Ever since he mimed one of Naira Marley’s hit songs, Mafo, veteran actor Jude Chukwuka’s name has been on the lips of many Nigerians. His ability to adeptly sing along without mistaking one word for the other got him the attention of the Afrobeat star, who announced a cash gift of N1million. In this conversation with OLAITAN GANIU, Chukwuka speaks on the good and the bad of social media, secrets of his ability to speak fluent Yoruba, relationship with Marlians, his role models and so much more.
You’ve stayed on top of your game for many years, what keeps you going?
I succeeded in staying on top of my game after many decades because I do not see myself to have achieved. So I strived to be better. Every new project or assignment I take, thrice as serious as I took the last one. It is a sequence to reinvent myself and make myself relevant in what I do.
Recently, you sang along to one of Naira Marley’s songs, ‘Mafo’ and it went viral. Tell us how it happened?
Honestly, I have made a lot of these contemporary beats that these young boys sing but coming to Naira Marley’s song, ‘Mafo,’ I can only say that it is God that touches him to affect it. If I say I know how or what happened, I would be lying. I just know I’ve been doing it as a relief for myself and something I enjoy doing because it brings about this intergenerational connection so for me, I just do it and throw it there. How it became viral, I don’t know. But because I am a man of faith I believe strongly that it was God’s intervention.
How long does it take you to master the lyrics of songs?
These are songs that I did not map out to sing at particular times, no, but they are just songs I enjoy listening to. So, for me to say it takes a day, week, or month to learn the lyrics will be more academic. If I pick an interest in a song, I will play it over and over again until it sticks.
Many people see Naira Marley as a controversial artist, what’s your view of the man?
Like noses have hoes, people’s opinions are belabored with hoes. Naira Marley is a controversial person, it depends on where you are standing. If you’re standing on the part of those who caused the rot Naira Marley is exposing then you can call him an irresponsible person but if you are part of that generation of people where you see what he’s singing about are things you won’t joke about, then you will not think as irresponsible but that he is exposing the rot in the society. Concerning his person, I cannot judge or say he is a good or bad person. I do not know him personally but from his song, you can see a young man that is protesting against evil in society.
How do you feel receiving the 1m from Naira Marley?
Oga if e be you nko! I was happy to receive the N1 million (laughing). For what I was playing around with, somebody gave me a gift. I am happy ooo.
Are you a Marlian?
Let me say it loud and clear, I identify with the Marlians movement. And the Marlians movement is a congregation of young that are grossly misunderstood and have been written off. To say I am a Marlian or not is not relevant but that we have a group of people who feel they are being so denied, disenfranchised and abused, that in their attitude they are showing some protest and this protest serving as being unreasonable. Well, I pity a leadership that is insensitive to the protest of these young people. Honestly, I believe that the government can achieve more, in addressing their protest. In just addressing, you must first identify what they are addressing against before trying to solve their protest. Yesterday, I was in one office and I saw the second stanza of our National Anthem and I felt ashamed, ‘Help our youth, the truth to know’. What truth are we helping our youth to know? Is it for them to know that it pays to steal government funds? Because those are the realities we are facing now. What truth are we teaching our youth to know?
How did your children feel about you getting viral for miming a street song?
My children are my critics. When I did the first Naira Marley song, my second childhood also my best friend called and said ‘you should be ashamed of yourself when your mates are becoming president. It is Naira Marley you are singing.’ However, his tune changed, 2 days later, when he heard that Naira Marley gave me N1m. ‘Haaa! Baba, you nailed it, thank God you did that Naira Marley song.’ I just laughed myself to stupor.
Tell us your journey into acting?
My journey into acting started around 1973 but it is not like real acting, we were expected to present a drama presentation for Bishop Olubunmi Okogie who was appointed, duly, Archbishop of Lagos far back then. And I took part in the drama presentation, that is, how it’s all started. However, beyond that, I have been MC to my friend’s wedding but I never took it seriously, like it is a commercial venture. I was doing it for the fun, for my friends to enjoy. From there, I graduated to drama in church, New Estate Baptist Church. During that time, a gentleman Israel Eboho who is also a member of the drama ministry told me that, Jude this thing that you are playing around within church is money. So he gave me my first opportunity to do a stage play and after that, I did Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine and that is how my acting career started.
Can you recall the first movie production you took part in?
Yes, I can recall the movie but I’ve forgotten the title o. It was produced by Tunde Olaoye, directed by Zabari, and that was my first movie ever. Immediately after that movie, I was invited by Common Ground Productions to take part in a television series, The Station. Those are my first two experiences.
Do you belong to any acting caucus?
Honestly, I have never believed in working as a team, acting is personal. I have never had somebody or caucus, no, no, I don’t believe in that. Everything I have done, I have done them by the grace of God. If you talk about role models, yes. I found some people acting very interesting. The way they are relaxed in front of the camera thrills me. One of them is Baba Lere Paimo then Baba Wande and Morgan Freeman. Yes, those are my role models.
As an elder, do you see social media as a blessing or curse to this generation?
In life, is it a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it depends on who is holding it. In the hands of a housewife, it is a kitchen utensil but in the hands of a thief, it is an object you can use to cause harm. So also social media, there are good and bad to it and there are bad parts. It depends on what you as a person want that is my position concerning social media.
Looking back to when you started, is there anything you would love to do better as an actor?
Honestly, I would have done everything the way I did it because I grew in baby steps, not in leaps and bounds and they formed the foundation for what I am today then I didn’t skip any process of growth. Talking about my acting career, I enjoyed the path. Yea, painful, tough to some extent, it’s back-breaking but today it is rewarding, refreshing, and satisfying.
In all, what are you grateful for most?
The thing I am most grateful for is that I met people who are willing to improve me. Another thing which I hold dearly in my heart, when I did the first film, I asked God: ‘Please, do not let fame destroy’ and God increased my humility. I don’t know how that happened but I know it is tied to the prayer I prayed and that is why I enjoy the baby steps I took in my career. So, as my career grew, character for every height was embellished with humility and I am grateful to God for it.
What are the highpoints of your career?
I took part in The Station, it’s about an 1800 man cast TV production by Common Ground Productions. And I was the only act of 7 or 8 leads that played the 52 episodes that for me is mad. I was also on Ebonylife TV when we started, the company has a policy that says that no one character can play more than one role for them in any of their TV series but, here I am. I have played three TV series by Ebonylife, I was Tafa Ojo in Ojo’s in the House, Chief Sobifain in The Governor and I played Captain in Castle & Castle. For me, those are highlights of my career.
How would you rate the quality of talents in the Nigerian industry?
Well, my parameters are personal and subjective, may not be the industry standards. I will rate Nigerian actors as great. We have moved from slapstick to quite interesting delivery and I believe that we can do better. By way of acting the Nigerian industry has improved in the leaps and bounds.
You are from an Igbo background, how do you alternate speaking Yoruba fluently?
Yes, I am an Igbo man but born in Lagos while will you be surprised that I speak impeccable Yoruba. I am heading 60. Is Obama still sounding Kenyan? His father is Kenyan but he doesn’t speak like one. He is sounding smoothly like American, so also, If I sound Igbo after spending close to 60 years in Lagos then what would you call me? My Yoruba is impeccable because, first, I was born in Lagos. Second, my parents speak very clean Yoruba. So, are you surprised that I can have this pedigree?
What is your advice on the increase of sexual harassment and rape in the industry?
It is a very sad situation that we have found ourselves in that people have carnal knowledge of girls without their consent, some with underage children. At some point, I wonder if it was insanity. However, I believe that the government should set up a directorate that will look into sexual harassment and rape, not just in the industry, it is globally. When you say, in the industry, it limits it and makes it look like it only happens in the entertainment industry. Bankers, lawyers, police rape, so it is not just the industry; it is a national pandemic. I think the government should look into the rise in sexual harassment and rape cases in Nigeria, particularly.
Women, weed, or alcohol, how do you unwind?
Honestly, I unwind playing games with my children and wife. Yes, I used to do beer and smoke but those are things of the past, I had stopped them. Partially, health and it is embarrassing. When I stopped smoking was when I saw how inconveniencing I make people when I speak with them after smoking. People speak with me now after they’ve smoked and I feel like drinking sniper because their mouths stink like a mortuary. So, all of these things help me to stay away from those vices. So, I prefer playing with my children and wife.
Would you allow your children to delve into acting?
My daughter is already studying Drama Art in one of the universities in Nigeria. Acting has done and treated me well and I am using it to influence society positively so why would I stop my child in engaging in what I see is worthwhile education and will position him/her in such a way that he/she will be able to influence the society for the better.