Adebayo Salami, popularly called Oga Bello, is a household name in Nollywood. He did not just attain the heights easily as there were rough moments. The veteran actor spoke with TOPE OLUKOLE on life as an actor. Excerpts: Adebayo Salani CAN you recall how you got into acting? I did not start with film making, I started with stage plays about 46 years ago, precisely in October 1964. In my school days, I used to hear beats streaming over the fence and one day, I decided to peep and see what was going on. And naturally, I love anything that is art-inclined. I grew up in Lagos Island, where I was born and a lot of activities did happen there. During Ramadan period, we had what we call Were and I did partake in it and my uncle that I was staying with usually beat the hell out of me on my return from wherever we went to do Were. Then during Eid-el-kabir festival, we did have Agere that stands on bamboo, I used to follow them around and in fact, I used to drum for them. During Easter, we used to have something we call meboi-meboi, it is a Brazilian festival, then we had lots of Brazilians on the Island and they introduced it to Lagos. It was so beautiful. You can put on any animal costume. During December time, we will have Fanti festival and I used to partake in this too. As I was saying, I peeped over the fence and saw the people drumming in my school; they called them Young Concert Party led by late Ojo Ladipo. I used to watch a TV series by late Ogunde, titled Village Doctor and that inspired me to join Young Concert Party with one pound one shilling. I started going out with them and whenever they staged plays, I would help them to draw curtains. In 1968, there was a rift in the group which made some of us left with Ojo Ladipo, because he was our leader and we believed that what he was fighting for was right because then, he was a bus conductor with the Lagos State government and he was using his money to finance the group. We then agreed to call the new group Ojo Ladipo Theatre Group. We agreed that we will be contributing costumes not money for the group. After my secondary school education in 1970, I went to work with the Federal Ministry of Works, yet I found time to participate with the group till I left the ministry. And all these while, I still tried to brush up myself educationally as I did not have much money. I attended Lagos Drama school. Then, it was affiliated with University of Lagos and owned by Christopher Olude. I was a member of the British Art Council too. In 1974, I was the Personal Assistant to the then Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Femi Okunnu; when his tenure as a Federal Commissioner ended, he went back to set up his chambers and asked me to go with him. So, we went out and set up his chambers and I was his P.A too. Suddenly, we lost Ojo Ladipo in 1978 and as I was the next man to him due to my contribution financially, morally, I was made the leader of the group. Our theatre group travelled far and wide under me. We also had TV series for NTA 10 Lagos, NTA Ilorin, NTA Ibadan. How many members of the Ojo Ladipo group are still in the movie industry now? Only Mama Awero and Aluwe, though Aluwe joined the group much later towards the time Ojo Ladipo died. Iya Mero died seven years after the death of her husband. Others too have died. The name Oga Bello, how did you come about it? It happened that we wanted to do a TV series during the time of Baba Mero, and then there was a programme on NTA 10 called Bar Beach Show and it was being anchored by the late Art Alade. At the programme, our talents were discovered and we were told to be staging a play every week for 15 minutes, so while casting ourselves for the play, I being more learned, I was given the role of an executive man. Baba Mero was the rough guy while Mama Awero was the society woman, Madam Owambe. Baba Mero said you will be called Bello since you are from Ilorin and that was how I came about the name Oga Bello. CAN you recall how you got into acting? I did not start with film making, I started with stage plays about 46 years ago, precisely in October 1964. In my school days, I used to hear beats streaming over the fence and one day, I decided to peep and see what was going on. And naturally, I love anything that is art-inclined. I grew up in Lagos Island, where I was born and a lot of activities did happen there. During Ramadan period, we had what we call Were and I did partake in it and my uncle that I was staying with usually beat the hell out of me on my return from wherever we went to do Were. Then during Eid-el-kabir festival, we did have Agere that stands on bamboo, I used to follow them around and in fact, I used to drum for them. During Easter, we used to have something we call meboi-meboi, it is a Brazilian festival, then we had lots of Brazilians on the Island and they introduced it to Lagos. It was so beautiful. You can put on any animal costume. During December time, we will have Fanti festival and I used to partake in this too. As I was saying, I peeped over the fence and saw the people drumming in my school; they called them Young Concert Party led by late Ojo Ladipo. I used to watch a TV series by late Ogunde, titled Village Doctor and that inspired me to join Young Concert Party with one pound one shilling. I started going out with them and whenever they staged plays, I would help them to draw curtains. In 1968, there was a rift in the group which made some of us left with Ojo Ladipo, because he was our leader and we believed that what he was fighting for was right because then, he was a bus conductor with the Lagos State government and he was using his money to finance the group. We then agreed to call the new group Ojo Ladipo Theatre Group. We agreed that we will be contributing costumes not money for the group. After my secondary school education in 1970, I went to work with the Federal Ministry of Works, yet I found time to participate with the group till I left the ministry. And all these while, I still tried to brush up myself educationally as I did not have much money. I attended Lagos Drama school. Then, it was affiliated with University of Lagos and owned by Christopher Olude. I was a member of the British Art Council too. In 1974, I was the Personal Assistant to the then Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Femi Okunnu; when his tenure as a Federal Commissioner ended, he went back to set up his chambers and asked me to go with him. So, we went out and set up his chambers and I was his P.A too. Suddenly, we lost Ojo Ladipo in 1978 and as I was the next man to him due to my contribution financially, morally, I was made the leader of the group. Our theatre group travelled far and wide under me. We also had TV series for NTA 10 Lagos, NTA Ilorin, NTA Ibadan. How many members of the Ojo Ladipo group are still in the movie industry now? Only Mama Awero and Aluwe, though Aluwe joined the group much later towards the time Ojo Ladipo died. Iya Mero died seven years after the death of her husband. Others too have died. The name Oga Bello, how did you come about it? It happened that we wanted to do a TV series during the time of Baba Mero, and then there was a programme on NTA 10 called Bar Beach Show and it was being anchored by the late Art Alade. At the programme, our talents were discovered and we were told to be staging a play every week for 15 minutes, so while casting ourselves for the play, I being more learned, I was given the role of an executive man. Baba Mero was the rough guy while Mama Awero was the society woman, Madam Owambe. Baba Mero said you will be called Bello since you are from Ilorin and that was how I came about the name Oga Bello. Were your parents in Ilorin then? No, they were staying in Agege area of Lagos while I was in Lagos Island with my uncle. So, after I left home, I went to Adebogun Commercial School in Mushin, I'm sure they’ve changed the name of the school now. My uncle had been hearing of my going to rehearsals and on this particular day, he traced me to our rehearsal ground and beat the hell out of me. In fact, the punishment meted out to me, I don’t think I can give such to any of my children for whatever offence committed. I was asked to fly like an aeroplane over a burning coal. I can’t stand up and at the same time, I can’t afford to lie on the burning coal. My chest got burnt. It was after the punishment that I ran away from home and went to squat with a friend called Abayomi Aromire (now late), he was a member of our group. I got a job at City of Lagos Rendevous, where we rehearsed, as a barman before I got a work at the Ministry of Works. It seems all your children are taking after you? Not everyone, it’s actually a minority of them. I have many children and thank God, I have 12 graduates among them, so it’s only those that are interested in movie-making and I have about four of them, so you can see they form the minority. We have Femi, Tope, Sadiq, Rilwan is an editor. Lara is showing interest but I told her that could only materialise after her education. Sola studied English and she took Theatre Arts as her minor, she is a good dancer, good actress as well so we can say she is in the industry too, because she is the one responsible for all the subtitling of all our movies. Did any of your wives ever show interest in what you were doing during the travelling theatre era? Yes, Yinka did. One way or the other, all of them used to participate especially when we have a big show. Some will handle the ticket while others will man the gate but it was only Yinka that acted alongside me, before the advent of film-making and home videos. And there is the story of the two of you not being together again? Yes. We are not quarelling, we do talk and deliberate on the way forward for our children. If a relationship is not working out, it is better for one to let it go, one needs maturity at that stage.
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