Talented and humorous bilingual movie star, Kayode Olasehinde, popularly known as Ajirebi and Pa James of Papa Ajasco and Company fame, speaks about his career and love life..
You are known with your stage names Ajirebi and Pa James, who is Ajirebi and Pa James?
Ajirebi and Pa James is Kayode Olasehinde. I hail from Patako in Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State, but born and raised in Isale-Eko, Lagos Island.
Share your growing period with us
After my primary school education at ECWA Primary School, Patako, my parents struggled to send me to high school but it was impossible because of poverty although I sat for the entrance examination to Oke Ode Grammar School in our local government area. I later became househelp in Lagos and also learnt printing as a profession.
You are a bilingual actor, when are how did you start acting?
I started acting in 1976. My master then was the late Olanrewaju Ali, who had a theatre group in Lagos. I was working at UTC Hardware, Apapa then as a labourer and I was combining both. But at a point, Olanrewaju decided to veer into fuji music because Sikiru Ayinde Barrister and others were making money in music. So, I joinedÂ Emulewu Theatre Group in 1982 or thereabouts and was named Ajirebi by the late leader of the group and have been popular with the name since then.
Okay, what brought about the name Pa James?
My story cannot be complete without mentioning Wale Adenuga, who sent a letter to me one day, while I was at home, inviting me to his office. When I got there, I was given the role of Pa James in Papa Ajasco and Company and that was how I became Pa James.
Without much education, you still play roles in English language, how?
It is a great surprise to me that I can speak English language although when I was growing up, my parents always bought magazines such as Drum, Spear and Challenge, among others, which I used to read. I think that was where I sharpened my knowledge of English language. Albeit, I canâ€™t rule out the grace of God in that aspect of my career.
In your career, how many movies have you produced?
Only one. Itâ€™s titled Enu Ope and was released in 2001.
Was it a commercial success?
It was commercially successful.
As one of the top talented actors in Nigeria and having been in the industry for several years, what has been your experience?
My experience has shown that persistence is the key to success in any vocation. It is no longer like before when we wear rags. The industry has changed positively.
Has the experience affected you financially?
I am neither poor nor rich. I have a car, a Nissan Blue Bird, a four-bedroom flat and several plots of land. So, I am grateful to God because I also have two undergraduates as children.
Is there any difference between English and Yoruba movie production?
There are many Yoruba movies which suffer financial problems. While English enjoys great financial support from marketers, Yoruba stories are fantastic lack of money, which results in poor output.
What is your relationship with your colleagues in both genres?
We are one. Entertainment has brought us together as we often meet at locations.
What is your stance on the leadership tussle between Dele Odule and Victor Ashaolu-led factions?
This is a serious question, but I must state categorically that I belong to Oduleâ€™s faction because I detest trouble and whoever is troublesome.
Has there ever been a time you wanted to call it quits?
No, it never happened.
Which of your productions can you describe as the best and the worst?
All of them are good, but my favourite is Papa Ajasco and Company. I passionately love the Pa James role that I play.
Like father, like son, you and your son, Samuel, are actors. How do you and his mother feel about this?
We are very happy at it. This is because he started when he was five years old and we have been giving him the required support ever since.
It is generally believed by the Yoruba that the bald are rich, is this true?
Yes, it is true because all bald people are not poor. Prophet Elijah in the Bible is a typical example. God always answered his prayers.
Can you assess the movie industry generally?
We are still having the problem of piracy as well as unnecessary and avoidable leadership crisis.
Recently, one of your colleagues was arrested and released for alleged drug trafficking and Nigerians believe it is a regular practice among all of you. What is your comment on this?
Whoever says or thinks this way is a sinner because for somebody to have believed that all of us push drugs is sinful in the eyes of the Lord. Even there was no evidence to prove that Baba Suwe carried drugs because we see ourselves (artistes) as role models.
Your advice to your fans?
My advice to my fans is that I will not disappoint them, while I will also ensure that I dish out great comedy at all times.
Most people do not know your name; they refer to you as Pa James. How did you get the stage name?
I got the name from a Wale Adenuga Production and ever since, the name has stuck. It has been about 18 years now. Everybody saw the production, even outside the shores of Nigeria, and since then, I have been referred to as Pa James.
Why did you decide to be a comic actor?
I can play any role given to me, but comedy is what I have been doing all these years. When I began as an actor, my bosses used to advise me to stick to the comedy line of the business and that is why no matter the role I act, there must be a comic relief in it. Sometimes, even if I act normally and I am serious, people would think I am joking.
Has that affected how you are perceived in real life?
Oftentimes, people do not take me seriously even when I am not cracking jokes. For example, on occasions when I board public transport and the conductor owes me my balance, when I ask for my money, people would begin to laugh. In reality, I am pained and I want my money, but the bus conductor and the passengers would think I am joking. There was a day that we were shooting at a location and one of the cast members fainted. Immediately it happened, I rushed out and began to shout for help, but when people saw me, they began to laugh. I overheard someone saying that they should not pay me any attention as I was only acting. The more I shouted, the more they laughed. It was not until people saw others shouting that they began to pay attention to the man that fainted. Later, they said that they were laughing because they thought that I was joking as usual.
Were you mischievous as a kid?
I was very scared of fighting when I was growing up. On occasions, I would look for ways to beg someone who wanted to fight with me because I hated fighting. I was also very scared of the police. Anytime I saw a policeman in uniform, I was always apprehensive. I always ran away from violence or any form of trouble. I was better known as the kid that made people laugh when I was a young boy. Sometimes I could wear my father’s clothes or any over-sized clothe just to make people laugh.
We learnt you were once a house help?
Yes, I was. My journey to stardom was very rough. Before I became an actor, I was a house boy for several years. I went through a lot during that time. There was a time I was employed to look after a sick child at a native doctor’s house. The child was already a vegetable on the bed and was like a skeleton and his parents never stayed there with him. I was the one that always looked after the child. I would feed him and bathe him. One fateful day, I was given my food, ikokore, but the native doctor said that before I ate, I had to empty the pit latrine. Unfortunately, the bucket used for the latrine had no handle and it had holes in it. I was very sad. I went to look at the child I was looking after to ensure that he had eaten. After I had confirmed that, I went back to where I kept my food and stared at it for a while. I dipped my hands into my pocket and realised that I had six pence. I decided to quit the job immediately. I used the money to go back home and told my father that I was done with the job. From there, I became a sales boy at a shop, but I left the place too. I was home for a while when my father asked me what I was interested in. I told him that I would love to be a painter and he was glad. I got a job on Lagos Island. Every morning, I would prepare eba and soup and I would put it in a nylon bag, then I would begin to trek to work. After two weeks, I fell ill; my father said it was because of the distance I trekked, so he told me to quit the job. Instead of staying at home idle, I joined a company that used to sell building equipment and I was doing menial jobs for them. Whenever their goods arrived, I joined other boys to offload the container. A man who came to buy some goods helped me with another job. He gave me a note to UTC Hardware where I was employed. I was a labelling clerk and that was how I got an office job.
So how did you become an actor?
I got home from work one day and saw my friends going out. I asked where they were headed and they said that they were going for rehearsals. Since I was bored at home, I decided to accompany them. When I got there, they were rehearsing for a forthcoming show. One of the cast did not get his part right and this angered the director to the extent that he considered stopping the show. I don’t know where I got the boldness from, but I voiced out that I could play the part. I was given a chance and my performance was outstanding. I got a standing ovation and people even laughed their hearts out. That is how the director accepted me. Ironically, my friends that took me to the rehearsal are no longer actors today. When one of them saw me in Oshodi sometime ago, where he is now a bus driver; he was telling people that he was the one that introduced me to acting, but nobody believed him. To prove his point, he asked someone to call me and when I went to meet him, I hugged him. He then began to tell people again that he introduced me to acting and I confirmed his story.
Your education stopped at the primary school level, but your spoken English is fairly okay, how come?
It surprises me too. I love English language and I endeavour to learn it anytime I have the chance. Whenever I interact with people, I try my best to learn one or two things from them. I could not further my education after primary school because my parents could not afford it. My father wanted me to go to school and he was always sad when he saw other kids go to school, while his children stayed at home for lack of funds. I passed the common entrance examination to attend Oko-Ode Grammar School in Kwara State. I tried my best to get money for education but it was not possible. I can read. I speak English occasionally and I do not care if I make mistakes because people would correct me and I would learn through that. Back then when I was working at UTC Hardware, I once made a very funny grammatical error, thinking I was right. I told my boss that I was ‘an incorrected man’ instead of ‘a correct man.’ When I said it, everybody laughed but they eventually corrected me. People may laugh at you but they would correct you.
Do you regret not completing your education?
No, I have no regrets. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I tried my best but it did not work out. What I did instead was to ensure that my children never went through what I passed through. Maybe if I had completed my education, it is very possible that I would not become an actor and venture into another business. It pays to study but I thank God for where I am today.
When you were a house help, did it ever occur to you that you would be a household name?
It never occurred to me. All I was praying to God for was to have some money to open a small shop and become a trader.
How would you describe your experience when you were duped as a producer?
That was in 2001. At that time, we felt that it was quite prestigious to produce a movie. I got some money from my friends and I produced the movie. It was a commercial success, but the marketer messed me up. When the movie was in demand, the marketer promised me heaven on earth. He said he would buy me a car, among other things. When it was time for him to give me my money, he began to tell me different stories.
Don’t you feel threatened by the likes of Mr. Latin, Baba Suwe, Sanyeri, Adekola Odunlade, among many other comic actors?
We are all friends and we relate like a family. Whenever we are together, we all laugh. Whenever I see the likes of Sanyeri, Odunlade, they hail me and greet me with respect. We all joke a lot. I don’t see them as a competition; in fact, they create more jobs for me. There are times when I feel I have been at home for too long and I need an acting gig, all I do is call Mr. Latin and he would invite me to Abeokuta. We all relate like one big family and there is no rivalry among us.
Whenever you wooed a girl as a youngster, did she ever take you seriously?
I hardly did that. It took a long while before I began to woo ladies. I learnt a lot from my father, who married only one wife. He always told us to be patient and wait for the right time before embarking on anything in life. Whenever I wanted to woo a woman, I always wondered what I would do if she got pregnant and the thought always dissuaded me from acting on my urges. I had female friends but nothing amorous. On few occasions when ladies would tell me they wanted to come to my house, I always discouraged them from coming because I did not want any trouble. I did not want a scenario where someone would get pregnant for me when I was not ready. For a long while, my neighbours thought I was impotent because they never saw any girl pay me a visit at home as a bachelor.
We learnt you met your wife on a movie set.
Yes, it is very true. She came to see her sister who was an actress. Her sister was a very morally upright lady. Her sister knew that I was a serious person, but was unsure if I was married. When I approached her, she was reluctant. It took a long while before she granted me audience, but she insisted that I must be the one to come to her house because it was against her principle to visit men in their homes. I went to her house one day and I was amazed because they were God-fearing people. I decided I would marry her because her family was not the type to toy with. Eventually when we began dating, she came to visit me to ensure that I was not married because people were telling her to be careful as I could be a married man. When she came to my house, she inspected it to be certain that I was not married before her mind was put to rest. She asked me and I told her that I was never married.