I’d Have Been A Trader —Yinka Quadri

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One
name that is synonymous with the Yoruba movie industry is Yinka Quadri.
Popularly known as Fagbamila or Kura, the Igbomina, Kwara State-born thespian
is a household name, both home and abroad. In recognition of his contributions to the Yoruba movie industry, he has
received a number of industry awards in Nigeria and overseas. In this interview
with BUKOLA BAKARE, he recalls how he took that leap of faith in the ‘70s to
become an actor, the tough decision to voluntarily quit school to run his
father’s business and how eventually he turned out a success story in the
make-belief world. Excerpt:

YOU
are often addressed as Kura or Fagbamila by your fans. How did you come about
these names?

Fagbamila came before Kura. In those days, if you didn’t partake in traditional
theatre performances, you were not a force to be reckoned with in the Yoruba
theatre industry.

How long have you been acting?
I recall that I started in 1977 under the umbrella of theate Taiwo Olayinka,
a.k.a Agbodorogun. Back then, only artistes who starred in theatre performances
were recognized; so, that was when I chose Fagbamila as my stage name.

As time went by, I became the leader of a travelling theatre known as Adetutu
and I wrote a play titled Olaniyonu for the  Lagos Television,  the
known LTV 8, Ikeja, Lagos.

What year was that?
That was in 1985 and I played the role of Fagbamila, meaning a herbalist who
helps people in need. I remember that there was also a character called Ifadare
who was always using his powers to carry out evil acts. After Olaniyonu, I
produced so many other serials for LTV8. These productions were a huge success
and that was how the name stuck. 

In1989, I was called again to come and present a special programme for the
festive season and at that time, an artiste lived solely on productions, stage
performances and radio programmes. There were a couple of films then, but
nothing like home videos and productions were done on celluloid, which was very
expensive. These special productions were aired in series on television for
about two hours during such festivities.

This particular story was a crime story and towards that time, my father; a
native of Igbomina Owomeje in Kwara State and a member of a club that brought
about development in the community. Usually, during a meeting at any member’s
house, there must be some form of entertainment (food and drinks).

I recall that about six of them were eating and someone had already eaten two
pieces of meat out of five. He was on the verge of taking a third one when my
father said,’ No way, Kura ni wo yi o.’

Obviously, that meant the
person was a thief?

(Interjects) Oh, no! That was not what the statement meant. Thereafter, I asked
my mother for a translation and she said that it was a Hyena that the Yoruba
call Kura. She said the animal is such a wild one and the Yoruba often call it
‘Ajekujeran’. It’s so powerful and loves eating meat. I felt that it could be a
metaphor for someone that’s tough, not necessarily wicked. 

This was at a time when I was writing a crime script and I adopted the name
Kura, and it was a widely accepted production as well. The movie was titled
Kutupu and I played the character, Kura. In 1992, I wrote another story which I
titled Kura and that was how the name stuck till date.

You started out in 1977 as an
actor and that is over 35 years ago. Would you mind taking about some of the
challenges you have faced in the past years?

There have been challenges here and there, but I thank God that I have been
able to overcome them. In anything you want to do in life, challenges abound,
but the most important thing is that God has helped me to pull through. 

The greatest challenge is that as an artiste, you cannot be your real self. For
instance, I was born on Lagos Island and relocated to the mainland in the ‘80s.
Sometimes, I desire to pay a visit to the Island to see things that have
changed, but I’m scared of the crowd that my presence will attract. It pains me
that I have lost that kind of privacy.

At times, I just feel like going sight- seeing just like any normal person, but
the thought that one may be mobbed creeps into my mind and I can’t go. I could
be coming back from a location and feel like going to the market to pick up
some items but, you suddenly discover that even the traders would almost scare
you (chuckles). Sometimes, this is uncalled for, but what can you do?

Apart from that in this industry, you have to be respectful, loyal and
dedicated, despite all the limitations I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, people
misinterpret your good intentions. There are hypocrites, talented people,
God-fearing people and devil-incarnate in this industry, so while you are
trying to be a good person, some people will hate you for not dancing to their
tune. The Englishman would say, ‘If you cannot beat them, join them’, but it’s
not possible to join bad people. These are all challenges in the industry.

Was your decision to act a
spontaneous thing or were you influenced by some events that had happened in
the past?

It all happened on the morning of July 16, 1977. At that time, I was with one
of my bosses, an architect whom I worked with when I dropped out of school in
class three and my dad asked me to undergo apprenticeship.

Why did you drop out of school?
(Pauses) It’s a long story! A cousin of mine was working with my dad, who was a
very established trader on Lagos Island. He worked with him for 16 years. In my
town, it’s just like someone who goes to school, so he or she would be expected
to graduate someday. Consequently, his parents wanted him to leave. But he was
very loyal to my father who wondered was bothered about who would look after
his business for him. 

It became a serious issue that dragged on for over four years. It got so bad
that people murmured in some quarters that my father was ‘using his destiny, as
the Yoruba would say. And I wasn’t happy about it. At that point, I told my Dad
to allow him to leave and I voluntarily dropped out of school to take over his
business. It was a difficult decision and my father reluctantly accepted. My
cousin thought me the basics of running the business for about three months
before he left.

Didn’t you nurse the idea of
going back to school after you had established yourself?

In truth, I ought to have gone back, but acting has become a passion for me.
I had already started out from school, but I joined my Dad’s business in 1978.
My Dad felt that rather than drop out of school just like that, I should go to
Alhaji Lawal who’s an architect to learn some form of handwork, which was an
addition to acting. It was during this that I met one of my friends, Fatai
Alabi.

We joined forces because we liked the Theatre as we were inspired by the late
Ade Love, Hubert Ogunde and Kola Ogunmola. Glover Hall was the only hall on
Lagos Island then and our Uncles used to take us along to watch stage shows. We
had a meeting at Moshalashi Street in Obalende and we took off from there.

That means you started off with
stage performances?

It’s funny because we went to buy drums and we called a few friends to join us
on July 16, 1977. We went on for about a year and after wards, somebody
introduced the late Taiwo Olayinka to us because he noticed that we were
interested in acting.  But he didn’t go about it the right way. This man
(Olayinka) used to be under Sir James who was a Floor Manager with The Nigerian
Television Authority and also doubles as an artiste. He’s still very much
alive.

Where is he now?
I can not say precisely, but I know he later moved to LTV8.Taiwo Olayinka was a
printer and he accepted to be our leader so as to give us a sense of direction.

In other words, you were like a
moving theatre?

Yes, a travelling theatre.

Did you give your group a name?
We used to be known as Afopina before Olayinka came and he changed the name to
Isale Oro. This further put us in the limelight for another two years. He
trained us well. Thanks to him, we knew how to commercialize theatre, how to
book a hall, sell tickets for stage productions, how to dance and other things.
In January, 1981,Taiwo Olayinka decided to form his own group and had to leave
ours. He said he wanted to be his own boss. It was at that point that we also decided
to change the name of our group to Adetutu Theatre Organisation.

What was the first stage play
from your stable?

The title is so long such that I may not be able to repeat it here. In those
days, if your title wasn’t strongly worded and laced with Yoruba idioms, you
were not recognized as a theatre practitioner. That’s why till now, most people
think I studied Yoruba due to my rich interpretation in movies, but I often
tell people that if you are very passionate about what you do, you’ll be
improving as the days go by. My first television series was Agbodorogun
followed by Egberin Ote, which was an adaptation of a book that secondary
school students used for Yoruba Language in  the O’Level examinations
in1984.

Really?
Yes. We staged it throughout Lagos State in schools. I sought permission from
the author of the book as well as The Ministry of Education and we were given
the go-ahead to stage it. It was later adapted as a television series too.
Araba, Olaniyonu and a host of others followed suite.

As the world keeps evolving, the theatre industry was also growing. It was
around 1988 that home video came about and as such, there was no time for a
moving theatre any more. You could become an independent producer and call
people to partake in your production.

How were you able to transit
from a stage performer to acting in movies. Was the transition a difficult one?

The transition was quite an easy one because it showed that there’s an
improvement in the industry. It’s not easy to perform on stage because you need
to keep moving with costumes and other props. But in the case of movies, it
goes round the world and gives you less trouble in terms of production.

What was your first home video?
That would be Ekun and it was released in 1989. It was the late Alade Aromire’s
movie. I must state that I was the second person to bring out a home video in
Nigeria. That was even before Kenneth Nnebue released the popular Igbo movie,
Living in Bondage.
Not many people know this.

Well, I am telling you now. Before Nnebue brought out Living in Bondage, I was
one of his pioneer actors because he started out with Yoruba movies. You can go
and ask him. Not many people know this, but I really don’t think it’s necessary
to blow my trumpet. Fatai Adetayo( Lalude) and I used to work for Nnebue. Out
of the 27 Yoruba movies he released, I can humbly say that I featured in 23. It
was after the release of these movies that he did Living in Bondage. With that
release, the Igbo part of Nollywood claim that they pioneered home videos in
Nigeria,which is not true. I can categorically tell you that it’s not true.

Most of the characters you
portray in movies depict the rich proverbs and culture of the Yoruba’. Apart
from the fact that you dropped out of school, how do you handle these roles so
well?

I can only give thanks to God. You know, in anything you do, you need to put
God first and that’s just what I do.

There seems to be some sort of
discrimination among actors in the English home movie sector and their Yoruba
counterparts in terms of crossover roles.  What is your take on this?

I am sorry to say this, but most of these actors in the English home movie
sector are terrible. For instance, English as a medium of expression, is
nobody’s language, every one just speaks it. It is not our father’s language
anyway,  but Yoruba is. The fact that there may be so many English movies
around does not mean that they are better than their Yoruba counterparts.

This was seen as a challenge in the past and that was the reason why most
Yoruba artistes began to do cross-over roles. But the twist is that when you
get to the market, the Igbo marketers sell English movies and Yoruba marketers
sell ours. These marketers refused to sell our movies and we decided to promote
our own films worldwide in our own way. We feel that this is even a plus for us
as artistes. This is because we would be selling our culture to the rest of the
world. 

If you look back, you will notice that Nollywood started off with Igbo films
before English films. Most developed countries like America, China and India
turn out films in their indigenous languages and we felt the need to do the
same with our Yoruba movies. That is why we try to make the standard of our
productions very high.  From our research, we found out that it is even
the indigenous language that viewers abroad enjoy. I think our indigenous films
carry more weight than English movies.

The truth’s that Yoruba productions can equally match up with the English ones.
There has been a decrease in the sale of English movies now. Ghanaians have
taken over in the continent and they have made it clear that any artiste that
wants to come from Nigeria to shoot a movie in Ghana must pay some sort of fee.
This is because they now have a well- established movie industry as well. 

There was a certain Chinese movie that won an Oscar Award. How did this happen?
It was simply because the entire movie was done in Chinese Language and it was
subtitled. If they can achieve that feat, what stops a Yoruba film from doing
the same? I am not making negative comments about Nollywood, but when we go
abroad, some of our fans make us understand that if not for our indigenous
movies, their children wouldn’t have been able to learn the language. That
alone motivates us to do better.

Does that mean you do not
intend to do any form of cross-over production?

(Cuts in) I do not discriminate and I can say the same for most of my
colleagues. You will have noticed that during the making of some Yoruba movies,
we do invite our colleagues, either an Igbo or Hausa speaking person, for
certain roles. But what I frown at is bringing in a neutral person who does not
understand the language to partake in a movie; but we don’t discriminate. We
invite cross-over artistes when the need arises.

Do you have any English
production to your credit?

Of course, I have. If you cast your mind back to the rested soap opera, Palace,
I was part of the cast, but I didn’t do a movie.

You have been in the
make-belief world for over 30 years. How fulfilled are you? Have you ever
thought at some point to delve into other things?

Looking back now, I really don’t think there’s any other thing that I can do
that would have brought me fame and wealth like acting. I am fulfilled and I
always thank God for His mercies. 

My parents were very rich, but I if not for the industry, I would have ended up
a trader. Even if I was one, would I be able to buy or quantify the honour I
get now? Definitely no. Even if we get to the Presidential Villa today as
artistes, I am sure President Goodluck Jonathan will surely recognize us
because we have come a long way.

Do you have children who have
decided to tread your path as an actor?

Well, I have seen one or two indicate interest, but the agreement I have with
them is that even if they want to become an actor or actress, education is key
and they must study to a reasonable level before doing that. If that is done, I
have no problem with them.

Apart from the late Ade Love,
do you have other role models?

No. For me, it’s Ade Love and no one else.

What are your future plans?
I desire to become an international actor.

What advice do you have for
your colleagues as well as the up and coming ones in the industry?

The future of the industry is really bright and if we improve in terms of
production, story-wise, the use of techniques and most importantly, be good
actors, the industry will uplift Nigeria as a whole. I would advise all of us
to keep up the good work, be dedicated and loyal in this business and above
all, be prayerful.

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