WITH MY ‘GELE’, THERE’S NO HIDING PLACE— MADAM KOFO
When Madam Kofo, walked into XQZ' Moi, venue of City People's 10th anniversary and Award ceremony held last weekend in Lagos, almost all eyes in the hall followed her huge gele as she made her way to her table. And such attention has become her lot every- where she went since featuring in a TV programme, Second Chance, where she played the role of Madam Kofo. It's been close to two decades and the name and her signature flamboyant head gear has stuck! In this brief encounter, the amiable actress, born Riskat Abiola Atanda, reveals who tied the popular head gear that has brought her fame and, maybe, fortune. She began from how it all started?
Well, when I was given the role of Madam Kofo to play at that time, the tying of gele was not part of the original concept of the play. But, there was this particular episode that I was made to tie something very flamboyant to disturb Roli, the girl who normally sat behind me in class, so that she would not be able to see the black board. And, if you followed that drama, you would recall that Roli and I were always at each other's throat. So, in that story written by the late Lai Arasanmi, I was meant to tie this big flamboyant gele. Funny enough, at that time, I didn't even know how to tie the gele. The particular style I had on that day was done by Grace Egbagbe who was our producer then and Aunty Peju Aroyewu who was the costume and make-up manager. So, between them, that particular gele was done.
Now, after that time, each time people see me, the question they always ask is, we loved the gele you wore that day, how come you are not wearing any other one? So, I felt that well, if this thing is something that is going to give me a name, why don't I go and learn how to tie it? So, I went to people who know how to tie gele to learn and spent time practicing on my own. And, since then, the gele has come to stay.
Does it not bother you that you have to wear ethnic styles all the time if you must tie the gele and has that not conditioned you to always wear native?
It's not a problem for me because I know people love me. I know in some places they say women don't love each other but in my own case, my greatest fans are women and they always like me to put on my gele. Most people, when they invite me to an event, they tell me in advance to adorn my gele and make sure that the style is beautiful. So, I'm already used to it.
If I go to parties, I won't even think of not wanting to put on my gele because I know that my fans will be disappointed with me, even the men! I've had encounters with men who'd tell me, “can you come and teach my wife how to tie the gele? They give me their cards and I go to them. I have ministers' wives, commissioners' wives, glamorous women that I go to who want to look even more glamorous with their gele. Like what I have now, it can stay for more than a year. You can tie and just keep it somewhere and any day you need it, you just bring it out and use. But, I don't usually like to tie and keep. I like the ideas that come on the spur of the moment.
And how do you cope with all the attention that your head gear brings?
I must tell you that I'm already used to it. In fact, if I go to any party or occasion and I don't put on a flamboyant head gear, people will be wondering why. I remember I went to a party once and I wore a western outfit and just combed my hair. People were disappointed and you could see it in their faces; not that my outfit was bad, but because they expected to see me with the gele.
Don't you feel like hiding from this attention sometimes?
Of course I do. As a human being, there are times you might not be in the mood to talk, laugh or even step out of your house. You just want to be on your own, but your fans won't let that happen. They see you and go shouting, “Madam Kofo” and you have to force yourself to answer them. Sometimes, I feel like hiding. In fact, I tell my children that I feel like running away from this country. Sometimes, people think because you are popular, you are wealthy. I'm not a millionaire but I thank
God that I'm not a pauper. Sometimes, they expect you to buy something worth of N10 for N100 and they also expect to sell you something and not ask for change. But the atmosphere in Nigeria is not really for that. There are popular movie stars who for one year have not shot any movies and you see that kind of person and she wants to buy, for instance, a pack of orange juice that is being sold everywhere for N150.00 and you say yours is N500.00 and when you price, they tell you people like you should not price. They think everything is rosy for us because we are popular.
What is your impression about Nigerian women and fashion ?
Nigerian women are doing very well fashion-wise. They have taken fashion to the next level. Every time I see Nigerian women in and outside Nigeria, I'm always very happy and impressed with their fashion statement.
And your style?
I design my clothes myself and give them to tailors to make for me.
As far as fashion is concerned, what can't you do without?
I can't do without my gele or my wristwatch.
Since Second Chance, not much has been seen of you, have you quit?
I've not left TV. Right now, I'm shooting a soap for Super Story.
Any word for your fans?
I want to wish them well, especially the Press, our image makers.