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Kanayo O. KANAYO - Xclusive Interview
Kanayo O. Kanayo is a front-runner in the wave-making Nollywood film industry. In fact, he is the oldest Nollywood actor still standing, having been in the industry right from its inception in 1992. He is also one of the highest paid. In a period of fourteen years, he has risen from receiving a mere One Thousand Five Hundred Naira commanding fee per movie to a whooping One Million Naira. Peter Anny-Nzekwue caught up with the 2006 African Best Actor recently in Dublin. It is a vintage Kanayo O. Kanayo. The mass communicator, the philosopher, a man whose heart and passion is for the less privileged and a man who, even in the eyes of the very critical Nigerian press, can do no wrong.
Kanayo O. Kanayo You are generally known as Kanayo O.Kanayo, is this your real name?
Kanayo O. Kanayo is my professional name. I was born as Anayo Modestus Onyekwere. The “O” in my professional name is the initial of my surname. Apart from that I don't like English names. I think there is beauty in African names that we all have to hold on to. A lot of things were taken from us, but we must not allow some identities to be taken away.

Most of us actually began to reckon with you as an actor in “Living in Bondage” as Chief Omego, but I am sure you have been in the acting industry long before that. Can you take us back to when it all began?
It's a long journey. I don't know how many litres of fuel we're going to use to run it. I started from television in 1980. This should be my 27th year as an actor. I was a part of “The New Masguerade” and I played various roles. There were the regulars like Zebrudaya, Ovuleria, Jegede, Natty, Gregory, Clarius etc. The others were various roles you appear two times in a month while others appear four times in a month. I was also part of “Village Headmaster” “Television Play House” “At Your Service”, a lot of National programmes. Later I was part of “Checkmate” which was one of the longest running soap operas in Nigeria. Before then I was part of “Ripples”…

Sorry for interrupting you. While you were in “The New Masquerade” and “Village Headmaster” were you in Television, working with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).
I was working in NTA as a guest artiste.

OK, let's continue.
I was part of the success story of “Ripples” and “Checkmate”. When we were doing “Checkmate” we got notice of audition to come to NEK Video Links, and then one thing led to the other we got the script for “Living in Bondage”. I've always told anybody who cared to listen that “Living in Bondage” was an act of God. We did not do “Living in Bondage” in Ibo language thinking it was going to make a name. It was like, “Let's go and do the next job.” We did the next job and it became a hit. Since then there was no stopping us. And that is the Nollywood film industry that we are seeing today.

So how do you feel being a front-runner of this wave-making Nollywood film Industry?
It feels like being called Father of the nation, which means you are one of the founding fathers of the nation of Nollywood. So it's like you have sacrificed because, give it to us, how much was I paid for “Living in Bondage”? It was a thousand five hundred Naira in 1992. That 's less than Ten Euro.

As a follow-up question, I understand that when the producer wanted to film part 2 of “Living in Bondage” some of you demanded for more money, which was an understandable reaction to how much you were paid in part one vis-à-vis the financial gain accrued from it?
Yes, it's a very natural phenomenon. I don't like it when I talk about my fellow Africans as people who like servitude. I think the whole idea of doing business is that if it goes well everybody in the system enjoys it. But Africans have this attitude of even if it goes well they still want to pay you what they paid you before, and that has been the problem. I don't think you need any man to remind you. You only need structures to remind you that we are doing well. And to say, “Gentlemen, I think business was good, let's add some percentage here.” But an African will wait for you, struggle with you, negotiate with you, and so on. You see it wasn't forthcoming so some of us, about three of us, opted out to do “Circle of Doom”. We had gotten a budget that was going to take care of a lot of things for us. That was the way it went. But then, there are just two of us who are the only surviving sons of Nollywood: Kenneth Okonkwo and myself. But I am the oldest Nollywood guy standing now. I said that I am the oldest because Kenneth Okonkwo left to go to pastor a church or pastoral school for two to three years. I never left to anywhere. I have been in Nollywood. I have given Nollywood attention since 1992. I am the oldest guy standing in Nollywood.

We can then conveniently say that Kanayo O. Kanayo is the oldest Nollywood Star?
It's been given to me at home. I don't need to sing my praises about it.

Let's look at it again from another angle. We've come to an agreement that “Living in Bondage” is the front-runner of Nollywood film Industry, and being one of the front-runners you were then paid one thousand five hundred Naira only. Now how much is Kanayo O. Kanayo commanding in a single movie?
I am comfortable.

I don't mean your net worth; I am looking at your commanding fee.
I've risen. Between 1992 and now what we have done is a gradual progression from Eighty thousand Naira to one hundred and twenty thousand Naira, then to three hundred thousand. Then we went up to four hundred thousand Naira, some of us went up to five hundred Thousand Naira. But somewhere along the line some of us got up to eight hundred thousand Naira, and others up to one million Naira, or one point five million Naira. Right now I am not just the face of Nollywood, being the current African Actor of the year 2006, I am also one of the highest earners in Nollywood. If you want to pencil it down to what I earn now per movie, put it at one million Naira.

You are big?
Yeah.

Ritual films are prevalent in Nollywood Industry, is that a reflection of a desperate society peopled with desperate individuals who are ready to do anything, no matter how terrible, to get rich quick?
Film is an expression of what happens within and around us. Some of the expressions are categorical. Some of the expressions are the offshoots of stories people tell us. People write stories because of the environment where they live and give to us. So our films are just an expression. It's not about Africa being a cult or voodoo. But for goodness sake, if you annoy an American he pulls a gun. If you annoy an African what happens? He would go to the juju man. So ritual movies are expressions. It's not what our lives are all about. But film is a statement you make to say, light must overshadow darkness at the end of the day. I think we should look at the message not the messenger. We are the messenger; take the message, leave us the messengers. But I'll tell you one thing, for me as a person, since I got the best African Actor Award I have stopped doing rituals in movies because I don't want it to be a stigma. I don't want it to be something the next African would say, “It's only ritual movies he is capable of doing.” Henceforth, let us socially re-engineer Nollywood. Let's us begin to tell our own stories. Let us do laundering for government image. Somebody is made government minister in April by end of June he buys a jeep, nobody ask the reason why.


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