Offline furtune

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As the celebrated actor, Yemi Adeyemi, popularly called Suara, based on the role he played in Super Story, looks forward to turning 60 in August, he reflects on his acting career and the state of the Yoruba comedy industry Akeem Lasisi reports.

Yemi Adeyemi has had an impressive ride through the comedy industry in Nigeria. A member of the group you can comfortably refer to as born or natural actors, his latest exploits in Super Story television series, where he plays the role of women-mongering Suara, crowned his acting glory as his performance in the drama created by Wale Adenuga, has earned him accolades from far and near.

As part of the rewards he has got for his inspiring roles in the production, for instance, there have been times he would get to a supermarket, buy some items, and the shops operators would ask him to take them free, or, at least, give him very generous discounts.

?There was a time I was at a filling station, fuelling my car. As the manager saw me, he exclaimed, ?Suara!? He told the attendant not to collect money from me,? he recalls.

The Ile Ife, Osun State-born actor adds that although he is not part of the Super Story crew at present, people still call him Suara. So pervasive is the bug that his wife, who works at the tax office of the Ministry of Finance in Osun State, is no more addressed by her name. She is popularly called Suara.

Yet, the honours that Suaraism has brought Adeyemi extends beyond the Nigerian shores. Only on Wednesday, he returned from Zambia, where he went to inspect a house that the Zambian President, Levi Mwanawasa, gave to him in recognition of his role in Super Story. He confessed that he was able to collect a little rent the house had yielded.

?I am the Bemba of Zambia,? Adeyemi explains. ?After the initial rounds of Super Story show, the production crew went on a visit to Zambia. Unilever Nigeria Plc took us there. Incidentally, the country?s First Lady was having a programme that had a lot of women in attendance. We were at the programme. Interestingly, the Nigerian Television Authority had beamed Super Story to Zambia, and, like many other people, President Mwanawasa really enjoyed the Suara adventures. Now, he was happy to see me and decided to make me a chief. He also gave me the house ? a five-bedroom bungalow that I decided to rent out. It is at the GRA in the Zambian capital.?

But because the level of the maturity of members of the audience of a drama varies, Suara has not been that lucky with some fans of the popular series. Some women, sympathetic to his beautiful but embattled wife in the play, believe that Adeyemi deserves some knocks for treating the women folk that way. He recalls an ugly incident he witnessed, ?One day, I was in Apapa area of Lagos buying a hand set, when a small girl saw me. She behaved as if I had been fighting her before. She quickly took a sachet of pure water and flung it at me. She cried, ?How could you have left your beautiful wife, only to start running after Toyin Tomato???

Experts will, however, note that the consolation for Adeyemi, who started acting at about the age of 10 at the Methodist Primary School, Ekotedo, Ibadan, in a play titled Eni Olorun o Pa, in which he played the role of a king, is that the embittered woman?s reaction is an indication that his performance is very successful in Super Story. After all, the goal of every actor is to imitate life as vividly as possible. Although Adeyemi, who was the head of the drama group in his secondary school ? Ilesha Grammar School ? argues that he is not the type of wild womaniser that Suara is in Super Story, he concedes that he can be a ?bad boy? at times. Besides, he notes, acting has helped to stabilise his life. ?I would have been a crazy fellow if I were not an actor,? he says.

But despite the fact that Adeyemi gets good patronage from producers, he is very selective of the productions he partakes in. He has been a friend of the National Troupe of Nigeria for some years because, according to him, the kinds of productions it engages in are valuable. But he also notes that he has a very good rapport with the troupe?s Director-General, Dr. Ahmed Yerima, who, he says, has been a friend indeed to him, especially when he (Adeyemi) experienced hard times. But he maintains that so many charlatans have invaded the industry that he does not leap at too many offers. As a principle, he does not take part in any production unless he first sees and scrutinises its script.

That is why, he adds, he has not recorded many appearances in the home video sector. While he acted in Said Osupa?s movie, Osoro, and Ronke Osodi Oke?s Okun Ife, he is also part of a film being put together by Ayisat/Kabirat Kafidipe?s Kaffy Movies whose script, according to Suara, is outstandingly good.

Adeyemi?s impression about the comedy sub-sector of the acting industry in Nigeria is indeed the mixed type. He does not regard himself as the only fantastic humorist. But he is quick to say that many of the people, who parade themselves as comedians, are close to being fake. Asked to rate comedians such as Babatunde Omidina (Baba Suwe), Aluwe and Pa James, he does not see much substance to assess across board. The ideal comedian, he professes, still remains the late Tajudeen Gbadamosi, popularly called Jacob, who was the pillar of the defunct Ibadan-based Jesters International Group that he (Jacob) ran with Papalolo and Aderupoko. More than two decades after Jacob?s death, Adeyemi argues, no other comedian has been able to surpass his (Jacob?s) record.

One of the reservations he has for Aluwe is that ?when he fails to make you laugh, he begins to beat you.? Concerning Baba Suwe, Suara argues that comedy is not just about painting one?s face, nor is it about talking endlessly. ?I think Baba Suwe also enjoys playing larger than life. Each time his oga talks, he has the liberty to abuse him (the boss). That is not obtainable anywhere.? He, however, has another good example of a respectable comedian in Baba Sala who, he notes, amuses people effortlessly.

Adeyemi adds, ?Jacob was a complete comedian. He had the natural stature of a comedian that would make you laugh. He did not even need to say anything before the audience burst into endless laughter. Just the way he stood or dressed was enough. And you cannot believe this: Jacob had many stories in his head. He was the one who created most of the beautiful plays acted by Jesters International ? like Fine Medicine and Owo Tabua.?

Although Adeyemi was working as a broadcaster with the Nigerian Television Authority when Jesters International was reigning, he was the group?s manager. As a result, he was very close to its members, especially Jacob, who he described as a very faithful friend. Among other memorable adventures he shared with Jacob, Adeyemi recalls the first engagement that Jesters International had outside Ibadan.

He says, ?It was in Maiduguri. I got a performance job for them ? Jacob and co ? from the Nigerian Customs Service. The trip was so profitable that it was when they returned that they bought the coaster bus they had in the early 1980s. I think. Even as the manager, I bought my first car ? a Toyota Lift Back ? from my proceeds from the trip. I bought it for N6,000 ? brand new.?

Around the same time, he was part of the production of works of Baba Sala and Awada Kerikeri, the latter being the late Baba Mero-led comedy group from which Adebayo Salami and Aluwe emerged.

Adeyemi?s journey as a producer at NTA Ibadan was not entirely smooth, but he explains that the television organisation made indelible marks in his career. For instance, NTA it was that sponsored his education at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile Ife, where he read Dramatic Arts, in theatre management. While working at the same organisation, he was active in the Efe (comedy) series in which the likes of such Yoruba actors as Bayo Ayeni, Gbolagade Ogun and Derinto actively participated. Unfortunately, however, Adeyemi was retrenched not long after he returned to the NTA, on completion of his study at Ife.

A long and trying recess that set in for him afterwards is one that he will always remember. For, by the time he left Ibadan in the late 1990s, he was as broke as a church rat. But the gap also proved productive at two levels. First, it opened for him a new phase of theatrical life in Lagos. Second, he felt compelled to partly return to a path his father had wanted him to tread: the propagation of the Ifa/Orunmila worship the father had prosecuted. Today, although Adeyemi notes that he is not a fully-fledge practising priest, his adventure in traditionalism has been so eventful that he is at present the Oluawo (chief priest) of Ede, Osun State.

Adeyemi will clock 60 in August, but he looks quite younger than this age. The observation, actually, made our correspondent to ask him if he has found some strength in ajidewe, a kind of Yoruba charm believed to have the power to keep people perpetually young. While Suara notes that a babalawo is expected to look yound always, he says there is no ajidewe skeleton in his cupboard.

But, back to acting, although Adeyemi?s status is getting fatter, he says he is not in a hurry to say ?bye? to the stage.

?I am just beginning to enjoy acting,? he notes. ?Before, we were doing it for interest sake. And it is good that one started like that. If you allow money to set your pace at the beginning, you may never become a professional in the real sense of it.?


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