‘WHY MY OON AWARD IS PRECIOUS TO ME – CHIEF FALETI
Chief Bayo Faleti, a renowned poet, playwright, artiste and public administrator in this interview with Toluwani Olamitoke, speaks about his experience, his recent award and his plan for the future.
How did you feel when you were nominated for the OON award?
I felt very good. I was very happy I could be nominated for such an award. I didn't know how it came to be, but I was very happy.
You mentioned in a recent interview that there are other awards you aimed at winning aside the OON award. What are these awards?
I am a writer, and I will still continue to write. I will very much welcome any award that can come through my writings, plays or acting. Well, I don't think any award I am given can surpass that from the federal government because whatever is given me outside Nigeria can never be as valuable as that from my country. That I am recognised within my country is great. If any other award would come, it should be at par with the nation's award.
How did you find your way into acting?
I came into acting at a very early age. I was here in Ibadan studying Sign Writing after my primary school education. I was always following my boss to rehearsals. At that time, there were no professionals; most of the drama groups were amateurs and would normally travel to their different homes during Christmas, Easter and other festive seasons. During this period, they performed drama in their communities. I later joined one of these groups. When I was through with secondary school education, I went to Oyo, my home town; and there, I started a drama group of my own – Oyo Youth Dramatic Society. This was between the year 1949 and 1951.
You are an English graduate. Why then do you take up roles in Yoruba plays rather than English?
I wrote quite a lot of poems in English in a weekly magazine called Triumph when I was in Ibadan Boys' High School. one day, I met my cousin and told him my ambition to become a great writer like Shakespeare. He answered, “No, you can't be like Shakespeare because you don't write in your language. Shakespeare wrote in his language.” this was common with many writers then; it was fast becoming a vogue. from that time on, I changed my writing to Yoruba. In my university days, I was the Editor of Horizon, a journal of English Studies Department; and at Ibadan Boys High School, I was the Editor of Triumph. I had my hands dipped into writing both in Yoruba and English. When I am opportune, I want to write more in English. That is my target.
Will it be correct to say that your writing in Yoruba was instrumental to the interest you developed in acting in Yoruba plays?
No, there are writers who don't actually act. As I said earlier on, I founded a theatre group when I was young. My acting career began then. Aside this, I was one of the young children who acted plays for my school at the end-of-the-year entertainment for final year pupils. So, it was not my writing in Yoruba that influenced my acting in Yoruba plays. Rather, they go hand in hand. Again, being a member of my church choir and possessing the ability to compose songs, I was able to inculcate my singing into my plays. any song in my play is composed by me. Talking about Festac '77, the play, Langbodo, written by Wale Ogunyemi, was Nigeria's entry at Festac. I composed some of the songs in it. One of them is Ibi aye yi nlo me mo.
You have been famous as an actor. Can it also be said that you have made much money from it?
You don't enter into the arts because of financial gain. Financial gain may come if it will come, but what you want in arts is recognition; not cheap recognition anyway, but recognition by fellow artistes. If other artistes can actually recognise you as somebody who can be reckoned with, this is worth more than money. (Pointing to the furniture in his sitting room) You can see my sitting room is not flamboyantly furnished. I think a good artiste should be as simple as possible. And what you see in the home of an artiste will be signs of arts. You can see my collections – the carvings and the likes. These are what I gain, not heavy financial gains.
You are perceived to be a traditionalist? Are you?
I like Yoruba tradition and I like as much as possible to follow it, propagate it and use it as occasion calls for it. I have also given a lot of lectures on it. Yoruba culture has to do with how you speak; the language you speak, songs, names, tribal marks, drumming, medicine, technical works, mathematics etc. It is interesting to know that the Yorubas are very great mathematicians. Before we came into learning the foreign mathematics, Yoruba had been using the 10 decimals. Then, we were using cowries.
Are you then a Christian or a Muslim?
Well, I go to church. I am a member of the Baptist Church and I belong to the Baptist denomination. I was baptised here in Ibadan and Israel too, in the River Jordan. So, if all these makes me a Christian, I don't know.
How did you meet your wife?
You meet quite a lot of people in strange ways. You meet a man the way you meet a woman. Occasions might call for the meeting and in those days of adventure, you made the advance or the first move. When you looked through a window and you saw a lady passing by, you would say ”Excuse me please, can I have a word with you?” In your letters you didn't keep on talking love; you would write about your environment, problems, school events, and also ask after their friends. Those are the things you talked about, and you would keep courting each other for years. As you talked and exchanged letters, love would gradually set in. There are those who court for four or five years without touching each other; and at times , a lady is snatched from you, because you are too shy to touch her.
Can you recall your most embarrassing moment?
how many embarrassments would I remember as a journalist or broadcaster, at home or on the job? Incidentally, in my own case, I take things as they come. You can hardly embarrass me. When you say something which appears offensive, I turn it into a joke. For instance, if you say 'You are a bush man,' I will say yes, I am a bush man because I come from Oyo, and Oyo is a bush'. So, a lot of what people say don't bother me. I don't think I suffer embarrassments.
What's your philosophy of life?
Take things as they come. Don't be unnecessarily worried. There are things to conquer in life. If you can conquer a woman, then you've conquered life. And if you can conquer money, you have conquered life. And how do you conquer money? if you have money, it's okay; and if you don't have, don't start ruminating on it and become unneccesarily sad. Know it's a general thing and don't let it weigh you down. Shakespeare said 'Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think'. You have to think of how to come out of your problem. Always keep in mind that your woman can hardly behave better than what a woman does. So, if she offends you, take it. if you try to correct her and she refuses to change, then don't worry. Don't let the behaviour of a woman bother you unnecessarily, or else you will die within a very short time.
What keeps you going?
Doing what I like to do. sometimes if I go on a location, I meet with fellow artistes. We chat and exchange views. I also go through the dailies regularly and also read traditional stories. By listening to the elderly people speak – that is those who have seen through life by being exposed to all sorts of situations – one gets wiser. I also like to make people laugh.
Has any of your children shown interest in acting?
Many of them do. I don't know any of my children who has not taken a part or the other in my plays either in magazine, theatre, or film. They also direct and even write plays. The males write their own plays, write for people and direct their own programmes.