Tunde Kelani is proudly African. His works revolve around the Yoruba culture and tradition. The celebrated film-maker talks about his childhood, his profession, his attraction to water and about his exclusive dressing habit…
How was growing up like?
When I was growing up in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the environment was very friendly. I was a very adventurous child and I loved water. There is no river in Abeokuta, even in Lagos, that I did not know or go to because of my special attraction to water. If not for God, I would have drowned in any of the rivers that I frequented as a child.
Why were you always attracted to rivers or do you have a link with the marine world?
I don’t know, really (laughs). Maybe I have a link with water. I cannot explain the reason for the strong attraction I have for the rivers, and this is evident in my movies. As a matter of fact, I was still telling my friend recently that if we have time, we should go fishing. I just love water, and I always like to be around it. I have fished in the whole of Abeokuta, I have fished in Ijede, and I have fished in Ibadan, Victoria Island and even in Osogbo. My attraction for the water is really strong and that is one of the things that prompted me into doing a movie on Osun Osogbo festival titled Arugba. As a young child, this love was so much that my friends and I would code rivers so that my parents would not know what we were referring to and stop us from going. You would hear us say, “Let’s go to number eight”. They would not know that we were referring to a river; they would think it was an address.
As a child, did you know that you would end up being a film maker?
I had always known I would end up in anything photography and I had prepared myself in that line all along. Initially, I wanted to be a photographer, and you know that there is fusion of all the art practice. You have art, photography, performing art, architecture and all what have you in one. That’s what excites me about film making, it is all encompassing. Having been interested in language and culture, theatre photography and all, I knew I would end up in this. This interest prompted me into moving around and mingling with all the close artistes. For instance, there is no Osogbo based artiste that I don’t know. Most of them are my friends. Again, because of my interest, I also spent quite a lot of time with most of these theatre practitioners like Oyin Adejobi, Kola Ogunmola, Hubert Ogunde, Ade Love, Moses Olaiya, Wole Soyinka, Kola Akinlade, Femi Osofisan, Niyi Osundare and a host of others. You can see that these past experiences reflect in all of my works. So, I have always known what I wanted to do in life and I started on it early. I could not have been anything else because I inherited all those traditions from all these people. I had the opportunity to mingle with them when they were alive. This has helped me this far.
What was your parents’ reaction to your choice of profession?
The greatest role my father played was when I joined Dr. Okubanjo and Associates. What attracted me to him was that he organised an exhibition in London and I applied. He interviewed me and asked me to go and bring my father. I did but what I appreciated most about that situation was the fact that at that time, I was already working and earning a salary with which I took care of my father. But Dr Okubanjo was not going to pay me, yet, I opted for it because of the passion and love I have for the arts and my father, seeing my strong interest in it, obliged me.
How old were you when you got your first camera?
I was about 12 years old or so. I never took a shot with it though because it had a factory fault. When I got to the secondary school I bought another one, and when I was in my final year I bought a more professional camera. If I was to be keeping an archive of cameras, they would have been so much, but my flaw is that I don’t keep them, I give them out.
How did you meet your wife ?
I have never discussed my family on the pages of any newspaper. It is by principle. I respect them because a huge part of the success I have today is as a result of the great support I have got from my family members and friends: both my immediate and extended families, as well as my friends who tolerated my excesses as a selfish film-maker. Without them I could not have achieved this much. They suffered along with me from the days of very humble beginning and they tolerated me. The children and their mother suffered along with me. There was a period for 10 years, we had no house and we lived in Mainframe and they grew up not having many things. As a film maker, I knew we have to face the reality. We have never driven the children to school, we had always told them to go on their own. They grew up without that luxury. As a matter of fact, I was always away; I was never around when all of my children were born. It always took serious prayer for me to be able to make it down on their naming ceremony. It was as serious as that. I never took my wife to the hospital for delivery; I don’t know how to do it. I owe a lot to them all for standing this much by me and tolerating me and the nature of my chosen profession. It is a big sacrifice.
A source disclosed that you do not like to wear underpants, how true is this?
How can you wear pant in this heat? I’m not wearing pant and I don’t wear pant except when in the UK or the US and the weather is cold.
What about boxers?
I don’t wear any and I don’t even like the shape of boxers; it’s useless. However, pants may be functional because I swim with it. The swimming trunk is pant too. When I step into the airport and the cool breeze touches me, that is when I remember I am not wearing pants. I I just go to a shop and buy pants and socks. But once I’m back to Nigeria, you will not see them again.
I have never seen you in suit. Why?
I did when I was younger and I have asked for forgiveness of God on that because it was a sin for me to.
I am sorry because at those times I wore them because it was compulsory for me to. For instance you cannot attend an interview without being dressed like that, but honestly I was sorry that I wore them when I did. I don’t even know how to knot a tie. Those times when I used to wear them, my father used to knot the tie for me and I would just keep it so. Anytime I needed to wear it again, I would just carefully wear it so that the knot would not get losened. My reason is, if you wear a suit, you have definitely denied somebody of an income and you would have created unemployment in your own local environment in; you have fuelled another country’s economy by wearing those things. Normally I don’t like the concept of aso-ebi (uniform), but because it is our own and it boosts the local economy, I am happy with that. You cannot create employment if you do not use the concept of what God has given you to generate it. What God has given us is our culture and tradition and this must reflect in all we do, including our choice of dressing. That is why I am very passionate about it.