The name Yemi Adeyemi might not ring a bell but the instant Suara is mentioned, it is easy to place a face to the name due to his exploits in drama on TV. In this interview with Ademola Olonilua, the veteran thespian opens up on some of his fondest memories in life
You look very agile. What is the secret to your youthful looks and agility at 70?
There is no secret other than you should let your food be your medicine and by this, I mean that you should always watch the things you eat. Also, always rely on God because what people think is magic is simply my reliance on God. Some Yoruba people would say that it is, ‘ajidewe’, but there is nothing like that except you take care of yourself and God is also there to care for you. I do not drink or womanise. I am a very self-contented person and nothing bothers me.
But most people believe that the thespians of your time were casanovas…
Somebody who womanises or is randy is usually careless; he would not care much about life. I have my own weaknesses too especially when it comes to religion, for instance, I am a practising Christian but I am also a naturalist. My father was very good in herbal medicine and he was a seer. When my father died, his ‘herbalist bag’ which the Yoruba call the ‘ijapa’ was given to me. My mother was a staunch member of the Cherubim and Seraphim and to be a member of that church, you need to be very spiritual. I believe in the will of God because it is only his own way that would suffice.
Is it right to assume that your father passed the baton to you by handing his bag over to you?
Somebody passed it to him as well.
But why did you follow your mother’s path instead of your father’s way spiritually?
A wife would have an edge over her husband when it comes to matters of spirituality and that is why a man needs to listen and search for a woman that is pure. My mother did not go against my decision to practise traditional religion. The truth is that she had an edge over my father to such an extent that she used to take him to church every Sunday.
Being that I am a very good drummer, I soon became the church’s lead drummer and that was what spurred my interest in the Christian religion.
We learnt that some herbalists came to pray for you during the week. Don’t you think that it would contradict the fact that you are a Christian?
It would not contradict anything. There is a difference between religion and culture; in the same way, there is a difference between ambition and intention. I do not have problems but I have faced challenges in life.
What are some of the challenges you faced?
One of them is that I never had the intention of marrying more than one wife even though I have never kept more than one wife in my house. However, I have three women who have children for me.
When I was younger, an old CAC pastor who is from Ilesha, Osun State, told my father that I was going to marry more than one wife and I would be a ladies’ man. I did not want to have more than one woman in my life; neither did I capitalise on what the pastor said but every other thing the man said came to pass. When things were very tough for me, there was a pastor I went to meet and he told me that the answer to my problem was in the roof of my father’s house. I went there and saw my father’s oracle and it had been there for decades.
At your age, do you tilt towards Christianity or traditional religion?
Christianity is not a religion; it is a way of life. We all have the same belief and that is our belief in God.
If you did not believe that you would have more than one wife, how did you find yourself in that situation?
I believed that a man who marries just one wife is a stupid man. One thing I have come to realise is that if you marry more than one wife, you are a wise person. People would argue about this and I would answer them.
I got married to my first wife in an African church. Somewhere along the line, her attitude and behaviours changed and it was disturbing my belief in God. I asked God if we were not meant to marry more than one wife and I continued with this lady, would I live long? I thank God for my home because recently I stepped out in the company of my wives and when they saw themselves, they embraced each other. A pastor had to come and ask me how I achieved it. My belief is that when a woman challenges a man and asks him, ‘what would you do?’ the man should not flex his muscles. All you need do is get someone that would contest with the woman, a competitor, and she would sit up. Do not use a divide and rule approach because if the woman cannot attack you directly, she would use the children and the man is always at a loss since all the children belong to the man. God just gave me this intuition and that is the method I have been adopting. None of my eight children can live without themselves.
If you left your first wife due to attitudinal change for another woman, why did you go ahead to put the third woman in the family way?
To be honest, it is not as if my first wife was a terrible person but the attitudinal change was something I did not envisage. The only way I could check her behaviour was taught to me by my father who married only one wife but he died young. My father died at the age of 94. I say it is a young age because I am going to live more than his age. God has given me what it takes.
When I married the second woman, I did not take her home, neither did I spend nights at her house. I did it to fester mutual competition in my own way. Immediately she found out that I had another woman, my first wife would go to the woman’s house to create a scene but whenever she got there, she never met me; so it was difficult for her to cause any form of trouble. Do not tell a woman she is bad, let her realise it, sadly, they realise late. That is when they say things like, ‘had I known.’ I warned her but she never listened, so I was taking things slowly. A few days ago, my first wife was so jealous about my new SUV that she had to exclaim, ‘wouldn’t you carry me in your new car?’ I started laughing and I told her that the car is actually hers because if my first son comes to Lagos today, he would be going about town in the new vehicle. Who is enjoying it? The truth is that the man would suffer; work all his life to send his children to school and at the end of the day, they would still go back to their mother. Before they send you N50,000, they would have given their mother about N5m. For a man to keep a woman, you need God’s hands in the union.
But you still have not explained how you met your third wife?
They are not three. I have children from three women. My religion says that if you go to bed with a woman, you have to take care of her so that it would be well with you.
Recently, I was on a plane with Dangote and while talking, he mentioned that he was just having his first meal in the last 48 hours; I was shocked because I had eaten to my satisfaction all through that period. He said that he wanted his peace of mind. Without a woman, you cannot have peace of mind and with them, you cannot have peace of mind. They are a necessary evil. It is not patience that one needs to be with a woman; instead, you need Godly intervention.
How come you fell in love with acting when you were as young as six years old at a time when there were barely television sets in Nigeria and only travelling theatre groups entertained the public?
My father wanted me to be a policeman because of their daily routine but I loved drumming. We used to have a teacher who taught us home lesson and the only reason I always attended the home lesson was because of entertainment. If we had a drama in December, we would have begun rehearsals since January. When I had my first stage performance, I did so well that people told me I was a genius on stage. They all appreciated me but my father was very angry with me. His maternal grandfather was the Aromolaran of Ilesha. My father vowed that none of his children would become a beggar as that was what he called entertainers. He knew that I loved drumming but he refused to allow me to follow my passion. The ironic thing is that he was the one that made me fall in love with drumming because every Sunday, drummers would come to our house to beat the drums for him and he would interpret what the talking drums said to me. Later, he said he did not want me to become a drummer.
Did he ever give you his blessings as regards your career?
Shortly after I finished from the University of Ile Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, and began to work at NTA, I was given a car. I went to my father’s house and he was the first person to enter my car. He asked where I got the vehicle from and I told him that it was from doing drama. I made him sit at the back of my car and he was almost prostrating to me, asking me to forgive him. I explained to him that it was a very lucrative career especially if one went to the university to study it. I made him realise that as I left the university, I was on level 8 step 2 and I was given a car. I took him to my apartment as well at GRA Agodi, Ibadan. When he saw the way the apartment was furnished, he was overwhelmed. He was very happy. When he saw my picture with Wole Soyinka, he shouted and asked me about my relationship with the professor, then I told him that Soyinka was our head of department. He asked again if acting was very lucrative and I answered affirmatively. From that day, he became my friend. My father would come to pay me a visit on a Friday and would not leave my house until Sunday. All the other siblings were envious but I did not mind.
There was a year I participated in a drama, Omo Odo. In the play, they beat me a lot. Although most of the beatings were scripted, my father was concerned for me after watching the play and he said that they could kill me. After a long while, anytime my father and I discussed about how he opposed my career path, we always laughed.
Can you re-live your childhood days?
My father was a bully, so you could not afford to be stupid. My father never beat his children; instead he would snap his children’s lip with his finger. It was always on the mouth and your lips would be swollen for days. To behave rascally with swollen lips could be very difficult. I was the only son that lived with him, his remaining children left the house because he was a bully. My mother did not also stay with him, I was the only person. He used to give me one shilling and sixpence to cook soup and the money was always enough.
Being that you were your father’s pet, did you experience any form of sibling rivalry?
My mother had two boys and a girl for my father. However, before she met my father, she already had a son. Despite the fact that we are from different fathers, my brother never separated himself from us. My brother and I are so close till date. He treats me as the apple of his eyes and he is the only link I have to my mother at the moment.
What is your thought on today’s Nollywood?
I am observing from afar and I believe that most of what they do is fake. There is no more serious drama anymore because all the storyline, costume, background, everything now looks alike. It is not done like that. You do not join the theatre to bleach. It is rare to find a dark-skinned actress anymore.
But some people argue that they bleach to be more appealing to the camera…
It is not about any camera. After they have finished acting, they go out there to find an unseen sponsor, they go to search for people they want to dupe, ATM boyfriends and the likes. I get my inspiration from God because I am a born actor. Give me any role and all I need do is see the script, I would interpret the role very well. Acting is make belief but reality is not, so you should not bring the make-belief world into real life. My father had always told me to take care of my children and I listened to him. There is none of my children that would not say that I did not try for him. There is no day that my children would not check on me. I am a very proud father.
How were you able to build a reputable career and a home?
For everything you do in life, always create time for your family. There were times I carried all of them to a movie location with me whenever I worked on a project. I would use my money to pay the hotel bills simply because I always wanted them around me. Seeing my immediate family around me all the time gives me inspiration. It is just like magic. My children know that I leave my office at about 2 pm and about two or three of them call me daily around that time just to check on me.
There was a time armed robbers shot at me somewhere at Apogbon, Lagos, and I was rushed to a hospital in Bode Thomas, Surulere, Lagos. My first son who is based in Abuja came to Lagos that day unannounced. When he got to my office, they told him what happened and he rushed down to see me. When I saw him I was surprised, so I asked him what brought him to Lagos and he said nothing important and that he just wanted to see me. That is the kind of bond we share. I always tell people who care to listen to always be close to their children because they are our tomorrow.
When was the saddest day of your life?
It was when my father died. He called me that morning and asked me if I would be perturbed if he died that very day. I was very confused by that statement and told him that if he wanted to die that day, he should allow me to die by his side. He simply said that since his father did not die in his hand, he would not die in the arms of any of his children. I rushed down to NTA Ibadan and before I could get to the hospital, he had died. When I got to the hospital and the doctor told me, “Sorry Mr. Adeyemi, we lost him,” I did not know the meaning of that statement. I rushed into his room and saw him lying lifeless smiling on the bed in one of his best dresses. Immediately I saw his smile, I knew that he entered heaven.
Later I dreamt about him and in the dream, I was angry at him for not waiting for me to come before he died. There was a thin stream between him and me. I asked him to permit me to cross the stream so that I could be with him but he refused. He simply told me that he would come back. If you look at my seventh child, he has a striking resemblance to my father.
Do you have any regrets?
Personally, I do not see anything as regrets because all problems are just challenges. If I have, I spend and also give out to people but if I do not have, I am very contented. However, if you are too much in a hurry to get anything, you would start having problems.
Your role in Super Story as Suara made you more popular. In what ways did that particular role change your life?
It has changed my life positively and negatively because I remember a time when I was passing through Ijora market and a salesgirl exclaimed this is Suara. Immediately she said that, her boss shouted from the shop, ‘where is Suara?’ so loudly that I heard her from where I was. When she appeared, she came out with two sachets of pure water and threw them at me. The next thing she said was, ‘how could you have treated your wife like that. You are a very stupid man.’ People had to tell me to run away. However, when I was returning from where I went, the woman saw me and came to me to beg because people had told her it was just drama.
A good thing about the role is that each time I make a long distance trip, I hardly pay for the fuel I buy, I would see about two or three car owners that would tell the attendants not to take money from me because I am their hero. But for the mere fact that I am a law-abiding citizen, I do not need to have the complete papers of my car because anywhere I meet a checkpoint, they just hail me and let me pass. But I have to obey the rules. As a teacher, if you are teaching people you have to lead by example and the change should start with me. It has been a mixture of the good and the bad but the good is more than the bad.
Are you aware that a lot of people believed you were actually dating the likes of Bukky Wright and Sola Sobowale?
Yes, I am aware. Sola Sobowale is my very good sister. I want to thank Antar Laniyan and Bakky Adeoye a lot. I had just got to Lagos in 1999 when Bakky Adeoye informed Antar Laniyan that I was in town and they felt I was the best person to interpret the role. When I got to the movie location, I asked Laniyan how he wanted me to interpret the role and he told me to do it my way because he had been watching me act since he was in primary school. In order not to disappoint him, I went to God in prayers and in return, I was told that the job was a litmus test and if I did it well, it would take me places. God also told me how to do it and I followed the directives I got. There was no time Antar Laniyan corrected the way I interpreted the roles. I made the costumes myself. When Wale Adenuga sent for me that they wanted me to act in Papa Ajasco, I declined the offer because I felt that the programme had outlived its usefulness and I was not interested. The boy that came to call me urged me to at least visit Wale Adenuga, then he began to sermonise me. When I met Wale Adenuga, I told him that I would take nothing less than a million naira. When he heard my fees, he said I should excuse him for a brief moment. I was paid and that was the beginning. What I have earned outside Superstory is more than what Wale Adenuga gave me. There is another one on the way.
Do you have any unfulfilled desire?
I am okay. I have good cars, a building to my credit and good children. My first child is a magistrate. The others are doing very well in their fields and endeavours. It is God that has been doing it all along and he had told me that he would not stop.
Is any of your eight children toeing the path of their father?
Yes, my last daughter is into acting.
If none of your children ventured into acting, would you have been upset?
I would have felt bad because drama is a way of life.
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