadly but true. The landscapes were amazing. I have been loving everything here.”
Although Aub has only been acting for eight years, it seemed to her that she has been acting all her life. Her first soap opera was in ‘Where is Elisa?’ followed by ‘Forbidden Passion’. Till date, however, she is still nostalgic about her first soap opera. Perhaps because it was her first outing in the telenovela world. In her upcoming series ‘Lord of the Skies,’ which will debut in April on Telemundo, she plays the villainous Rutila Casillas, the daughter of a drug lord.

‘Lord of the Skies’ tells the story of a Mexican drug dealer, Aurelio Casillas, who is also my father. It is based on a true life story and full of actions and passions. In the first season, I am actually this little five year-old. In the second season, I am going to be a total teenager. And as time goes by I am going to start realizing life as a daughter of an icon and will become a strong woman. My character is neither good nor bad. Although I’m going to betray my father at a point,” she laughs. “It is not a cliché kind of character. It is a character that is always growing.”

Aub was 22 years old when she starred in the super series. Reflecting on the journey so far, she is confident that she has grown with the series, which sixth season is already in production in Mexico.
Though the series is relatively new in Nigeria, Aub is confident that the telenovela which features some popular actors like Gabriel Porras (Gabriel Bustamante in ‘The Fan’), Carmen Villalobos (Lola in ‘My Heart Beats for Lola’), Rafael Amaya (Julian in ‘Someone’s Watching You’) and Maritza Rodriguez (Pilar in ‘Behind Closed Doors’) will enjoy great reception in Nigeria.

“I think that Mexicans have different culture as a people. But we have one thing in common – love. You know, love is universal and I remember going to one museum and it is so surprising to me that it didn’t matter where the story is from; whether Africa, Japan or Mexico. It was a story about someone with a broken-heart. We are all the same. And you know our relationship is not only with our parents, but could be with our sisters, brothers or friends. So in the soap operas, we have those kind of stories that everybody can relate with. It does not matter whether the soap is produced in Mexico or Nigeria. One thing that is clear is that we have something in common: love and that is amazing.”

Indeed, love is the thread that binds these stories together irrespective of the various themes intertwined in the plot. For instance, both ‘Lord of the Skies’ and ‘Woman of Steel’ are embedded in gang rivalry and drug trafficking. These themes are very recurring in most telenovelas and as the stars admitted, a reflection of their society.

“Sadly it is very real,” said Aub. “I think drug dealing in Mexico is part of our history now. It mars everything; the way we live, the way we see life. Sadly some people don’t see any way out and they grow up wanting to be a drug dealer. With the super series, they get to see the real life and is not good. It’s not something you want to aspire for but sadly it is the reality.”

Agnesi added: “In Mexico my country, we are not having a great time with drug lords. We have a record of casualties. We are making series to make profit of it but that is not the way I see it. There is reality, there is fiction and we are only the mirror to reflect the reality. We don’t have to do things to entertain people, to get out to watch. They decide if they want to watch our series or movies that talk about realities and get sad or get people to take action. Or they can decide to watch comedy and entertain themselves. It is up to them. I think we all have the capacity to watch what we want. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to do a fiction about a delicate theme. It is the responsibility of the government to do what is right. We just entertain. It is really difficult to do a film that will bring back painful memories of lost sons, wives and daughters.”

Acting in a telenovela was not the original plan for Agnesi. He was a football player and till date have some scars on his knees as evidence of his days on the field. However, a chance meeting with a telenovela producer in a play shot him into the limelight. Since then, he has been living the fairy tale life, which he does so passionately. He highlighted some of the spoilers in the third season of ‘Woman of Steel,’ which starts airing on March 26.

“It’s a spin-off. There will be blood and revenge. The second season, which saw the end of Teca and Sara, left so many of the actors in shock, now we don’t have them and the story goes. They will be remembered. There is new conflict with them even if they are dead. It’s a weird feeling but I think its genius of the writers because we were afraid of what will happen without these characters. They also introduced new characters, which the audience will love and also hate. About my character, Marcelo Doriga, he falls in love again with another woman. He keeps his loyalty to the family. That’s what I love about this character. His loyalty. That is something as a person I really admire because I think loyalty is what really makes us a man or a woman. That’s a great virtue.”

For a long while, Mexico has been home to telenovelas but in recent times, things have changed. According to Agnesi, Columbia is taking the lead in the entertainment business even if countries like Argentina is also catching on.
Meanwhile, Aub glowed in the fact that Telemundo is leading in Telenovelas. This meteoric success, according to her, lies in the ability of the network to take risks with each production.

“Right now in our generation you can watch what you want on television. Before now you only had the classical kind of novella – the good and the bad, the rich and the poor. And you had to stick to that because that was it. Now, we have so many options that you are moving into risk to do a little bit of everything. I think that is something different. Telemundo is – risk taking. Telemundo has the super series and biography and it does it with passion. Sometimes some of the productions are good and sometimes they are bad. In the end, we are still learning from the rest of the public and try to give them what they want.”

Off-screen, Aub spends most of her time empowering women through different media. She is of a different opinion that feminism is really not a fight with men but with women because they fail to encourage one another.
“I love to empower women, to support people, to give happy messages and actually doing it in real life not just posting stuff on Instagram.”