Most artistes are myopic – Chief Lere Paimo
Chief Lere Paimo (MFR) is a veteran Yoruba actor who has been in the movie circle for over four and a half decades. Today, it... could be said that he is at the peak of his career despite his not too educated status. So far, he has been able to cut across both the Yoruba and the English genre of showbiz on a global scale. He has received several awards for his great performances of which the national award, Member of the Federal Republic (MFR), is topmost. In this interview with Funmi Salome Johnson, the Aare Arobajo of Ogbomoso unfolds his trip into the entertainment world, the rewards and challenges of the job and how he has managed to remain relevant to date.
You have spent about 49 years on stage now and you are still on, what's the magic?
Well, I owe everything to God Almighty. It has not been easy but God has been very faithful. Life is full of ups and downs and not a bed of roses, but with one's trust in God, things have managed to work and are still working. Today, you meet some difficulties today and tomorrow you laugh, just stay with your God and be focused. As far as I know, that has been the trick. Talking about the story of my acting career, it has been fun but not without its ups and downs. I celebrated my 45 years on stage about three to four years ago and I will be seventy years old in September and intend to celebrate it big. When I started, I spent twelve years under my late boss, Duro Ladipo and another three to four years under Oyin Adejobi, both of blessed memory. I inaugurated my theater group, Lere Paimo Theatre group in April 1973. When I went for my first tour, I had an accident, even before the accident, we had had an unpalatable experience. We used to hold our performances in courtrooms, school halls and open places because then, there were no halls. On this fateful day after performing in Zaria, we had slept only for us to wake up and discover that all our goods have been stolen. These goods included our costumes, equipments like microphone, drums including our money and majority of these things were not mine. I borrowed some, I hired some. At the end of the day, we had to rely on some of our aides to give us dresses, and money to travel back home. But today, the story is different, I have been blessed such that I give out dresses and costumes to younger artistes as the need may be. In one word, the incident has been a blessing in disguise.
What has witnessing the metamorphosis of the movie industry from the days of cinema/stage to the era of home video been like?
Being on stage is more professional because people will see you face to face. They will see how you dance, how you sing, talk, dress and how you do everything. In those days, you go out as a group just like a musical band and do your thing. There were groups like Lere Paimo Theatre group, Ishola Ogunsola Theatre group and others then. But today, if I want to do a film, I will invite people from different places that are fit for the role. The stage plays again has only one location while you can have many locations in a film and it gives room for actual locations. For instance, you cannot have a river on stage but you can actually shoot a movie by the riverside or in the bush. Those are some of the advantages that film has over the stage. Also, movies give room for the use of different costumes and other essentials such as cars, aircrafts and the like whereas the stage cannot accommodate all that.
What would you attribute today's decline of the cinema culture to?
Most people don't go to cinemas again because of the fact that the industry has been polluted. You know, in every profession, there will always be the bad eggs. They have simply refused to go to the cinemas because if a film comes out today and they watch it at the cinemas, tomorrow the film is out in the market on home videos. So, they will rather go to the market to buy it rather than pay money to watch it at the cinema. In those days, before a film can be sold out, it could take few months but today, the greed of our marketer and some artistes will not let things be.
So you believe the fault is from the marketers?
Yes, it is from the marketers and even some of the artistes. For me now, I prefer producing a film in a year. If you are able to produce a very good film in a year you will make money. There is no sense in making ten films in a year and making lesser money envisaged. Besides, where do the stories come from? Is it that cheap to have them in such availability? A lot of movie practitioners do not take their time to check on all these and that is why there are many stories with funny titles and shallow ending today and that also explains why a lot of movies are shabbily done. If you have noticed, you would bear me witness that even the story lines are most times over recycled. It is because many of these artistes cannot think deeply and write stories that will teach good lessons.
Like many, one never knew you do English movies until your performanced in 'Narrow Path,' a mainframe film. But why have you not been featuring much in English home videos?
If I am invited, I will go and like you have rightly said, many of them don't know that I speak English at all. I have also featured in one of the Wale Adenuga's Super Story series titled 'Eye for an eye'. I played the role of Davies for the whole of the quarter that it was shown. It was sold not only in Nigeria but as far as South Africa. Sometimes ago, somebody approached me about a story he intended to write and had me participate in. He wanted to give me a role with Oby Edozien and I told him there was no problem that whenever he was ready, he should let me know. It was because he knew I could do it otherwise, he wouldn't have asked me. Others who don't know this might be skeptical, but I am sure a large number of Nigerians are aware of my capacity in such area. As a versatile actor, I am supposed to cut across all and not have any limitation. By doing this, we would only be doing our job of teaching our viewers adequate moral lessons. That is why when we are on set we turn to another thing, different from our real characters justto drive our point home. We are not that bad in real life.
Of all the movies you have featured in, which ones are particularly challenging?
I first of all cherish my own film Ogbori Elemoso. It is a story of how Ogbomoso was founded and it is the only film that has won the evergreen award. It is 19 years old today and was first shot in 1990 as an epic film. I have done so many films but I can say that the Ogbori Elemoso is so far most challenging, may be because it belongs to me and being an epic film, a lot of efforts and task were put into it.
How do you get along with younger artistes?
People say Ko ba onile je, ko bagba je, ko to re gbe re yo o dorun. If you don't get along with the younger ones then whom will you work with? I have chosen to be free with the younger ones because you have to leave a legacy behind for them. I have a lot of experiences to share with them and if you don't get along with them, how then do you impart the knowledge and experiences into them. That is the reason I have set up the Eda Cultural Ambassadors. It is a legacy I want to leave behind after I might have lived for about 150 or 160 years. That is what the Yoruba will call Ise to nfohun leyin iku after all I have been taught some things and God blessed me with the acting trait. So, why won't I impart it unto others?
On the babalawo roles which you play many times over with little or no effort, is it an inborn gift or it was learnt?
I learn't it. I am not an herbalist. A lot of times people think I am a babalawo but honestly,I am neither an herbalist nor fetish in any way. I am a Christian and belong to a church council at Agbala Itura. There is a difference between one's profession and religion. I can play the role of a doctor, a king, a thief or any role at all. The role of a babalawo that I play regularly is just one of them all. Like I have said earlier on,we are doing all these films particularly to teach people lessons, I am not an herbalist. To tell you that this is a popular belief, some weeks ago, someone called my phone telling me of their decision(I wouldn't know how many they were) to visit my place for some spiritual consultation, “where are you,”? the person asked, you know, I was simply speechless. My sincere response was ; “ Sorry, I am not an herbalist, I am only playing my role well.”These are some of the embarrassment one experiences on a daily basis.
What kind of a man are you outside your job?
I am a simple person in nature. It will amaze you to hear that many times when I come across any of my classmates in school they always asked, “ Lere, when did you become this talkative you have always been on the quiet side?,” and I would tell them that it all came to be for the nature and demand of my job which God has been assisting me to do adequately. Generally, I am a simple person who takes life so easy as I go about my day to day activities so quietly
How fulfilled are you on this career?
Yes, I thank God it has paid me quite well. I have been able to train my children in school, I live in my own house and I have a car that I drive about,what more could I have asked for from God? Although I am still expecting more blessings from God but at least God has done a lot for me.
How would you compare the Yoruba movie industry to other motion picture industries in Nigeria?
I will say the Yoruba film industry is the best because we have on display very regularly,a very rich cultural heritage in our stories that others are copying because they are good. Some will translate our stories into English. The Yorubas has a cultural value that is uncommon and this we show in dressing, food, greetings and in all ramifications of life, we have a strong culture. And it is these cultural values that reflect in most of our stories. Apart from the fact that the movies are entertaining, they also teach values and moral lessons. I don't want to mention any other tribe and culture.
How true is the fact that there are caucus within the Yoruba movie industry?
The caucuses are not created out of fight or malice. We have a body which is the Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners(ANTP) but if you go to Odunfa you will see Ogogo and Yinka Quadri, they have their caucus and they still belong to the ANTP. They meet maybe weekly or fortnightly to iron things out and they throw everything to the national body. So the caucus is not to divide us but to uplift.
How did you meet your wives?
I met them in different ways. The senior wife, we were together when I inaugurated my group. When I started my group, she was interested, joined the group and we eventually became husband and wife and we are still together till today.
How many of them do you have in your house living with you?
I have two wives in my house living with me.
How does it feel to have the entire family in the same profession?
As you make your bed, so will you lie on it. It is the way you handle your home that you meet it. Since both of them are living together, there has to be unity because they are one body now. As their husband, I don't discriminate, I love them all equally and of course, their children are all mine and so I wouldn't know why I should prefer one to the other. So it has been good living together and doing the same business.
Is there any of your children showing interest in acting?
O yes,there are some who are really interested. Some of them have taken part in singing and doing sound tracks for a number of films. But I want them to concentrate on their education first after which, the can now have their way.
Supposing you are more educated than you are right now, would you have still ended up in the art?
Let's leave that to God, I don't know where I could have found myself now. Lets just say, one's life would go the way God wants it.
Do you consider going back to school now?
There is no need for that again, I have left the remaining education to the children, let me continue with my bata dance steps.
Apart from the art, what other things do you do?
I don't have any other thing I do for now. I am just proposing to have a film village if I could have the support of the government, I know that I have been highly recognised at least especially with National award I got recently;The Member Federal Republic (MFR), so I am still working on that.
When you were growing up, did you imagine that you would end up being an artiste some day?
I would not say, I actually thought I would end up doing this but I have been taking lead roles since I was in school. I have played various roles in the school plays then. I remember that each time I am going to perform in the school drama, I would announce in my compound that I am going to be made king today and all the wives in the compound would come out eyeing me. I would put on my costume and move around the compound proudly. So that had always been in me, one day when I was in Osogbo at the architectural department, I became interested in becoming an architect but soon had to jettison the idea when .I found out that Duro Ladipo organised one show in 1962. I immediately jumped at that and thus commenced my acting career. I was given an Oba role and others to play which I did well and that was how it all started.
Do you have any childhood experience you find memorable?
The only one I can remember was that when I was young, I used to ask lots of questions. So, there was this particular arrow in our bathroom and I asked my mother who the owner of the arrow was and she told me, it was form grandfather and that, that was what he used during the world war. I was amazed and said, so my grandfather was a warrior maybe I will become one someday I kept the arrow and in fact, I used the arrow in the Ogbori Elemoso film, may be that was why the film was so famous. I also knew that I have always been a good comedian which I was doing on radio years back. I enjoy cracking jokes a lot.
Were your parents happy about your decision to make art your career in life?
Initially, they did not support me. My mother used to say Iran baba re wo ni maa jo kiri? meaning who amongst your father's generation dances all about, because you know at that time, artistes have this funny and crazy way of dressing so, they see the profession as a crazy one, not meant for some people but I continued. Then, one day, when I went to Ogbomoso for a performance, a stage play, they came to the place where we were performing and when they saw the crowd, they were surprised that my presence could bring such a huge crowd of spectators. That was a small one. When I went to London with my master where I shook hands with Queen Elizabeth and my father saw it, he was very proud of me telling everyone that cares to know of how his son shook hands with the queen of England. It was that day that I became the proud son of my parents all over again.
What advice do you have for upcoming ones who are aspiring to succeed like you?
I will advise them to be careful with the kind of stories they write. Apart from the entertaining stories they write,they should also write stories that will teach moral lessons and impact values into people. Sometimes, the way our girls dress is not good at all, going naked does not make one more beautiful and so they should reflect this and others in their movies. We should let our stories reflect more of our culture. Also, they should not make money their primary reason for coming into the industry, let them work well first and then the money will come.