How Ken Saro Wiwa changed my life - Zulu Adigwe, veteran actor
Remember Mr B, the popular character in the late Ken Saro Wiwa's soap, Bassey and company who would always fantasize about making his millions in the 80's? His name is Zulu Adigwe. Zulu is unarguably one of the finest theatre artistes to have come out from the African continent.
Although he came in as a replacement for Mr. Albert Egbe after the latter pulled out of the comedy series, Adigwe was able to prove himself and that marked the beginning of his steady rise to fame. Unarguably, one of the finest artistes to have ever emerged from Africa, Adigwe who made a first class from the University of Ibadan is a thoroughbred professional. Zulu has put in over two decades of practice as a crossover artiste and has traversed the stage, TV, home videos and music.
Well read and widely travelled, the father of three went down memory lane on his sojourn in the arts and the big screen. He also spoke about Nollywood, which he described as the pride of Africa, among other issues.
Journey into showbiz
I started performing at the age of seven but professionally, I started in Europe in 1970 when I got into university. I had my first experience in film business, I was in the university and I was already in the professional field. I did a lot of things outside showbiz but showbiz was the main thing. Outside showbiz, I have been a teacher, I have taught at nursery schools, I have taught in primary school, secondary and the university level. I still teach but not in institutions, I teach privately because I love impacting knowledge into people who want to come into showbiz.
Coming to Nollywood
I joined Nollywood in 1999. My first movie was Blood of the Orphan. I came into Lagos on invitation from friends who knew me. I was acting in Bassey and Company in Enugu and in 1987 Bassey and Company was rested. Before that time, I had come into Lagos to feature in Checkmate, I was a pioneer cast in Checkmate but something prompted me to hold on and I stayed in Enugu. In 1998, people started prompting me to come to Lagos but before then, I was already resident in Abuja.
The first movie I did was Blood of the Orphan and from there people picked interest in me. Till date, I have lost count of the number of movies that I have featured in
Romance with TV: Bassey and Company
My romance with TV started as far back as when I was an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan. But let me say that my romance with the TV as a professional started with Bassey and Company in 1987. I came into the show as Mr. B in a very interesting way. I was supposed to be the first Mr. B before Albert Egbe but at that time, I was also invited to be the lead character in another soap by Ken Saro Wiwa. I accepted and went to Port Harcourt.
There, I met Saro Wiwa and we talked. Along the line, Mr. B had problems with Sarowiwa and left, so there was a vacuum. Then Ken approached me and said Zulu why don't you take over that role? At that time, Bassey and Company had been on TV for two years. It had become very popular and I said Ken, I could not get into that big shoe. I asked him, how would the populace accept a new person just like that? After he persisted, I told him “ Sir, give me time to think about it because this is something that has to do with my own career.
He said how long do I need to think about it? I told him, one month. During that time, I began to work out how I would present a new Mr. B that people would accept so, explore my musical talent.
Working with Ken
It was very interesting because he was an extremely intelligent person. Meeting Ken influenced my career as an artiste. He offered me the chance to work in the Bassey and Company. It was a big challenge and I had to put in my best. We worked like a family. We were like brothers and sisters and we shared our problems together. What killed Bassey and Company was lack of sponsorship. At least, the serial lasted for almost seven years, which was good for an indigenous programme.
I think this work has been in the pipeline for a very long time and I have produced a number of musical works. I have observed the scenario in Nigeria and it has made me to be a bit careful. I attempted to release an album as far back as 1983 but I realized what Nigerians might invite fraud and I quickly retraced my steps because I did not want to get myself into exploitation. When we were doing Bassey and Company, I was doing the background music.
Eventually, Ken told me to compile a few of the songs and release them in an album, which we did. It was at the verge of release on Polygram Records label, which was renamed Premier Records at the time. When one white man later took over the record company. He was very excited about it but Ken got into problems with them because of money. They had distributed the album all over the country but because of this problem, everything was retracted and stopped. So, what I have now done is a solo effort and that's why I am a bit careful about the marketing. For now, I have done four tracks. It is a fusion of all my experiences. I was deep in Nigerian music. I was really versed in understanding Nigerian music and it has paid off very well.
As a matter of fact, about three years ago, there was this Nigeria National Arts Festival and at this particular year, the topic was: Music, it was in Abuja. I was invited to handle the whole thing for the Abuja entry. I didn't study music but I handled it. Out of the 18 states that were represented, my contingent won the gold.
When I was studying Theatre Arts, there was nothing like JAMB. Everything I did was natural. I had shown interest in performances right from the time I was in the primary school. I had always loved performance because it was in me. It was an inborn talent that I could just not suppress. As a matter of fact, as a youth, I went to school in Austria. When I finished my high school there, I gained an admission to study Medicine. While I was studying medicine, I was involved in showbiz. I had a band as far back as 1970. Interestingly, I still visit Austria often. I did a graduate course in the medical field before I left it for the arts.
Eventually, I lost my father. Before he died, he had founded a school in Nigeria, so there was pressure on me to leave whatever I was doing in Europe to take care of the school. The school was in Sapele, but it has been taken over by government long time ago. Over there in Europe, I studied French, English and German. At the University of Ibadan, after I finished my first year in 1973, I decided to continue with Theatre Arts. As God would have it, I graduated with a first class honours. I graduated at a very tender age and as God would have it, I got married when I was 30 years old.
I have three kids, two boys and one girl. My wife's name is Blessing. I met her in Nsukka. I had relations in Nsukka who were neighbours of my wife's people. She got so used to my profession and when we got our first son, I travelled out of the country. I was in the U.S for two months and we'll be celebrating our silver jubilee as married couple soon.
Shuttling Abuja and Lagos
There has been a very wrong impression that I live in Lagos. All this while, I have always lived in Abuja. I only come to Lagos for productions.Nsukka.
People will now see Zulu Adigwe from a new perspective because many of them don't know that I play music. Even in Nollywood eighty percent of them don't know I play music.
Views on Nollywood
I think that I am extremely proud of the classification of our film industry. It shows and exhibits the enormous talents in this country. This is an industry that government has not made any iota of input and it grew to be the third largest globally. So, that tells you what Nigerians can do. I have done so many things for this country free of charge, just to make things function. We were doing things in those days at National Theatre, running up an down with our resources and getting no feed back, we just wanted to do it.
What I would like to leave behind is my message. I believe my message is in my music. I addressed humanity in general but particularly Nigerian communities I want them to listen to what I am saying.
I don't have any special dream or vision because I believe an artiste is born to serve humanity, it is a professional service. Although people say let me be a star so that I can make money, but for me money is secondary. I want to have something to contribute to humanity.