NIGERIAN MEN ARE NOT ROMANTIC – ZION YVOKA, CAMEROONIAN ACTRESS
She is a lady who should know. After all, she has traversed several cultures, from her native Cameroon to Ghana, Ivory Coast to France and from Togo to South Africa. Nine months into her stay in Nigeria and after what is to her a culture shock, she has come out with a damning verdict that leaves Nigerian men weighing very low on the romance scale. Not afraid to shoot from the hip, Zion Yvoka, a Cameroonian actress and singer proclaimed that Nigerian men do not fit her description of romantic lovers. Hitting below the belt, she added: “some are not even gentlemen.”
Some of the first things Zion noticed not long after her arrival in Nigeria were the natural beauty of the country's women, their fabulous sense of style and the incredible length they can go to look exquisite.
For the velvet-voice singer whose songs are hugely inspired by life vicissitudes and triumphant tales of love, it is something of an irony that beautiful as Nigerian women are; they hardly receive the tender care and adoration that they deserved from their men. She sums up her observations:
“As a creative person whose works are influenced by the life of other people, I take time to observe and I see that Nigerian women are gorgeous and I also see that Nigerian men tend to like the opposite sex a lot, yet I don't see a lot of respect in the mannerism of the men out here; I don't hear a lot of love language in relationships and I don't see enough tenderness. There is no doubt that Nigerian men love their women but it would help if they did away with their brusqueness.”
Zion's view of the Nigerian man is by no means from a pigeon hole. So far she has functioned and interacted with Nigerians as an actress, singer, model, scriptwriter and masseuse. She says every woman likes the romantic undertones like dinner by candlelight or in the moonlight. The French culture must have done a lot for the romantic attitude of Cameroonian women but the actress insists: “My man should pay me as much attention as to know and remember not just my birthday but the sizes of my bra, shoes and panties.”
My name is Zion Yvoka. I am from the South West region of Cameroon, precisely from the Balondo clan under Ndian Division. I'm an actress, a singer, scriptwriter, model and masseuse. I was born in Kumba, grew up in Yaounde. I attended Baptist High School in Buea, went to university in Yaounde. In the beginning, I read Biochemistry. My plan was to go on and do Internal Medicine, but an accident changed all that. My father was involved in an auto crash that almost left him paralyzed. Doctors said he would take four years at the minimum to use his legs again. He suffered four complicated fractures and two dislocations.
I was devastated, just like everyone else in the family. My father is a cash crop merchant and a recognized figure in local politics. My grandfather was an adviser to former President Ahmadu Ahidjo. My dad is into cocoa and coffee export. I couldn't bear to see him become a vegetable. I turned my back on Internal Medicine and switched to Physiotherapy. I took that decision out of compassion. I needed to be able to take care of my dad. He calls me his queen. We have this bond even if ours is a polygamous family. My dad has two wives. He never had a sister of his own, so when I was born he took to me. I am like his sister, sort of. Everything came to a standstill with that accident. Nothing else mattered to me except my father. This was why I turned my back on a big job with a big hospital so I could care for my father. I am glad I took that decision because after just one year, my father miraculously began to walk again. God used me to make my father walk again on November18th , 2002.
I started singing at an early stage. My mother said that as a little girl I was a great mimic, singing songs I heard on radio and assuming characters I watched on television drama. I joined the church choir in secondary school; I sang in the church and social events. At 15, I won a singing contest organized by the United Nations on HIV/AIDS. My father said there was no way her daughter was going to be a musician. He is the conservative type and held the view that female musicians were nothing more than glorified prostitutes. My father once burnt my passport after my mother secured one for me to travel to London. Music is one of my mother's passions and she was looking for any opportunity that would give me exposure.
She had this dream of me being a child star or something. But my father screamed: “Get this madness out of your head. Showbiz is for footloose girls.”
I am the first girl in a family of five children. I have so much respect for my father and I always listen to his yes and no. He will always tell you the advantages and disadvantages. But he gives you the freedom to express your mind; it is not as if he will ram things down your throat. I knew that whatever I did and whatever success I recorded, I would never be fulfilled if I don't sing.
The turning point in my quest for showbiz came with my father's accident. During that period I was caring for him, I use to sing for him each time I was giving him massage. When he is depressed, I sing and his spirit is lifted. Music therapy helped him a lot. I sang for him inspirational songs and he just felt the power of music. At the end he wept and said: “I'm sorry I held you back all these while. You can now go and pick up your music. I have given you my blessing.” One day afterwards, I sang at a wedding and my dad began to cry. It was a bit embarrassing but at the same time joyous.
So far I've written over 40 songs. I have performed in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast. I sing gospel in churches and I do secular songs like Sassa, Makossa and reggae. I am working on my first album though the emphasis in Cameroon is live performance. I have shared stage with Charlotte Debango, Hanny Harzan and The Bakers Family.
After music, acting is my next love. Again I started when I was little, taking on characters just to amuse people around me. I started acting in my country first as a continuity person in a movie called Sacrament. After that, there was this movie, Horrors of Wealth. It happened that the lead girl lost her mother two days to the shooting. She had to travel, so another girl was needed to replace her. I was called in to take her part. The first challenge was that I had little time to read the script and fit into the role. But I was determined to give it my best shoot. At the end, the director said that the original girl couldn't have done it better.
In 2006, a film crew from Nigeria came to Cameroon to do a movie. I was happy to work with them. Nigerian movies are very popular in Cameroon. I did the best I could to assist one way or the other, like helping out to find good locations. It was after that production that I took the bold step to come to Nigeria. I love acting but the film industry in my country is not as developed as that of Nigeria. I needed to spread out. My room at home is covered with huge mirrors; sometimes my sisters found it weird that I was practicing in front the mirror.
I decided to come to Nigeria even when I was already doing well with my music. I did the publicity jingle for Union Bank Cameroon. I wrote and sang the jingle which is shown all over the country. One of the actors that came to Cameroon, Emmanuel France, helped to convince my father on my coming to Nigeria. Here, I have sung in churches, featured in close to a dozen movies but none is yet a major role. I sang the opening montage of an NTA drama called I Beg Your Pardon.
While here, I got an invitation to do a movie in Ghana. It was an international job done on celluloid. It was a feature film called The Last Respect. It was a totally new experience for me. In Ghana, we shoot one scene a day. All the crews came from Germany. Here in Nigeria, we shoot at least 13 scenes a day; sometimes 20 scenes.
One of the movies I have featured in is Teco Benson's Explosion. I played the role of the other woman. I am not the first Cameroonian to come to Nollywood. Others before me have complained of discrimination. There is tribalism in the Nigerian movie industry. You find that casting or audition here is a mere ceremony; they would have already chosen those they want. Only minor roles are auditioned. If they throw auditions open and give people chances based on merit, many upcoming actors and actresses would show the stuff they are made of.
If given the chance, I'll explode. I'm waiting to be discovered. Many actresses would not tell you there is sexual harassment in the industry, but I cannot count on a few dozen fingers the number of funny overtures I have received. I like a guy that treats me like I'm the best thing that ever happened to him. It really trips me. Any guy that resorts to going round in circles is just wasting his time. I certainly won't help him. And if he thinks that taking me to dinner is asking me a question, he'll never get an answer.