Multi-talented artist, Yemi Shodimu has been consistent in the movie and entertainment industry.
Shodimu has been involved in many productions and he once served under former governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State.
All these were part of the experiences the renowned thespian shared in this exclusive interview with Ogun News Express’ Malik Ibitoye and Habeebat Ajayi.
You are a brand that people know all over Nigeria as an actor, musician and artist, can you tell us when you started in these lines?
It’s been on a long trip, this trip started from Abeokuta, Ogun State at my very early age. As a little boy, I had the privilege of having a grandmother that was into the art because of her love and passion for it. There is no way of telling or writing my story that she won’t have a prominent place, ‘am referring to my late grandmother, Olori Adejoke Gbadebo, the wife of Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adeshina Gbadebo then. Because of her place, I had the privilege of growing up in the palace that means early exposure to the art of our tradition, music, food, masquerade, culture and dress just name it.
One way or the other that formed the foundation of my interest in acting. My granny also used to take us to the Centenary Hall, Abeokuta. I was privileged to see live theatre; I saw the Ogunde’s life, Duro Ladipo, Baba Sala, Baba Mero, Ade Love live on stage Of course, we usually sat close to the stage because of that little privilege. My granny also used to take us to Itoko for Egungun Festival. So these formed the starting point. I didn’t know this was building up in my person, mind and desire. Of course, I used to lead what I called rag tag leader then as a little boy. Then, we had drums made out of tin cans, sugar boxes and others and I found myself leading these young kids singing in our area then. But these could also be traced to my grandmother, who loved music so much. She had a house full of albums; name them; juju, highlife, blues and other foreign artists.
She had all that and I listened to all those music as a little boy. Now, we had some musicians coming out to the house to play for us during occasion. That was were I met Chief Ebenezer One, Yusuf Olatunji among others.
As a little boy, I had a bus that I put polythene in front and put lantern at the back projecting images that I cut out of papers and running commentaries on it for people watching. So it had all been evolving around the Earth all along. At a time, I went to Eko Boys High School in Lagos. I remember joining the Village Headmaster cast by accident. We went to the National Theatre, Lagos with the family and I saw them rehearsing and I felt that I liked what they were doing. So, the group didn’t know when I pulled out and spoke to praise some of them such as Jab Adu, Tunde Oloyede, and Eleyinmi but I was bold enough to approach them to say I liked what they were doing. So he encouraged me to find time and come.
So, I was always sneaking out to attend rehearsals as small as I was and I discovered that this could earn me few income. The turning point was the day I appeared on the television as the son of Afilaka. I remember vividly, my dad who always punished me for going away without notice. Suddenly, he became very proud of his son. So, by the time I had to make a decision on what I wanted to study at the University of Ife, I had no other option than to study theatre and drama.
Can you compare the art of today where you have to go to locations to produce home video and life stage, what are the differences because you’ve seen it all?
The difference is a lot. Basically, home video came after stage, home video gives you the luxury of retakes such that the final product that people see cannot be compared with the magnitude of errors in terms of production. That’s the advantage of technology, you could expunge and retain what you want. It may not be as tasking as live theatre because we didn’t have the opportunity of retakes, what you give is what you get. What you give is what the audience get right there, there is no wall between you and the audience. Live theatre involves a lot of rehearsals, it could be a lot stressful, but that is life theatre, it is spontaneous right there. That doesn’t mean you don’t make errors, but you must just find a way of covering it. There is no editor between you and your audience and the final product. Whatever you needed to do have to be done at the stage of rehearsals. So, when the curtain is drawn you begin. You will find productions that have rehearsals that have been going on for months. A one-hour production probably might have taken a month, two or three, depending on the perfection. So there’s a huge difference between the two. The other difference however is that, when you have put in so much hard-work into a home video, the income out of that effort might not be as exciting, especially if the home video is not sponsored, if it’s sponsored it could be better. In a movie, you can engage in a chat and go back, you can’t do that in live theatre
Can you recollect how much you were paid in home video and theatre when you started ?
It’s must have been too minimal for me to recollect but we took it happily, it’s a learning process and here we are today.
Aren’t you bothered that life theatre is going into extinction?
I will tell you the good thing is that life theatre is dripping back Instead of going into extinction. At a stage, it totally disappeared, but there have been some efforts by certain individuals and some of us have lent a hand to ensure that we get this thing back. There was a time in our history when theatre was everything. I had that privilege, just as I had stated at the Centenary Hall. Due to the society viewers and security issues it has almost died, but the good thing is that it is gradually coming back. I did quite a number of production last year and the previous year. COVID-19 has actually slowed things down, with the momentum that we had then, it really should have hit hard in terms of its come back and the audience response is just what was needed.
You are a broadcaster, musician and artist, how do you learn to do the three together?
I keep learning and I also have passion for what I do. I have said on a couple of occasions that when I finished my NYSC programme the only thing that was on my mind was to join the band of Commander Ebenezer Obey. I just wanted to be a backup singer then. Some people felt I was crazy, but that was what I wanted. Unfortunately, my grandmother that supposed to do the link passed on at that time and to add to this, NTA was waiting for me in Abeokuta, Ogun State because I actually left NTA for Ife to study and the job was waiting for me. So, I had to go back.
I love what ‘am doing because it gives me the avenue to make people happy. There is so much tension, hardship in our society and this is what I can give them back and I am always excited. When I finished an art and people are happy either via my broadcasting, MC event or acting, I love it. When people pay me to make their event run smoothly, I am happy that it is money well spent.
There was a time you joined politics, can you tell us your experience there?
Don’t let me say I didn’t join politics, basically I served in a government before. I would say that I got involved in the right set of leadership in my own little way because all of us can’t afford to stay away or else we will give room to miscreants, mediocre, the bullies, the never do well to take over and they will lord it over me, you and our children. So, I got involved and I won’t say I won’t still get more involved, but for now my energy is on my art. My experience in government is a learning process, I saw the good, bad and the ugly. I saw those who are committed to human development and the societal development and I saw those people who should never move close to government and those who are neither hot not cold and some of them see it as their birth right to be there.
The more good people we are able to put there the more our society will be good and we need to do it consciously. I’m of the opinion that the present democratic system and the present political democratic system that we are running may not be the best for us because it is difficult for the very good people to emerge because it almost have to be slightly bad to get there.
How would you describe the incumbent Governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, is he on the right path?
One, I think it is a bit early, I have tried to study his style and I have come to the conclusion that Dapo is not the type of Governor that wants to play to the gallery, and I have seen a few things that he is doing and I think we still need to be very critical and he needs our criticism. I don’t care if there are certain people in the government who aren’t comfortable with criticism because criticism is his best friend and he needs to listen, he doesn’t have to take everything that criticism says even in that cacophony you can still pick some positive in redirecting your energy and focus.
I am of the opinion that he could still do something better, is not hallelujah yet, he still have a lot to do because the essence of government is to make people happy, feel secure, have impact in the economy growth, feel being part of the society and to know that somebody is looking out for me.
Recently, Ogun State celebrated 45 years of its creation, in your own opinion let’s look at the arts, theatre and movie, how can Ogun develop in that industry?
Let me give kudos to our forefathers, talking about the Ogundes of this world, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Yusuf Olatunji and a lot of them. i am excited that Ebenezer Obey is still alive. These are the people who played the trill Probably, we won’t be having this discussion if not for them. They are the ones that positioned things in the global scheme, when it comes to art. So one feels very proud to be from this state, the legacy they left behind is wonderful and some of them are still doing very good, Jimi Soolanke is there, Tunji Oyelana, Salawa Abeni, KWAM 1, Olu Jacobs we have an endless list. Infact Ogun comes third when it comes to art in Nigeria. The question is have we annexed this?Have we built on it? Have we gone out of our way to encourage those within it?
That is one industry, for instance, which employs, a huge number of our youth now and if we are talking about unemployment that is one place we should talk about. Where are the theatres for them to exhibit their art, where are the training opportunity, the grants for them because the major problem for them is funding. If we are to count the talents that we have, it is humongous, we are busy with government, I am not talking about government alone. The private sector, the government also have a lead role to play. What have we done? That is not saying we haven’t done anything over the years! What I am saying is that we could still do more.
Ogun State should be the capital of this industry in Nigeria if not in West Africa and if not in Africa. For God sake, 45 years and we don’t have a ‘film village’ where they make films and there are thousand and one other activities they can do there. You can go in there and finish your movie from A to Z, all the facilities are present there, there are economy activities within there. We can’t have all these talents and be sitting back, they are doing self help. For instance, when people criticise movies, there are a lot of things. I see those errors too, but I say it, these people are doing self help from hand to mouth. What they should spend one thousand on they are managing ten kobo, it will affect quality. A production that should take three to four weeks they do it in two days because the money is just not available. These are the things we should take into consideration. I’m not excusing lapses, some horrible errors, some avoidable and very basic things that you should not find in any production under the sun. But when I look at their limitations, I’m a bit choosy in terms of words I use in criticizing them, and this is a money spinning area. Oil will dry up, it is an alternative revenue for this country and a huge youth employer, so let us annex it.
If you have the opportunity to speak with the state Governor, will this be part of your complaint?.
This my field will be the major thing I will be discussing, we can build a huge industry in the state, we can attract foreign and local investment through it. Even artistes can come down to Ogun to ply their trade as a result of that they will be paying tax to the government and again, from it we will keep a lot of our youths off the street with just the movie industry. If you know the number of employment it creates even if what they get out of it is minimal, it will enable them to express themselves, exerts their energy, and it will touch lives and give hopes. For instance, if you are able to get out in the morning to the production ground and earn one thousand naira you have spent the day productively hoping that tomorrow something bigger will come your way, which keeps hope alive.
What’s the motive behind your palm wine business?
I’m a kegite, I am one of the members in the University then, but that isn’t the reason I went into the business. I went into it while I was serving in government. I give the credit to the former governor of Ogun State. Otunba Gbenga Daniel, who challenged us at the exco meeting one day he said “you guys can’t just keep preaching to people to come and establish business in Ogun State or to employ people, what are you doing individually to boost the economy of this state to employ people and inspire people apart from people who beg from you.” So, I took up the challenge and at that point I wanted to employ people and I wanted a product I could hold and can say this is my product. So, the idea of buying palm wine came to me, I have another other idea of fish farming, which I would still venture into and that was the beginning.
There are palm wine tappers, who will do the climbing and tapping, which must be sold that day or else it becomes a wasteful effort and these people feed their families from it. The moment you buy it you can bottle it, and preserve it for a long time. I had to learn it and passed the knowledge to my workers who have been working for a while. They might not be earning much, but it makes me happy that I’m bringing food to the table of some families.
The very first product that came out of it, I took it to the governor then, apart from blessing it, he gave me one challenge that he has never seen bottled palm wine. He said “come on, go Yemi, this must not disappear.” That’s why I’m still in the business. And my product will soon get to everywhere because I am scouting for distributors.