Veteran actor, musician, poet, playwright and journalist, Chief Lari Williams talks about his concerns and vision as an artiste. The septuagenarian, who is still active in the industry, despite challenges associated with age, also shares his thought about Nollywood; why he is against the choice of name, among other issues. He spoke with TONY OKUYEME
What have you been doing, in terms of the usual stage plays by your playhouse?
I have not done shows now because of funds, and it has been difficult to raise funds. The Playhouse, the repertory theatre company that I run is still waxing stronger, but we are thinking that we need to do a bigger show, a show which I call my swansong, which in arts parlance is like retirement thing, the last performance before retirement. You know, they say artistes don’t retire, but it is the biggest show that I intend to do now. And that is my Biblical expose titled ‘Herod Drum Call’. That is what we are trying to raise money for, because it is a big show, a musical; and the cast is the biggest that I would use, or likely to have – nearly 50 people, including dancers and musicians. The last time I did such a big show was in London, when I did Kolanut Junction, one of my earliest plays. But this Biblical expose Herod’s Drum Call, a musical which has dances songs, dialogues, in fact it is a total theatre. That is what we have at the moment.
Apart from producing, are going to direct and or act in it?
I would be co-directing; I might act a small role, but mainly, I would be working with the director.
So, your teeming fans and indeed, Nigerians look forward to seeing you again on stage…
Yes, that is exactly the reason why I would act in it.
Do you have any time frame or proposed date for the show?
No, I have not because we have not concluded anything about funds yet. It depends very much on the funds. It is not a small play; it is a play that we wish to across the country and perhaps outside the country. Given your status as a veteran and a recipient of the national honour, MFR (member of the federal republic), have you reached out to government – state or federal – for support? There are times that when it is difficult crying out to say ‘look at me’. It is better people like you journalists to say ‘hey! Look at this man’. This is the situation. I have done so much for the arts; I have lectured in three universities; I have a record of appearances on NTA, right from the early days, since FESTAC 77, I have appeared in most of the Soaps on NTA, starting from the Village Headmaster, and maybe 14 others, not forgetting home videos. I was also in the very first home video, ‘Witch Doctor’, which was shot on locations in Badagry, Lagos. That was before ‘Living in Bondage’. I have done all kinds of productions on radio, stage, films. I have acted in every stage (hall) in the National Theatre, from the Mainbowl to the Cinema Hall 1 & 2. I did The gods are not to blame at the Exhibition Hall which I acted with the late Toun Oni. I put in so much, 30 years of column writing on the arts. I call the column ‘Stage and Screen’.
Have you then reached out to the corporate sector for sponsorship or support?
I would be telling you a lie if I say so. The truth is that I really need a manager. If I have a manager who can take care of the business side of things, it will be better, because running around to get sponsors and thinking of the artistic input, makes it difficult.
Are you saying that you have not had a manager all this while?
I don’t, I never had a manager. Art Osagie tentatively for a very short while acted as manager. I have had one or two people act as manager, but not that they didn’t do well, but it was just that they were involved in other things. They were people who for love, wanted to be with me and help the situation at that time.
How was your experience with Village Headmaster?
I joined the Village Headmaster rather late. When I came back to the country Village Headmaster was already running on air, but they created a role for me. They called me Man from Soweto. Because when I came I was still in the hard protest of Apartheid and the poems I brought for FESTAC were all revolutionary, I was fighting apartheid. That was my demonstration. So, they called me the Man from Soweto; so I visited Oja Village. Eventually, they wanted to retain me, they made me the school visitor and a friend to Garuba. Then we used to go and have a drink at ‘Amebo’s Palmwine Bar’. That was mostly what I did.
Like I said, I am not going to take the blame, and I am not going to blame anybody. The truth is that I don’t have a manager that can do the run around.
So, any regrets?
No regrets at all. I have enjoyed being who I am, what I have been doing. I trained as a journalist; I started life as a journalist. I didn’t stop writing; that is why I have been able to write a column for Vanguard for 30 years, just to put my hand in writing. I wrote plays as well; I have written quite a number of plays. One of them is Herod’s Drum Call. I have also writing a book which I intend to lunch very soon, on speech, which is what I was teaching schools.
As a journalist, has it been rewarding for you?
Looking back now, 30 years as a columnist… Well, rewarding, for me, is the satisfaction of saying what I have to say. I have writing been about the National Theatre, about lives of the past heroes in the arts. What have they done about Ambrose Campbell? What have they done about Orlando Martins? I talked about all these. So, it has been satisfactory to me because I have the opportunity to ask.
You are one of the founding fathers of what is today known as Nollywood. What is your opinion about the industry now?
I don’t know if you read an article which says that ‘Lari Williams hates Nollywood’, which is wrong. I like to correct that. I have said it several times, I don’t hate Nollywood. But I do not agree with the choice of the name Nollywood. This is what makes them think that I hate Nollywood. I suggested that it should be called Camwood, because Camwood has a leaning towards makeup. Our great-grand-mothers have been using Camwood to paint their faces, and it has served for skincare, hair growing and so on. And also, camwood has been used as makeup, and so on. So I don’t see why we couldn’t have said ‘Camwood’. In one of my articles, I asked the question: ‘Nollywood, is it a location or an allocation? Up till now, I don’t know where Nollywood is. They keep saying Nollywood. What is Nollywood? I can tell you, I physically went to Hollywood in California, USA. I went to Hollywood after I visited the late Ambrose Campbell, the man who sang Nigeria into independence.