Olori Adepeju Sonuga Fadesewa, a renowned Costumier and Make-up artist with former Nigerian Television Service (NTS) now Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), had her signature etched in some of the most famed drama series of her era. The unending list include Village Headmaster, Cockcrow at Dawn, and Mirror in the Sun others. She spoke with FLORA ONWUDIWE on her craft, marriage to a revered artiste and cultural worker, Oba Gbenga Sonuga Fadesewa of Simawa, Sagamu, Ogun State and other issues
How did you meet your husband?
For those of us in Theatre Arts, we always have a way of meeting one another. I met him in 1989 through a colleague, Esther Ugbodaga, a very good friend of mine, and a staff of the Lagos State Council for Art and Culture. She invited me for a workshop organised by the council. I had just arrived from England then and I visited to apologise to her. She said to me it was time I met her boss, Gbenga Sonuga. Then, he was the director, Lagos State Council for Art and Culture. As we were discussing, he (Sonuga) breezed into the office. Esther introduced him to me, “that’s my boss.” And he interrupted, “I know her long ago, but she does not know me. I knew you when you were in school, you were the school athlete. I know your father and I know your house at Alagomeji.’’ We were friends for over seven years before we got married. Because I didn’t want to rush into another marriage after my first marriage failed.
What would you say was the common force that brought both of you together?
The arts brought us together, he liked what I was doing as a make-up artist, and the same thing goes with me, he was a very good drummer and a very beautiful dancer. He is an intelligent director in the Theatre Arts.
What has been the greatest challenge as Olori?
There is not much challenge because we have been living together for about 18 years before we relocated to Simawa, Sagamu, Ogun State. The only thing is that he got a new title and so do I; and I have to move along with him.
At the time you both met, neither of you knew that both of you would settle in the palace?
Not at all, we did not know that he would become an Oba. He refused to take the title. Because we were preparing to leave the country and settle in South Africa. He had gotten a job in South Africa. One of his friends lives there, he has been encouraging him to come over and he was waiting for us. Until the head of his family drew my attention and revealed to me that “we have Obaship stool in Simawa and we want him (Gbenga) to take the position. You have to convince him because we know the kind of person he is, he wants his freedom all the time. We need to let you know so that you can help us talk to him.” So I concealed the information from him. So when the family revealed it to him he queried his elder brothers, he rejected the traditional stool. They told him that he knows the dos and don’ts of the culture and that they want him to represent the family. After they had left, he called me and revealed the matter to me. I advised him to accept the offer. He became angry with me and told me that is it because you want to be addressed as Queen of the palace (Olori). And I responded, you seem to forget that I am a princess, but I do not bear princess.
My mother was from the lineage of Alaafin of Oyo. My father was to be installed as a King at Ilaro and he rejected the offer. He said that he couldn’t leave his religion only for him to be linked with evil things. Because he believed that anything that has to do with the king is fetish, so my father did not accept it. I said to him, what else do you want? Oba Sanya Dosumu (Olowu of Owu) is my mother direct descendant as cousins; Dosumu’s mother is my mother’s sister. So, what else do you want to say that I am a princess? I told him that I prefer to be a princess than to be an Olori. So, my response calmed him down. I advised him to accept the title because his elder brothers believed that he could do it better than them. So he was still not happy about it. I don’t want to be Olori, so if you eventually accept the offer is good for you. So I packed my bag and baggage and left for England. I never contacted him and I told my children not to call him. He called my daughter and asked of me, my daughter told him that I (Olori) was with her. My daughter told him that they were not aware that there was an issue on ground. He apologised to me that he has agreed to accept the title and that the late Ambassador Segun Olushola has talked to him and that Olushola accompanied him to meet with one of their friends in Ife and they all advised him, so I will accept the Obaship. He begged me to come back then I told him that when they are preparing for the coronation I will come back and I went back to Nigeria for the coronation.
You are a Muslim married to a Christian; does kingship involve fetish things and does it not affect your faith?
No, it does not affect my religion. Kabieyesi does not believe in fetish things at all. When they approach him on that he turned it down. He has a church nearby that he attends. He spends his money on anything that has to do with culture. When it comes to worshipping anything fetish he does not. But he participates in any cultural event, such as Simawa Day or Sagamu Day.
Traditional rulers are entitled to marry more than one wife, but you seems to be the only one in the palace, was it an agreement between both of you?
Not at all. We were married in the Registry. If he wants to marry, why not. I want to say that it is the culture thing that binds us together. May be that is why it is difficult for him, he is the type of person that loves his privacy so much that he does not want any intruder.
What has life taught you, especially in the first failed marriage and the second that you now find peace and love?
The first marriage was not so bad that I had to leave. But I had to leave because I needed to make sense out of living. I need to bring up my children in a normal environment. Because when a marriage degenerates to fighting, arguing, receiving blows, the children will grow up to exchange blows. Because of my children upbringing I had to leave.
Two years ago, you celebrated your 70th birthday, what is the secret of your youthful look?
I don’t have any secret beauty therapy I undergo, but I want to ascribe my youthful looks to my younger days at Ahmadiyya Girls High School Surulere later Jibrin Martin Ahmadiyya Grammar School Iponri. I was a long distant runner. I was also running for Lagos State. I was into sport morning, afternoon and night. I thank God because the time I spent in sport did not affect my academic performance. So when my classmates were in the class, I was in the field training. So I am not doing anything special to myself to look youthful.
You are one of the renowned make-up artists in Nigeria, worked in the Nigeria Television Service (NTS), now Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), could you talk about your working experience because it was not an easy task getting employed at the NTS/NTA then as it was the only broadcasting house?
When I joined NTS, I was a costumier. It was not easy to get employed with NTS, although, there were jobs in Nigeria then. But I joined NTA fully in 1976 as a floor manager attached to children’s programmes. I did not like the job given to me, because I will end up becoming a producer. I used to go to the studio in 1968; that was when they started the Village Headmaster, my first husband was with them as a scriptwriter and I was pregnant with my first child in 1968. So I was always going to N T S to watch them record Village Headmaster. So I got to know many of the cast of the Village Headmaster. I was interested in the drama programme because of the costume, because if I continue as a floor manager, I will miss my costume. Because I used to sew very well. I complained to Ambassador Segun Olushola that I am not interested working as a floor manager that I want to go into costuming and make-up and he said if that is what you want, he called Mr. Sokefun, who was director of programmes. He said to him that she wants to be costumier, let her go to costume and join Peju Oyekan, the daughter to the late Oba Oyekan. So I was redeployed to the costume section as a costumier. At a point, I could not cope any longer with the job, because Peju left and I was the only one left. Recordings coming in one after the other, sometimes, we stayed in the studio very late. I drive myself; I don’t go with the NTS staff bus, because it leaves late. Three years later, there was opening for training abroad for some staff of NTS. I approached Olushola and he said if I could get admission abroad that I would be included. The Questor’s Theatre Arts, England, offered me admission for a Diploma programme on make-up. I was there in September 1980; I spent a year because I had to wait to study Special Effects. When I was at the Yaba College of Technology in 1970, I went to NTS to work, but I graduated in 1973. I taught for two years as a Fine Art teacher at Ansar- Udeen Girls high School, Itire, Lagos.
Is it necessary for artistes to makeup before going on set, and why?
It is very important, this very question came up from the late Baba Awolowo, (Obafemi Awolowo), so many years ago, when he was contesting, during a political debate between him and the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, this question came up. I did make-up for Azikiwe and when I took my make-up box to Baba Awolowo and I said I have to do make-up for you sir, he said why do you have to make me up? I said, this light is heavy and if the light is on your face, your face will be shining, sweating and your face will not look good on television. He said who told you I would not look good on the television because of the studio light. He dipped his hand into his pocket and brought out handkerchief and said I will use this my handkerchief from my wife to wipe my face. This handkerchief is from my wife and nobody will touch my face. I will wipe my face with it and I will look fresh. I said sir, it is very important that you do make-up, so that you will look fresh under that heavy light. So it is very important that you make- up, especially under that heavy light, the light in the studio was heavy.
So he did not allow you to make him up?
No, he did not. So when they started the recording, whenever, he was sweating, he will use his handkerchief to wipe his face.
But Azikiwe allowed you to do the make-up for him?
As a make-up artist, does it requires any research?
Not in all programmes. You must do research before you engage in any production else you will be doing the wrong things. In my own case I do research all the time, I document my research, so when I have a production, it becomes easy for me and I will make reference to my files and get what I want. You study the characters of these actors when the scripts were handed over to you. Some times as a makeup artist, you are also expected to ask questions from either the producer or the scriptwriter. If you don’t have proper understanding of these characters, you will be doing the wrong thing.
As a professional, how much do you charge for a complete production?
If I want to charge for a production, I will not charge anything less than N250, 000 then not now. When you are talking about a production, it is from the beginning till the end. I did a protégé job, Professor Wole Soyinka used to do things for Lagos State. He had this programme, that was three years ago to train people to a particular level. What he did was to gather professionals and I was one of them. Two students from PEFTI School were sent to me as Protégés, they were working class ladies, after closing work for the day; they come to Simawa for the training. Soyinka paid me N500, 000 for the job that was nothing and he gave me N250, 000 for my transportation these are the people that know who you are.
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