Actor, singer and filmmaker, Yakubu Mohammed speaks with Mobola Sadiq about his career and other issues.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Bauchi State and I lost my father at an early age. After the death of my father, we moved to Jos. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Jos. I am a creative writer and I’m also into music. Before I started acting, I had been behind the camera directing and producing Hausa movies. I have done so many songs. I’m married.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?
When I was in secondary school, I was a science student but deep down in my heart, I knew that television was my calling. Because I stayed alone most of the time, that gave me ample time to do a lot of creative writing.
I didn’t initially think that I would go into acting. I thought I would end up being a journalist. I got into the movie industry when I was still in university. Then, marketers would give me money to produce films for them. After some time, I told myself it was time I started appearing in movies too.
Do you feel fulfilled as a Kannywood actor?
I’m not just a Kannywood actor; I do a lot of Nollywood films too. Being an actor is fulfilling because it has been a good ride for me. To the glory of God, I have achieved a lot in the film industry. However, no journey is complete without a few potholes which I have also overcome.
What was your family’s reaction when you decided to go into the entertainment industry?
In the beginning, my family didn’t like the fact that I wanted to go into the movie industry. As a matter of fact, Mohammed is not my surname. I used Mohammed when I was behind the camera because I didn’t want my family to know that I was the one when they gave me credit on the screen.
I was hiding because I knew my family would not like my being in the movie industry. However, I told my mother everything I was doing and explained that my career was helping me to be financially independent. Thankfully, she supported me and when my family eventually realised that I was making progress, I started gaining their support and they began to identify with my career.
Which pays you more between acting and singing?
Acting pays me more because I receive peanuts for my songs. In Kannywood, it is the actor that appears to be singing or lip-synching the songs, so they get the credit most of the times. The average person out there does not know that there is a playback singer doing the work. I started making more money when I decided to appear on the screen. I started getting endorsements when people began seeing my face and skills.
What other interests do you have?
I have not jettisoned my dream of becoming a journalist because I have a television magazine, where I talk about the good deeds of people who have done remarkable things for the common man. I also have a tailoring shop and a clothing line.
Some people regard you as one of the highest-paid Kannywood actors. Is that true?
I give God the glory that I’m regarded that way. Truly, I have done quite a lot of big projects, including Genevieve Nnaji’s LionHeart, and MTV Shuga. I have also worked with reputable film producers such as Kunle Afolayan. I’m sure that is where people picked the idea of me being one of the highest-paid Kannywood actors.
What were the challenges you encountered when you began acting?
I didn’t face so many challenges. When I was behind the camera, I helped a lot of people because I’m not sentimental or tribalistic. As long as you’re good, I would give you a chance to prove yourself. Over the years, many of the people I helped grew to become producers and directors. So, when I decided to become an actor, they were willing to help me. In fact, within one week, I had got about 20 scripts lined up for me. It was when I felt I had done a lot of Kannywood movies that I moved to Lagos to produce my first English movie in 2014.
What are the challenges in Kannywood?
The challenges are numerous. One is acceptability in the environment one is operating in. The society has been hostile. Most of the people that buy CDs and DVDs are the lower class peoples. Most of the elites feel that Kannywood is not up to their standard and they can’t watch certain movies, no matter how much we try to make them realise that they should help the industry. We need the backing of the government morally and financially so that the industry can move forward.
But most of them don’t want to associate with the industry and because of that, we are losing a lot of young people. In the northern part of the country, we are facing a lot of challenges. For example, we have problems with kidnappers and bandits. Most of those people are doing such things because they don’t have jobs. However, this is an industry that is giving a lot of people job opportunities— whether they are educated or not— but every day, we are attacked by the people that are meant to help us.
There are a lot of northerners who studied Mass Communication and Theatre Arts but when they are asked to contribute their quotas, they would rather get jobs in banks or civil service. At the same time, they would be complaining that the movie industry is not sophisticated, yet they have the expertise and don’t want to contribute.
Also, we don’t get loans from banks to produce good movies. I don’t think there is any Kannywood film project that has a budget of up to N45 million but in Nollywood, they are already doing film projects of N200 million that Netflix can buy and even the movies can be premiered abroad. We are trying to change that perception and encourage people to come on board to take our industry to the next level.
Does your religion affect the movie roles you act?
No, it does not but there are some lines I can’t cross. Even actors from other regions have lines they cannot cross too. There are some things I cannot do based on my principles.
People think that Kannywood actors are not so popular on social media. Why is that so?
We have a lot of movie stars in the North with a huge fan base but Hausa people do things differently. Kannywood actors also have non-governmental organisations through which they support the underprivileged. Kannywood actors are really not doing badly on social media platforms. It’s just that they communicate more in their indigenous language, so an average Nigerian may not easily relate.
Have you ever considered moving to Lagos?
No, I just go there to work and return to my base. We have a lot of actors that live in Port Harcourt, Enugu and other states but they go to Lagos to shoot. I think the most important thing is to carve a niche for oneself and showcase one’s talent. Lagos is like my second home because if one really wants to progress, one has to forget about one’s comfort zone and go to where things are happening.
What are some of the misconceptions people have about Kannywood actors?
There are so many misconceptions. For example, some people think we are wayward and that is not true. They also feel that we are not as religious as we look. They think we don’t have proper upbringing because of some of the movies we act but we are all from respectable families and acting is just a profession that we do to put food on our tables and make ends meet.
Many people also feel we are not up to the task of filmmaking but we keep telling them not to judge us from a distance. It is only when you come close to us that you would know the stuff we are made of. For example, the fact that I act as a womaniser in a film doesn’t mean that I’m one.
I hope and pray that with enlightenment, people would be able to change their perceptions. Kannywood actors don’t pretend. There are just certain things that we don’t do openly.
What are some of the most challenging roles that you’ve acted?
It was a film about insurgency and I was to act as the head of the insurgents. The film was about how the Chibok girls were kidnapped. I didn’t want to take it initially when I was called upon because I was mindful of the fact that a lot of people have been killed in the north due to insurgency.
It was hard to personify the killers and I wondered how the families that have been affected would see me. In fact, after I read the script, I put it into prayers and told God that if my role did not make any positive impact, the producer should remove me from his list. Interestingly the producer called me and told me to come on board.
How do you manage your female fans?
I try as much as possible to make female relationships platonic. Of course, they come because they like one but one doesn’t have to treat them shabbily. I appreciate them but I make them realise that I can only be friends with them. I don’t attach intimacy at all. I just appreciate them for loving me so that they don’t feel bad.
What’s your most embarrassing moment with a female fan?
The incident happened at the airport and I was in the company of my elder brother who I have so much respect for. A female fan sighted me and started calling my name. She then pulled me from the back and gave me a peck in front of my elder brother. I’m from an extended family and that my brother is 20 years older than me, so it was very awkward and I became so embarrassed. My brother then looked at me and asked if that was how I lived but I explained that I couldn’t always help times like that.
There seems to be a wall between Kannywood and Nollywood. What are the differences between both industries?
There is no difference between the two industries. I tell people that Kannywood is under the umbrella of Nollywood. Nollywood is the parent body and Kannywood is a part of the body. The only difference is the language barrier because our movies are produced in Hausa. There is also no competition between Kannywood and Nollywood actors. We respect one another, relate very well, support and don’t look down on one another.
Who do you admire in the movie industry?
Before I started acting, I used to admire American actor, Kevin Costner. I usually saw myself in him. In Nigeria, I like Liz Benson and Zack Orji. I love their command of English. And as fate would have it, I have acted with both of them.
When do you plan to retire?
I intend to retire at the age of 50. I feel I have paid my dues and it’s about time to take up another challenge. I really want to pursue my journalism dream because acting has helped me to a great extent. However, some unforeseen things can change my plan to retire. I have committed it to God.
How do you relax?
I go to the gym and I’m a football fanatic. I also watch a lot of movies, listen to music, play basketball, long tennis and I write. I stay indoors a lot when I’m not working.