MY PARENTS THREATENED TO CURSE ME WITH QURAN WHEN I TOOK TO ACTING’
As a young boy born and bred in Lagos, Adebayo Salami, popularly known Oga Bello, perhaps forgot that he had the kind of roots that could not allow him to take to some forms of vocation as any typical Lagos boy would. When he insisted on pursuing drama as a career and would not see reason with his parents who were from Ilorin, Kwara State where such jobs were seen as meant for beggars (alagbe), the old folk threatened him with what they had: the Holy Quran.
Oga Bello told Spectacles in his Ikorodu home during the week, “You know I came from a Muslim family in Ilorin and as you know, all we do in Ilorin; is either you take to trading or become an Arabic teacher. As the first born of the house, my parents found it difficult to have me go into acting, they used to call such things Ise alagbe (jobs meant for beggars).
“They called a series of family meetings to thrash the issue. At a point, they brought out the Holy Quran to curse me because I wanted to go and do drama. It was my late brother, Brother Saka, who told them to let me be. He said they should leave the boy, adding, 'Maybe that is his destiny, let him do what he wants to do. If he feels that there is no way there later, without telling him, he will retrace his steps.'”
That was how the young Salami was left to embrace his passion.
He said, “I discovered very early that I loved the arts. I was born here in Lagos, went to school and all that. Then on the Island, there was no major season that we did not organise something for the youth. During the Ramadan, we were doing Were festival; during the Ileya, it was Angere while in December, it was Fathy festival. All of these greatly had an influence on me. But I must say that something that caught my interest more was a television programme called the Village Doctor by the late Chief Hubert Ogunde. Then, the late Olumegbon used to hold rehearsals near our house and I usually went to watch. The following morning in the bathroom, I would act out everything I had watched the previous day; that was how the love grew.”
Could he have been motivated into acting for the the love of money? Salami was asked.
He answered by querying, “Which money? Where would you see the money? Money ke? I joined my group then on one pound, one shilling. We normally contributed money to buy drums and costumes. I never thought it was going to be my profession.”
There is no question that Oga Bello has become a big name as far as drama is concerned. He exudes confidence and skills on the tube, but he told Spectacles that he was able to achieve that by dint of hardwork, having to develop himself.
“Acting did not actually clash with my schooling, it was just a hobby. You know, it is like you are going to school and at the same time playing football alongside. I did not have the opportunity of going to the university, but I learnt a lot of things personally. I read a lot of books on production, stage production, editing, directing, etc. I attended seminars and workshops here at home and abroad which enhanced my job.”
Today, it is common to see Oga Bello act the part of big men in movies. But he said as a versatile actor, he was capable of acting any role.
“You know, I don't cast for roles, it is the work of the story writers to do that. They are the ones who determine who acts what role,” he explained.
Salami also debunked insinuations in some quarters that top actors and directors like him have constituted a mafia that discriminates among actors and actresses in the industry. Some actors and actresses had alleged that there was no way some particular artistes could be cast for prominent roles without belonging to the so-called cliques.
But Salami said, “It is a lie. If you are good, you are good and nobody can reject you. Versatile actors can never be rejected or sidelined. In this industry, you don't do things based on sentiments because it is for commercial purposes. Why would anyone dump a good actor simply because he does not belong to a so-called mafia?”
The heavily-built artiste rose stoutly in defence of fellow directors who are accused of demanding sexual gratification from actresses before giving them good roles in movies.
He said, “Anyone who tells you that is lying, maybe they don't know what they are doing. If you know your work very well, people (directors) will be looking for you.”
Oga Bello can be cool and pleasant to chat with, but he gets drawn out of his cool when you mention the issue of womanising. He would neither deny nor confirm whether he does that.
“What do you mean by womanising? Do you want to tell me, as you are now, that you don't love women? My wife is here, you are in my matrimonial home and you are asking me about womanising.
“I have fans, I have those who admire what I am doing and I have to reciprocate by loving them. There is no special thing attached to it, but people believe there is something. The moment they see you with a lady, they believe something is attached. My fans are the people who are making me and I must love them.”
Spectacles insisted on knowing how the artiste handles ladies who could be very desperate to have him despite all tactics that might be employed in checking them.
He said he did not see why such should be a problem. “That is their feeling.
Anyone who is coming to me with desperation, I know myself, I know what I am doing and I know what I can do, leave that to me. It is my personal problem.”
The actor does not believe in tales told by some of his colleagues that acting does not always put food on the table. He said if others say so, it meant something was fundamentally wrong with them.
“Maybe they did not learn their job very well. It depends also on how they handle it. What I think they should have said is that we could do better than we are doing at present. It has to do with marketing and some junk producers who want to reap from where they they did not sow.
Salami told Spectacles that the name, Oga Bello, which is today associated with him was never one of his names. According to him, it was just a name allocated to him in a play where he acted an executive man from Ilorin; but since then, the name has stuck. One thing he admitted to have weakness for is jewelry. He said he loved wearing jewelry as a way of creating his own style of dressing.
One impression he would want someone to take away from him is that Oga Bello is entirely different from Adebayo Salami.
“Adebayo Salami is cool. But when you are talking about Oga Bello, he is versatile. At times he can be cool and tough, it all depends on his mood,” he told Spectacles.