Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Beacon

Good week everybody! It was a particularly good week for me that passed by on account of the fact that it’s been raining cats and dogs all week. Why? Because it’s cooled the whole place down from the soaring temperatures of the previous weeks. My work doesn’t suffer as I leave the house at five am when there’s little traffic to return at eleven at night. Sadly the week was coloured in no small measure by the demise of a great personality I’d admired from childhood, Michael Jackson.

My tribute to him would be to try to relate how he affected me on a personal level starting from my childhood days when the Billie Jean video came out. His moves in it were incredible and everyone in my school tried as much as possible to enact it including me to the utter irritation of my parents. I ruined so many of my dad’s jackets and trench coats – he refused to get me the leather jackets he was famed for. Funny enough, quite unlike him, my dad never punished us, my brothers and I, for depleting his wardrobe for such ‘trivial’ pursuits. We’d steal my mother’s powder, talcum, dusting – all sorts, take off to school, pour them liberally on the classroom floor and begin practicing the moonwalk, the backslide (as we called it then) and the helicopter. For a not so good dancer as I was then – still struggling -, the talcum proved invaluable for making floors mirror smooth and shiny, making my slides and spins. I make bold to say I can still my own today when it comes to the backslide and the moonwalk although I never could get beyond one and a half spins before finishing up in that tiptoe standstill pose he ended his routine with in the video. Ah, those were the days.

His energy and belief with which he sang always sent me to subliminal levels when I listened to his songs especially Dirty Diana, Beat it and Earth Song. At first I sort of hated him because he was just too good looking and had the most wonderful smile. I think it was because I felt so threatened that he’d get all the pretty girls; it didn’t matter that we’d probably never be in direct competition with one another. Actually I was justified in my animosity towards him because all the girls in my school were going gaga over him – not a good boost to my self esteem. It was therefore with shock, and relief, that I welcomed his 1987 album BAD; he looked so different! Gone was that characteristic chocolate complexion that accentuated that dazzling smile and in its place was this very pale almost unrecognizable caricature of the former. My initial elation was quickly replaced by the concern that the music of this incredible man would follow the stark metamorphosis of his physical looks. The Dirty Diana video proved me wrong. The raw energy that emanated from that waiflike body was astounding! I watched mesmerized as MJ strutted and whirled in perfect unison with the psychedelic wailing of the lead guitar. I didn’t move a muscle, I just sat there drinking in every iota of energy that was coming out of him and observed how he abandoned himself completely to his music. I knew I probably would never be able to sing like him but I stored that passion in my heart promising myself to someday, as only a shy person could, even if it was just once, express myself without inhibition for all the world to see. His music became a safety net or should I say a compass that sort of guided me along the path to relentlessly pursue truth through passion and belief and I think that made me the unwavering follower I was, and still am, through his many controversies.

Personally, I don’t think Michael ever grew older than twelve throughout his life. The kid that was never allowed to play and do all the things that children do to be able to make the transition into adulthood never left him and I think that was what made him live the “Peter Pan- like” life that he did. It was because of this that I never really believed his love songs like, "You Are Not Alone" or "You Rock My World."
I didn’t because I didn’t believe he knew what really loving a woman as a partner meant. I knew how I felt about girls when I was in my childhood. They were the most irritating beings to be with; they loved flowers, talked all day about stupid things like love, wanted you to hold their hands and sing silly songs like “Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea” and one had to behave himself around them. All I wanted was play with my toys, ride bikes and dream of racing cars. I could see that aversion towards the opposite sex, for the same reasons, in Michael throughout his life. I admired the resolute and level headed way he talked when he answered his critics and accusers. He never faltered in his convictions and stood firm in the midst of the numerous accusations and slurs, and they were legion, that dogged his life. He believed absolutely in everything he did and that for me is the mark of a great man.

I believe that life is too short to be influenced by what people think of you. I believe that one should carefully consider what mission one has to accomplish in this world and look to what talent one has to bring it to effect. Having found this, I believe that the one should pursue it to the utmost while living life to the full. One should also be able to learn from mistakes and be brave enough to continually assess his or her intrinsic motives and mental progress. Adieu Michael Jackson, may you finally find the peace you’ve long sought for. Have a great week everyone.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Stunt Man

A glowing week to everyone especially in these trying times! Chin up everyone; the only way is up. This sort of reminds me of the Pharaoh’s dream of old where he dreamt of the seven scrawny cows eating up the seven fat ones. Well let’s hope it was just one cow that swallowed the seven this in our case! Anyway like I said, a wonderful week to all and I’m going to toot my horn this week and brag about one of my many talents – not that I intend making a career out of this one – stunts! Yes my dear friends I can confidently say I have earned my stripes in the world of stunts with no insurance! Hopefully this will be the last.

It was on a movie set in Lagos and the character I was playing was a slime bag that got his kicks off sleeping with other men’s wives. The movie’s not out yet hence no title yet. Sorry that’s the Nigerian way of doing things – no movie, no name. Well in this scene the cuckolded husband, played by Bimbo Manuel is so frustrated with his philandering wife’s (Rita Dominic) antics that he goes to help himself with the ladies of easy virtue at night. While parked on the road where the prostitutes ply their trade and seated in his car, he imagines his arch enemy, yours truly, crossing the road while he runs me down into hell where I ‘belong’. Now I jauntily thought it would just a case of crossing the road, being startled by the bright headlights, open my eyes wide when I realize the intention of the driver, raise my arms across my face to avert the impending onslaught and then ‘cut’! No such luck.

The director, Izu Ojukwu, walks up to me with a guilt laden grin on his face. The kind that says “I’m sorry to have to ask you to do this but you’re going to have to do it anyway cos I won’t have this scene look stupid”. All I’d have to do, according to him, was to walk casually across the road and the vehicle would ‘bump’ me from the side and I’d simply employ my athletic skills to fly up in the air, fall to the ground and play dead. I looked at the vehicle in question. It was a formidable looking Mercedes SUV and to make matters worse, it had monstrous steel bull bars attached to the front bumpers, rising up to my rib section! I looked back at him.
“Oh no no no. The engine will not be turned on. The P A’s will simply push the vehicle so it will roll gently and just graze you just a little bit.” He said in an attempt to reassure me.
With some reserve I consented and made ready on the other side of the road. At the first attempt I ‘casually’ sauntered across the road, my peripheral vision at its sharpest as I spied the black shadow gliding towards me like some oily monster until I ‘saw’ it at the very last moment and startled by the dazzling headlights, opened my eyes wide when I realised the intentions of the driver and raised my arms across my face to avert the onsl… “Cut!” The director bellowed. Damn!
“You are not supposed to ever notice the car. It’s supposed to catch you completely unawares. Take two!”
I walked across a second time. Twenty people must have been pushing that car because the speed at which that vehicle came at me made it look like it was fleeing a crime scene. I jumped back at the last minute swearing and hurling unmentionables at my would be assassins. By this time a small crowd had gathered round to watch even though it was 11pm, I decided to be a tough guy and go through with it. I crossed, walked bravely in front of the car and got hit. It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be but if I had initially thought I was going to sprawl over the bonnet like I would an ordinary car, I was to change that thought very quickly if I was to live. The bull bars would not even let me get close to the already high bonnet let alone sprawl over it. Using the bars as leverage, I flipped and then flung myself over the side of the bonnet landing on the ground with a thud. Of course I had to repeat it again as it looked too ‘contrived’. It took two more takes for Izu to be satisfied with the sacrifice I had made. The good thing was I suffered no injury and no bruises. The highlight of the shoot that night was when on being knocked down, the ‘prostitutes’ rushed over to assist my character as he lay prone face up on the ground – Staying dead was a very trying time for my character especially with the camera trained on his lifeless body!

Whenever Nollywood deems it fit to honour versatile actors, I will stand tall in the exclusive club of actors who do their own stunts! Have a great week ahead everyone!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mind over Matter

A good week of the mid month to everyone. I don’t know what to say except that I had a very good day today. It’s hard to pinpoint what is actually making me grin from ear to ear so I’ll just keep rambling on and on and hopefully the coin will drop into the slot somewhere along the line. I spent the weekend at my friend JB’s and we did a lot of catching up as we always do after a considerable time apart; he lives in the Lekki part of Lagos and I on the mainland and all who know Lagos know that these two locations are traffic miles apart! Anyway one of the things I went to do on the island was to give a television interview on what my life is like as an actor. One of the questions Simi, my interviewer, asked me was what my most embarrassing moment was. My mind went down memory lane and a smile lit on my face. I don’t know why it wasn’t that hard for me to recount given my, I think, shy nature but I thought I’d perhaps share it with you.

I’d gone to live with my maternal uncle in Oturkpo, Benue state for a year with a view to study hard for my JAMB university entrance exams. My JAMB result of the previous year while enough to get me into the university of my choice, had not met with the very high grades required by the department I applied for so I had to sit for it a second time. My uncle was the vice principal of a teacher training college in the town and this provided me with the perfect environment for study even though, to my chagrin, it was to be under his stern supervision. Alas, what goes around does come around. My father, of blessed memory, had bought him up as a child and tutored him through school in the old fashioned ways of the missionaries – the cane. Truly, the adage that goes, if the alligator will eat its own eggs, what won’t it do with the hide of a frog, rings so true. I, as well as my siblings, received second hand the taste of my father’s strict upbringing when his arm was beginning to tire. My uncles, maternal and paternal, received it first hand. My dad, not fondly called ‘Teacher Egbui’, then a standard (primary) school teacher, was famed and feared as the teacher whose arm never came down. He could go through the entire school in the village with the cane and not tire – my uncles had the misfortune of living with him. But that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that my dear uncle was determined that I made the high grades required for the university of my choice. I stray again… Sometimes I fear for my children, and my grandchildren when I grow old; I’ll probably kill them with stories! Sorry, my most embarrassing moment.

It was about noon. I had just finished studying for the morning and was getting ready to go to the market to buy ingredients for lunch – yes I was also the cook of the house. I came out to the backyard with just my towel tied round my waist and a pail in my left hand to fetch water from the tank at the back of the house. The tank was a five hundred litre tank. The kind that have no taps but can only be accessed by removing the top lid and bending over the edge to scoop the water within with the bucket. On this particular day the tank was only a quarter full and so I had to stand on a stool to bend over and scoop the desired amount of water needed for my bath. As I did so, the towel loosened from my waist and fell to the ground. My uncle’s quarters, a large four bedroom bungalow stood in the middle of a row of six houses that formed the senior staff quarters with no fences demarcating them. Each building had a two bedroom servant quarters annexed to it. Some ladies about my age, to whom my uncle had leased the servant quarters, four in number, one of whom I fancied, were plaiting each other’s hair and sharing gossip on their veranda. I could feel the warm sun on my naked behind and the sudden hush behind me. I straightened up and looked at the ground behind me. Sure enough there was my towel lying on the hard ground far below and beyond my reach with the chickens pecking for food around it. Barely breathing I dared to cast a glance at the girls to find all four of them staring back at me as if to see what my next move would be. I calmly turned round, bent over, scooped my water, came down the stool, set the pail on the ground, picked my towel, tied it round my waist, looked them in the eye – at which they averted their gaze – picked the bucket and went into the house! The next week one of the girls, not the one I liked, came over to ask if I could go over some old examination question papers with her. Mind over matter!

I learnt, still am, that no situation is irredeemable no matter how hopeless. Here’s where I welcome all kinds of experiences even if it’s under the aegis of anonymity. Heck, I’ve shown you mine so you show me yours. :) Have a great week everyone and may every cloud carry a bold silver ling with it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The River Runs Through It

A good week to all once again. I don’t know about other parts of the world but it’s really baking here. The humidity alone is brain throbbing. Join that with the typically horrendous Lagos traffic and you’ll have a fair idea of how we’re faring over here. The real meaning to the phrase ‘suffering and smiling’ is right here. Nigerians? We are a formidable people; whoever thinks otherwise should go and fetch water with a basket and give us to drink. Oh no, no, no, I’m not done griping yet; the overworked transformer on my street blew sometime last week and we’ve been admiring the stars at night while swiping at those ubiquitous free loading blood sucking tenants. My generator’s been working overtime sometimes forcing me to choose between power and the deafening noise from the… Oh my, they just brought the power back! The transformer must have been fixed! There is a God in heaven; and a conscience among those in charge. Ah! The air conditioner is on and I’m typing merrily away now. Bliss – while it lasts!

Where was I? Yes, griping. Griping about the awful conditions we’re we are being forced to live under. Without wanting to become too political I can’t help but want to add a voice – and maybe influence a collective one to change our lot for the better. A friend of mine once asked me a question while we were holidaying in Poznan in Poland sometime ago. We were drinking polish beer in Murowana Gosclina, the old picturesque town square and admiring the pretty young ladies milling about in their various pursuits. Mukul is a doctor turned actor turned director and is one of the few people I love discussing philosophy with. Before going out at night to storm the night clubs (East Europe has the best) we would sit at cafes in the square arguing for hours on end over different schools of thought – he with his Muslim cum agnostic views and I with my Christian and Nigerian ones.
“Kaloo,” he asked in that exotic eastern accent of his.
“Yes?” I replied, waiting for another topic to chew on.
“How many people are there in China?”
The answer seemed quite obvious but I answered anyway.
“About one point six billion?”
He bowed his head in thought for a moment then looked up at me.
“Can you imagine what would happen if all billion plus people were to come out en masse and piss into a ravine at the same time?”
I just sat there staring at him and the dam burst. The image of a furious hot yellow flash flood emanating from a billion and a half people obliterating everything in its path was too much for me. I roared and roared with laughter and it was all I could to keep from rolling on the ground and making a nuisance of myself. Those are the kinds of idiots I have for friends! I love this life… and yes, I am still on course.

I have often thought of the situation here in my beloved Nigeria and thought of the best way to make our voices effectively heard in the most non violent way possible. Not long ago the wonderful women in Kenya decided to checkmate the political impasse in their country by imposing a sex strike on their men. Apparently even prostitutes were paid not to have sex with customers. I’m not sure how effective it was or if it’s over yet but it definitely set me thinking of Nigeria, a nation with a population of about a hundred and forty million. Now if two million of us were to struggle uphill of the national assembly with laden bladders; women discreetly arranged on one side and men standing proudly on the other, and let loose, what a mighty rush that would be! What a river? What streams? What brooks? What impetuous rivulets coursing through corridors of power, suffusing expanses of plush carpets and rugs in their wake. Our little babies would brush aside any security checks, sending security agents scampering for safety, politicians hopping onto their seats; one hand holding up their robes and the other their noses. I can imagine them wading through the uric flood to get to get to their SUVs and of them thinking of getting to work in the days to come. The stench of our displeasure of their handling of affairs of state would reverberate in their nostrils for days on end; not to mention the lingering state of affairs in the halls. The cleaning bill would be substantial I’d expect, but it certainly would be one well spent. Then those people at the helm of affairs would sit up and enact policies that actually benefit the masses in the knowledge that another demonstration of our collective will is just a pure water sachet away. Just a thought!

In summary, I believe we as a people grossly underestimate the power we weld as individuals and as a collective unit regarding changing our destiny for the better. While a few people may strut about at the helm of affairs falsely believing they and their favoured ones are born to rule to the detriment of the governed, it is important to remind them from whence the power given them emanates – the people. The beauty of it is that it can be done in the most peaceful way like Mahatma Gandhi did with his passive resistance to break the crippling hold Britain had on India. We as Nigerians can stand up and voice our disapproval of the inept way our economy is being handled by people who have no business being there in the first place. We should actively love our country and strive for the best for her and our children We can make our voice heard, so let’s do it. I’m done philosophizing so have a great week everyone.

My air conditioner purrs away
Drying my sweat away
By my ear the mosquitoes sing
While I brace for the inevitable sting!