Located in J close 7th Avenue Festac Town is a modest duplex that houses a family who without making any effort, has affected Nollywood and the music industry in no small measure, not just by giving the two industries three eclectic, avante’ garde, art noveau performers but by being a gathering pot for down in the dumps hopefuls and wannabes. It is the house that the Njamah’s built.
Somehow or the other, most people who have become anything in the movie industry and music today hung out in that house, I did for a while and while I was there Jude Orhorha, and Emeka Duru where hanging out there too and of course there were the likes of Emma Ayalogu, Alex Lopez and a couple of others who would drop in for a sleep over or until they secured a place to live. The Tu Faces of this world, the Timayas and a whole generation that would change the face of entertainment passed by that house. In those days it looked like once you walked into the Njamah’s residence a muse for creativity descended on you. It was that resident muse that pushed unto our screens the silky, sultry skills of Empress Njamah, the directorial acumen of Whizz kid Aquilla Njamah and the immense, gravity defying talents of their elder brother John Njamah. The three have been around like forever and the surprising thing is that they are still so very young. Empress Njamah you know very well from her much publicized spat with ex boyfriend, bad boy, Bayelsa musician, Timaya. Aquilla Njamah you know very well from his many movies that have clothed Nollywood over the years. If you are still asking for who John Njamah is then cast your mind back to the precocious little boy Rabiu, son of Chief in Checkmate and Fuji House of Commotion. Aha! Now it comes home, you remember. The news is that Rabiu is not the same little boy we knew, Rabiu has grown up and John Njamah has finally emerged into the light.
I clearly cannot remember the first time I ran into John but it wasn’t long before I became a regular feature of the Njamah clan. At first we were not that close but a quiet bonding grew as we both started on our different journeys through Nollywood. He was younger but back then he had his ideas about how the industry should develop. I was out of school but he was still studying theatre arts in Ife and we all used to gather with other Thespians at the Pec Repertory Theatre Onikan and at the Njamah house in Festac. It wasn’t long before I broke into the media and we all continued our different journey’s. through the years we have all grown but essentially we have all kept our dreams alive and have worked towards the growth of Nollywood. I’d lost touch with John so it was a little surprise and shock when he walked into my office a few days ago sporting a little tidy beard. Shock in the sense that I have always looked at John as a baby, so to see a baby with a beard was to say the least reminded me that age was catching up on all of us. we however soon forgot the beard and started asking the questions that eventually must be asked.
What have you been up to?
|JOHN, EMPRESS, AQUILLA|
It seems like you have been around like forever. What exactly have you done that stands you out?
JOHN: I do not know really. There are so many things that I have done that I honestly do not know half of them. And that is the bane of Nollywood, there are no records. Sometimes you finish making a movie and when it comes out you cannot tell what it is because of course they would have changed the title without you knowing.
You are an actor as well as a director. What are the major differences between the two
JOHN: There are no differences really. I started as an actor but because I felt I had seen as much as I needed to see as an actor I decided to study directing which was what I learnt in school. One compliments the other. For me it is just a question of growth. I wish there was something after directing so that I can experience that too. It is difficult to say which one is more challenging. But I think directing is bigger. The actor sees in scenes but the director sees the full picture. Acting is spontaneous for me with directing I really have to think and create.
You come from a family of artistes and so many people have passed through your home. What was it like growing up with all these people around you?
JOHN: When people grow up with like minds it is very easy for them to bond. With my direct family right now and the people who have passed through, we speak the same language so it is almost like you an ibo man going to China and walking into another Ibo man on the streets who takes you to the house of another Ibo man. It is happiness, it is joy. That is what it has been like with us and with the people who have passed through. It is a journey of self discovery. We speak the same language, the language of theatre, the language of the arts, the language of the movies, of cinema, that is the language we speak.
Talking about the films and theatre, you were part of the Fuji House of Commotion. What was it like being part of that massive project?
JOHN: Fuji House of Commotion was a spillover from Checkmate. So when the idea came to Mrs Amaka Igwe, she called us together, we did a pilot and it was hilarious. I don’t know how it all came out so good but Fuji house became a part of me. just wake me up from sleep and I become Rabiu. And because here I am John playing that young character everybody starts thinking I am that young too at least until I started playing other characters like the one I played in Bachelors.
Is playing such characters not what leads to type casting, which we all have complained about in Nollywood, people being cast in the same kind of roles because they played a type of character very well?
JOHN: I blame the actors. You know every actor has a market value and if you choose to expend your market value on playing only one kind of character then that becomes your problem. Every actor should know where he is going and what he is about.
There is still another challenge in Nollywood. Most of our actors are the person they are in real life in the different movies as against some actors like the Denzel Washingtons of this world who play different characters and make you believe they are the different characters.
JOHN: I am not being specific here but general since it is a general malaise, people in this industry don’t do their home work. You are supposed to wear the clothings of the character you represent. So people should stop acting and start living. You should live the character you are playing. How does this person walk, how does he talk, what are his mannerisms. That is the work of the actor and that is what I have worked so hard to achieve and I can proudly beat my chest to say that I have succeeded. I refuse to be a stereotype. Stereotyping in acting is evil except if you decide to be stereotyped. People like Arnold Schwazzeneger did that and they succeeded with it but it is not for us here because after a while the jobs will stop coming.
So how come you and your siblings Aquillah and Empress have not done any projects together.
JOHN: It has to be done right. It is not enough to do something because we want to do something. We have done a few things together for other people but not independently although we are planning to.
JOHN: We are planning to do two short movies, a full length movie and a series. You know when you have identified with a certain genre and a certain level you want to do things right. A lot of people are looking up to us and we don’t want to let them down.
There is a lot of angst against the Ghanain Movie Industry right now with people saying that Ghana has become the soft porn capital of Africa. What do you think about the x-rated movie sthat are coming out of Ghana
JOHN: The problem I have with those movies is that they don’t do it in context. I mean why do you want to be explicit. Maybe they think that is what sells for them but they have to be really careful because that’s how it starts and before you know it they would have nose-dived into pornography. They are young in the industry, they shouldn’t start this way.
Of recent you have travelled extensively across Africa and you just returned from Cameroon. What did you go to do?
JOHN: Incidentally my mother is from Cameroon and during one of the AMAA’s I met a few Cameroonians precisely 2008 and when they got a whiff that my mother was from Cameroon, they wanted me to come and talk to them, advise them on what to do with their industry. But I just didn’t want to go to Cameroon for the sake of going so we came up with the idea of having a workshop there. So I went to do the ground work and research. I met with the minister of culture and we decided that it is not just going to be a Nigerian thing. We are bringing facilitators from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and even Cameroon. And I think that is the right way to start. They were open really.
|JOHN 2ND RIGHT WITH AQUILLLA AND JARA CREW|
You obviously have succeeded in your chosen field. What does success mean for you?
JOHN: Success for me is not when somebody stands at the podium and says you have won an award but when you realize that you have failed and you work hard enough to bounce back. That a movie or an actor is not nominated for an award does not mean that the movie or the actor is not good enough but we always have an opportunity to do it again and do it better.
Well whatever it is we say, John Njamah, Rabiu, or whatever it is we decide to call him has come a long way and has obviously succeeded so as we settle down to coffee and to catching up we also decided that we have all come a long way, that Rabiu has grown up into a man and that the journey so far has been worth every drop of sweat we have expended.