Adebayo Salami, popularly known by his stage name ‘Oga Bello’, is a veteran actor, filmmaker, movie producer and director. He started his career at the age of 12 and has earned himself a stake in the growth of the Yoruba movie industry today. Oga Bello tells Tosin Clegg his reaction to changes in technology and morality in the industry
My journey so far
All I have to say is thank you to the Almighty Allah for being so kind to me. Talking of the achievements and other things I would only say thank you to Him. I’ve been in the industry for 54 years
It’s quite a long time now. I started in 1964 when I was 12 years old. There have been a lot of changes in the industry since then. You cannot compare those days to nowadays, in terms of so many things, including technology and discipline in the industry. That’s why I said a lot has changed. Even culture itself is dynamic. In those days, there was discipline, but the upcoming ones don’t have respect so much these days, especially for the call time. In those days, you must respect the call time. About changes in technology, people who started from stage performances had to do it at one take, because there was no opportunity to cut and retake like we are doing now. So, the technology has changed. So many things cause lack in discipline. For instance, back then, we were doing things without expecting any money, as it was about passion for the job. The job satisfaction itself is enough for us and it is always difficult to manage business with artistic work, but when you can, it puts food on your table.
I have a lot of productions ongoing
We just concluded a Television Series for Startimes which will start showing soon, and I have some movies that I have just shot, one of which is ‘Ekisa’ but I have a big cinema I’m working on with a working title as, ‘Khaki Boys’. Ekisa movie has a tip from a Yoruba adage, which means my blood is more important than any other person. And for the movie, I have myself, Sola Kosoko, Femi Adebayo, Muyiwa Ademola and a host of others.
I think I had opportunity to change the style of Yoruba movies
Initially, I didn’t join home videos, as I started with celluloid, together with Ogunde, Ade Love, and Baba Sala. I produced my first movie in 1985, Omo oru nkan in 1987, 1989 I did Eri Okan and at that time they had started home videos but I didn’t join, so also Ade Love and Ogunde didn’t join, because we believed, at that time that home video was not acceptable all over the world. But when the economy started crashing and we needed to survive and sustain our audience, I decided in 1993 to do Asewo Tori Mekka.
The name, Oga Bello came in 1971
There was a programme on TV when we still had NTV Victoria Island and the programme was called Barbie’s Show and it was being anchored by the late Art Alade and was produced by Oladele Bank Olemoh. So, they gave us a segment there for 15 minutes to perform and during the character analysis we were giving ourselves names and my Oga looked at me and was like you are from Ilorin we would be calling you Bello and that’s how it came about on the programme and it is well accepted by people.
Yoruba movies are a passion for me
As I believe, it is through that I can develop my culture and explain better to my target audience. It is not that I haven’t featured in English movies, I have done one or two, but I can’t remember anymore. But if I am invited, I would go but I won’t go and lobby for anything.
I don’t always judge myself or my works
I believe strongly that my fans and people out there are the ones that can judge me. But, anything you want to do, just do it well. We learn, we know it, we practice it and we keep improving on it, as whatever you want to do, you need to move with time. That helped me most, as if I am to be on any work I make adequate research on it.
I’m always happy to meet my fans
Their reactions make me see that they love my job and appreciate all that I am doing. If they don’t, obviously they wouldn’t come around and I’m always happy to relate to them. I also try to maintain such relationships with them.
Nigerians sometimes talk bad about the country
Some Nigerians engage in bad talk about Nigeria and the way they portray our country is too bad. When I come out of my house and I tell you our house is dirty, stinking or smelling that’s how you are going to take it. But when I tell you our house is neat and we do things right that’s how you are going to take. It’s our people from there that portray us in a bad manner. People in foreign countries appreciate us very well, as we are the second in terms of production, even with the little resources at our disposal. The way we portray ourselves is the way they see us, but when they meet you and know you better, they may view you differently.
We are killing our culture
And I would tell you how. As a Yoruba man, I don’t see you speaking Yoruba with your children. So, when you are talking of movies they would prefer to watch English movies instead of movies in Yoruba; isn’t that a way of killing our culture, and everything Yoruba too? Well, that’s number one. Two, we have more audience than they do and I remember the cinema started with us. I remember when I released one of my movies back then, Omo oru nkan, the capacity of the Main Bowl at the National Theatre was 3,600 and we had a full house for 12noon, 3p.m. and 6p.m., until the Cinema culture started.
If you can do your investigation, you would hardly see up to 20 per cent of English Movie producers that have broken even. When you go to film school they would teach you how to make movies with a low budget and I believe we are not yet ripe to be spending so much money on movies. More so, the film houses don’t help Producers, as they would be taking too much of percentage off their works. The Yoruba circle is planning on bringing back our cinema culture.
Using younger actors to play the older persons’ role
It depends on your script, but I call it a very wrong casting for anybody that does that, instead of using an old man that has the experience. But if it is a transition from a younger cast to an older one it’s a different story, as you use that to interpret your cast. Anything other than this means the producer doesn’t know his work.