Yemi Shodimu, simply put, is a consummate artiste. An actor, a producer, a singer, a dancer, a radio and television presenter as well as a compere, YS is just too talented and gifted. With a degree in Dramatic Arts from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Osun State and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos, the Abeokuta, Ogun State indigene who is married to Tolu couldn’t have come better prepared and equipped. Starting out while still in primary school (at Trinity Nursery and Primary School, Abeokuta and St. Paul’s Primary School, Lagos), his indelible marks as a professional actor are still all over Oleku (where he played Ajani), Kosegbe (Salu), Ti Oluwa Nile (Lawyer) and Ayo Ni Mofe (Doctor). A proud Rotarian, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, who is also a Rotarian, encountered him at ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Legacy Resort in Abeokuta, during one of their conventions. This was on Saturday, May 16, 2015. And right there, they had this on-the-spot interview which touched on how the ex-staff of Ruyi Communications and Mainframe Productions set sail. The former student of Eko Boys High School and Abeokuta Grammar School also talked about other things which will surely interest you. Enjoy…
Your romance with show-business, how did it start and what got you interested in it?
Well, it’s a long story, it’s a long story…As a little boy, I grew up in the palace of Alake of Egbaland, that’s the paramount ruler of Egbaland, because my grandmother was an Olori. And so that early, I got exposed to a lot of the elements of showbiz – drums, dances, costumes, masquerades and to our tradition, our culture and so I personally didn’t know it was building something up in me and my grandmother, of course, was a very strong factor because she’s a lover of the arts. So, she also gave me the opportunity of exposure to a lot of musical artistes because she had this huge collection of records. Name it! R n B, calypso, juju; she had so many of that. Later, my dad also kept compiling those things. So, these were the little things that started it all. I also had the opportunity of exposure to the theatre, live theatre. That was at The Centenary Hall here in Abeokuta. My granny was a theatre buff kind of. So, she took us to see that. I saw the Ogundes, the Ogunmolas, the Duro Ladipos, just name it. Live on stage! And I saw masquerade festivals. So, it’s a combination of all these. And if you want to add – the free cinemas at the open spaces. Then, of course, television.
Earlier on, you mentioned the Alake of Egbaland. Which of them specifically were you referring to?
Alake Gbadebo II; Adeshina Gbadebo to be precise.
What year was this?
Ah! This dates back to the early 70s.
What do you like best about being into showbiz?
I like the motivational part of it. Quite early in life, and due to my training, I don’t do art for art’s sake. Art has to have a focus, it has to have an impact, societal impact. I like the fact that okay, you relax, you enjoy it and all that. But no matter how little it is, you must take something away from it.
So, what don’t you like about being into showbiz?
Hmmm! I’ve grown to love it so much that it’s so difficult to pick the things I do not like. But one aspect of it is that people could easily misjudge who you are and there’s a constant erosion of your privacy.
What is the greatest thing that being into showbiz has done for you?
It has opened doors. Frankly, it has opened doors and it has created challenges for me to aspire to greater heights. It has, it has…
Alright! What has it not done for you?
Maybe one has not had enough time for self and family. We keep aspiring for greater things. I know there’s still so much to achieve, so I’m yet to attain my desired height.
Showbiz has done a lot for you, what has it not done for you?
The things I’m aspiring to be, I’m yet to attain. I’m still learning. In fact, I’m still scratching the surface. There’s still so much to do.
Most people attain success in showbiz, but often times, they are not able to sustain it. Where do you think they normally get it wrong?
Loss of focus. That is very key and that could be a very strong factor in doing that. Unbridled pride is another thing and when you start looking at other people like lesser mortals, you derail. Frankly, you derail. I relate with those who are very high up in the industry and I relate with even the very fresh, new comers, because there is a lot to learn from both the top and those who are behind and the other thing is I know that people look at you as a model, so on and off the lights, there’s a need for you to be careful in what you do, in what you say, because it might go a long way in affecting somebody out there.
Now, what distinguishes Mr. Yemi Shodimu from the other people who also do what you do? What stands you out?
I would not be in a good position to say that, frankly. I just know that I love what I do; I do it with so much passion. I averagely love to be financially comfortable, but it’s not all about money. It’s about giving joy out there, which you cannot value in terms of money. It’s about putting a smile on someone’s face out there and at the end of each performance that I have, I assess such based on how I feel I’ve impacted on those who perceived and received my art and I also see the next job as the next challenge. And I try to work towards it from the moment I know I’m going to do it.
You happen to combine a lot of things – you sing, you act, you present, you also anchor events. Which of them do you like most and why?
I love acting. Acting takes the whole of my soul. When I anchor, I see the results instantly; when I act, I need to wait for say – if it’s live, stage, okay, you are able to assess instantly. But if it’s say a film, home video and all that, you wait for a process. You have shot it, it is post-produced, it is put together, it is put out there in the market and you now wait for a response. So, there’s a time-lapse in that. But frankly, I love acting.
From experience and training, what makes a good actor? Who is a good actor?
Hard work! Hard work and more hard work. Some are naturally gifted. You can be naturally gifted, you can be able to interpret roles, do it well – let me put it that way. But someone also can acquire it. You can do it through training, through the acquisition of knowledge, but outside that, it is a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of dedication, it’s a lot of perseverance and right now in the country, it is not paying gold. It barely makes you comfortable and all that. But it is a lot of hard work. What goes into it is much more than what is perceived at the end of the product. So, there’s so much that goes into it.
Which of your roles do you still have fond memories of?
Without any doubt, Oleku is it and I know quite a number of people will say that. I mean, Oleku was shot so many years ago, and I can tell you that till today people still meet me and they refer to it. In fact, some people still treat it as if it’s just freshly out there and it says a lot about what people saw in it; it says a lot about delivery, it says a lot about artistry, it encourages me to do more. At times I tell myself I wish we did Oleku yesterday. It will probably be something that’s right now – but that it was shot so many years ago and it’s still relevant today makes me feel good. Any time people refer to it, I remember some of the things that went into it so many years ago – sleepless nights, hard work, being in front of the camera and also working behind camera. It’s a lot of work.
Which of your roles don’t you like?
I can’t think of any. Except for one moment, one experience that I had. Okay, a producer approached me, a younger person in the industry and pleaded with me that he just wanted me to do something in his production; that he needed me to be part of it and all that. So, I did that very, very tiny role, very, very small thing there and I forgot about it. Unfortunately, I did not even ask for the details, the full details. But because of his pleas and because of the time I had and all that, I went on set, did the little I was asked to. I think it was a doctor’s whatever. I did that little bit and I forgot about it; only for me to walk into a shop in London, I cannot forget – Peckham to be very, very precise and it was a video store and a lady walked up to me and said ‘ah-ah! Uncle Yemi, haba! How could you have been involved in such a flick? Ah! No! That was really, really sub-standard’. I stood on the spot and I didn’t know what to do. When I was able to look around, I wanted to see what she was talking about and there was that my very big head on the cover of a film. It was just my head. What I did in that film couldn’t have lasted more than 3-4 minutes. And it was pasted right there and I now took the trouble for the very first time to see it; Azuh, I couldn’t go through it…
(Interruption) – What’s the title of the film?
I hope I will never remember (Laughter). I couldn’t go through it, and it was at that moment that I told myself no way, never again! If I’m going to be involved in a production, I want to know every detail, I want to know every bit of it. If I’m not comfortable with it, I’m not going to do it. You can call it anything, but I want to see it first.
Let’s go back a little. Why did you leave Tunde Kelani’s Mainframe Productions where you used to be the General Manager or so?
You know people are talking about change now (Laughs). So, it was probably a process of change that took place so many years ago. A young man wants to move on. You get a bit restless, you want to explore and that was basically it. I just felt I needed to do some other things and that was it.
What’s your relationship with Mr. Tunde Kelani like right now?
It’s great, I can tell you. He’s a big brother. You know, you don’t want to forget where you are coming from, if you don’t want to dry up like a stream that has no sense of history. No! Tunde Kelani is a big name in the industry, he’s paid his dues and deserves all the respect that he gets and that is it. It’s very cordial. He’s a big brother.
Let’s talk about your new baby, Gbarada. What gave rise to it?
Gbarada, to me, is simply saying go out there and achieve, attain heights, don’t be restricted, don’t be constrained. There are too many factors within the society that want to stop you from getting to a particular level and it’s a continuous battle, trying to clear those odds and all that. And of course, I wanted to create a platform for both the big acts and the younger ones to display and express themselves. While at the same time I was combining that with creating a platform for social and economic rejuvenation in whichever form and I’ve always had people I look up to. One of such that is late now happens to be Art Alade. I saw him as a very young boy, I saw The Bar Beach Show, I saw The Art Alade Show and I told myself that one day I was going to do something like that. I’m not there yet, but I will get there. As long as I’m still alive. Things like these had impact on me. I have also Bill Cosby as another person I look up to and I know that there are things we can do. I got into television in 1980 and I’m still there.
You’ve been able to attract a lot of guests to the programme, but who would you like to be your guest but hasn’t been able to pull?
One person, I will tell you – certainly, it’s Chief Commander, Ebenezer Obey.
Why Ebenezer Obey?
It’s not been a question of not being able to get him. It’s been an issue of time. My programme runs at 3 o’clock on Sunday; Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey is an evangelist. He runs a church and I guess after the church, people will still want to see him and all that. I have been a lover of his music, I’ve been a lover of his person from infancy. In fact, I got exposed to his music very early in life. Now, one funny thing is that if I had not gone into television, I would have been a backup singer in Ebenezer Obey’s band. That was my dream (General laughter). That was simply my dream. Even after my youth service (NYSC), that was what I wanted to do. I was that passionate about it. But the job at NTA was waiting. So, I had to go back to it because I went to school on study leave and I had to go back to that. But I’ve had things to do with Ebenezer Obey over the years. I’ve sang with his band at events. Quoting him now, I’ve actually led his band at one or two events like that. So, he’s somebody I desire so much to have on my show.
Who is the most memorable guest that you’ve attracted to your programme?
They are too many, and they are not just artistes. I’ve had great fun, I tell you. I’ve had fantastic musicians, I’ve had great journalists, we’ve had great chats. This is one question I won’t give a definite answer to – because I will be so unfair to too many people. At the end of each show, it’s like a relief. I feel so excited. Once in a while you get shows that you are not too happy with, but it will not be as a result of content. It might be as a result of some technical hitches and then you go crazy about it and all that. Substitutions can be very mild in the studio. But I’ve had great guests; I’ve also had people I would love to bring back over and over again.
What stands Gbarada out? What separates it from the other shows in that league?
I will tell you – the preparation towards production, certainly, is one, because when I end a show, like say on a Sunday, I start preparing for another the moment the last end credit comes up. My wife just got used to it because I wake up in the middle of the night because I got one crazy idea and I will just jump up, I get a pen, I get my bag, which is always very close and I note something down. And when I wake up, I go for it. And then the spontaneity and then I guess God has endowed me with a few things which I try to put into the show. Then, I do radio as well. My radio (programme) comes on later in the evening on Sunday (Nostalgia with Yemi Shodimu)…It’s on Star FM and now on Eko FM as well. I try to bring back good old memories of those days with those music – music of yester years. There’s so much to learn from those music and I’ve discovered also that Nigerians love, be it juju, be it highlife, be it afro, from those old hands. They love them with a passion.