I was living life so fast, like I was going to die before 30, but God took that away - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Thursday, 16 April 2020

I was living life so fast, like I was going to die before 30, but God took that away

-Yinka Davies (Nigeria's Top Entertainment Diva)

Yinka Davies is referred to in showbiz circles as one of the few real divas that Nigeria has to offer. She got into showbiz with the zest that set the industry on fire. Young as she was, a teenager, she was ready to learn despite her talents. She grew so big, worked with all the big names and became larger than life! And then the unexpected happened!

In this interview with Paul Ukpabio and Biodun Adeyewa, Yinka Davies who is still at the crest of life, shares her big memories with us.

We haven’t heard from you in a long while what has been happening?

For a while, I took time off to go back to acting. I have been in some productions in and out of the country. The whole of 2019 was more or less dedicated to the theatre. I was either in one play or another. And that meant moving up and down. I think I participated in four plays at the Muson Centre in Lagos, sometimes three or four shows in a day.

Why theatre?

About 2018 I just found myself being drafted back to stage willingly or unwillingly. It was incredible. I was being pulled here and there and it was quite interesting and great fun. How did it really start? I need to think back because I was so overwhelmed as I was in different plays at the time, which meant shuttling from one place to another, rehearsals and so on. I remember that 2017 was television for me. I did ‘Battleground’ for the whole of that year into 2018.

How are you now combining theatre with music?

I think I am a theatrical person by nature. A lot of art, a lot of facial expressions comes natural with me and you can see all that when I am on stage.

Some people say you started out with music?

No, I started out as a fine artist. I was more of a fine artist. It was from there that I moved to contemporary dances, stage acting then into music. Afterwards, I returned to stage acting then back to music. I kept shuttling in between them from time to time.

You said you started out with fine art, you mean drawing images, sketching?

Yeah, that was in 86 and 87, I was studying under the late Daddy Bisi Fakeye and Mr Biodun Olaputu who was doing drawing too. I learnt from them. And somehow I was good at it to the extent that I was one day called by a cousin to come and paint a stage, at the National Arts Theatre. I did it and I saw that it moved the people. I looked at my drawings and it was like it was moving! And that was how I drifted into acting!

You mean you went there to paint and suddenly acting came for you?


Tell us a little about your early days?

In the 70s and the 80s, my daddy had all sorts of records which he gladly played as much as he could at home. So when we saw this, it was screams at home, ‘look at these African artistes.’ You know, the music album covers of those days were so uniquely African. You recall Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s album covers for instance with its designs. And on one of such music album covers, I saw the Arts Theatre and we went on excursion there from Our Lady of Apostles Secondary School where I was. During that excursion, I was at the National Arts Theatre, which I used to see before then, only on television. That made my day! And I told everyone I am not going anywhere anymore!

Is that where you got the bug for your artistic talent?

Oh no, there at Our Lady of Apostle School, I had already started drawing and sketching and I had already started hearing a lot of ‘wow, this girl has a lot of potentials for the arts.’

So how did big break come?

I think it was Mr. Archibong that invited me to follow him to the theatre to paint the stage for the play titled, ‘the Marriage of Anansewa.’ That was in 87. I think one of the cast members did not turn up and that was how I got a role. You won’t believe it; I didn’t bother going home again! I just got lost! After then, whenever anyone was looking for me, they knew where to find me (laughs). Then if you asked people where I was, they will tell you, just look for where people are shouting or screaming on stage at the theatre!

I was perpetually living at the National Theatre because I was always there every day. I partially left home. I told my parents I wasn’t coming home that I was at the National Arts Theatre for good. So I didn’t care. I was just too in love with what I was getting at the theatre.

And that was how you started getting roles?

Even before I started getting roles, I was already a dancer. I saw Elizabeth Hammond practicing her dance steps and routines and I joined her in her famous contemporary dances.

How did your parents feel?

I don’t know. My mom and dad were going through a separation at that point. So that gave me a chance to find a life of my own.

So which was the major role that kick started it for you?

Going in and out of the National Theatre, all of that excitement, I was in touch with the Late Funso Adeolu, a brilliant man. I was helping them to do their stage, costumes, and I was just putting my hands in every aspect of productions. I wasn’t asking questions, I was just doing. From one thing to another, I just blended with everything. One day, a guy came to me. I had seen him before, Chuck Myke, he had called me before for ‘Greener Grass’ Rasheed Gbadamosi’s script, that was in 88 or 89. Sam Loco also called me in 89, for ‘winds versus polygamy.’ I was the lawyer but I was too small. I had to wear somebody’s huge shoes. I wore it and acted the part. After that, people didn’t allow me to rest. It was crazy. It was an incredible time, that 88 and 89. And then we did ‘Salt’ I was a dancer in that, which was directed by Gbenga Shonuga. It was a big thing and was done for UNICEF. Arnold Udoka came around to instruct us in dances. We did a lot of contemporary dances in that.

What was the experience like for you?

It was school! I was in school. Arnold Udoka I think had just returned then into the country. I think what also happened was Phillips came to see me. He said I had to compere, that there’s something I had to do. That was how I learnt improvisation. He was crazy. His knowledge was wicked. It was crazy. At that point I was in the newspapers like frenzy! I had fully grown up in the world of creativity. That was in 1990, 1991 and 1992. The newspapers were saying that if you had not seen this actor, forget it! I had been totally transformed.

But most people know you more for your singing talent and music

As at 1989, I was to be part of ‘Checkmate’ but because the director Amaka Igwe delayed I didn’t make it. I was called by the music industry. I was into many things at once. And at that point, I also wanted to do everything that I had got to know and become. But the truth again is that music the way I saw it then, was too shallow for me.

So what eventually led you into music?

The week I agreed to be part of a music show, was the week that the producers of ‘Checkmate’ became ready to start the series on television.

So you were just bound to go to music. Was that the Lagbaja years?

No, the Lagbaja era started two years later.  I started with Alex O! (Starts singing some of the lines in Alex O’s songs) I was doing a lot of back up singing. It was an experience for me. Incredibly it was in music that I actually started to make the real money!

Like how much were you making?

N300 as at 1990 was a lot of money. I didn’t need it. I was just giving it out. Few years ago, I saw a friend who told me that I gave her N50 about that time to take care of herself. She said that the N50 lasted her for one week. I was shocked, dazed and I asked her what did she say? She said N50 then was good money, which she spent happily and it stretched for a week.

When you made a crossover to the studio and music, what difference did you see?

That was it. I had learnt to do background vocals, so I was in the studio for quite a number of artistes. Studio helped me to contain the power, the over-energy that I was exhibiting on stage acting. In theatre where I was coming from, you had a great audience in front of you, sometimes a huge crowd and you had to scream. But in the studio, you didn’t need to stress or do much. There was no need for exaggerated moves like in the theatre. 

And then the lights went out?

Yes. It was then I had that accident, that made me go quiet! Bisade called me in 1992 to come and help him close down ‘Bread and Butter’ so I went and I did that. And that is why I say I have the license to sing that particular song never far away because we were there. They call us the girls, Maria was before, ebony bankole was before, I was there, and ego was after. What does that mean? We all have the license to sing it because we sang it before she came!

Anyway, back to the dark period when the lights went out, like you said, I had a baby before the accident. That accident seemed to have been necessary so that I could calm down because the rate, the way I was going, it was obvious that I was living so fast so that I could die young! It was like I was living fast so that I could die at 30! I was living damn too fast. I was living high up there! As crazy as it may sound, it happens to some people. But somehow, God didn’t allow it for me. I thank God for that. I thank you Jesus.

What kind of accident was it?

Oh, I cross the street and hit a car! (Laughs) I was the one that hit the car. I was actually going to where we used to call ‘Ghana High’ a place where people eat at Onikan, then to JP Clark hall when I crossed the road to hit the car!

How bad was the accident?

I had bones that were broken. Skin grafting had to be done. And it took 9 to 10 months for me to get to understand the situation.

At that particular point, did you see it as the end of your career?

Well, I just saw it as a call to slow down. If I didn’t slow down, I was going to die. So I had to learn to slow down by force. It was a message to me, a divine message, a wakeup call which I remain grateful for. It was actually my fault. It was a taxi driver, it wasn’t his fault. I was the one who crossed the road without looking where I was going. I was down for a year and half. Then I realized so much. There are actually people who are given gifts that they are not even aware of. I have been that person. The Lord wanted me to grow up by force. So I had to learn to grow up. I became more conscious of stuff, of how to do stuff and I became more aware of life and what it is. There are certain things that happens in life and it makes us more aware.

You were the rave, then suddenly you had an accident, were people there for you?

Oh yes, people were there for me. Though it didn’t even matter to me, I was on crutches and still having my bath by myself and going to sing. You remember this song that we did then, ‘baby show colour re, ka jo ma rock, baby show colour re, ka jo ma rock, ajo ma lo gba yi pe o, lo gba logba’ that was the time that KWAM 1 actually became a star! And that was because he crossed over from core fuji to sing what blended with the younger generation. That was September 1994. Every friend of mine, every associate were with me one way or another. So I must say that I am grateful to everybody then in showbiz and in the media. Some of them I didn’t even know. I can’t begin to mention names because there will be too many names to mention. So with broken, healing legs, I was still singing! That particular year, there were two Lagbaja, so I was going up the stage to go and sing. Bisade was the producer. Then there was another taller Lagbaja. So we had three Lagbajas and now this I believe is the fourth Lagbaja. You know Lagbaja is a faceless person, whoever comes, is Lagbaja! So whenever I was called, I would be there to sing. That was the beauty of that period. I had great fun.

But didn’t you complain that you were being saddled with so much work even when you had not fully recovered?

(Laughs) who was I to complain to, when I was having great fun with everyone at my disposal? Except of course the governor of Lagos (laughs)! It was a great time.

Were you making as much money in relation to your fame?

That is the point. That was why I said earlier that I was blessed with so many gifts that I was not aware of. I was not aware of the impact the talent I had was making. Honourable Abike Dabiri was one such close friend, then she was working at NTA, she would come sit with me, watch me do a lot of singing, recorded me and I was featured on this popular show on television anchored by Frank Olise, but that was even the beginning. I wasn’t worried about the money or what I was earning.

You worked with the big names in music, King Sunny Ade, Barrister, Kwam 1, and so many others. Which of them did you enjoy working most with?

I enjoyed working with all of them. They were all different from one another.

Was there ever a turning point in your life?

Yes, that was when I met Jesus the year before the accident.

How was the experience?

It takes a thief to catch a thief. It took a God who knew me, to catch me. I was going for a meeting on my high heel shoes, in trouser, my breast jumping up and down and this figure stopped in front of me late in the night and asked me, do you know God? I said yeah, yeah, yeah. She continued, do you know the bible, I said yeah, yeah, yeah, do you know what will kill you? I told her wait, wait and wait! She looked at me in the face and said, what will kill you, is because you know. And she was gone like a flash in the night. That struck me. It was the year before the accident. And from that day I was a changed person. So after that accident, it all came back, and that was the beginning for me. I started life anew. I was still high up there, still celebrated, still living the night life because of my work, but I could see things clearly and I got closer and closer to God.     

So what was your new life about?

It has been about, being everything I can be but with a God consciousness! I live my life; have the best of time but that God consciousness is always around me every day.

You have been a fine artist, an actor, a musician, a dancer, but which do you like most?

I love being a fine artist most. And that was my first calling.

Is that why you are going back to drawing and painting these days?

I just want to draw. I just want to paint. It is now constantly in my mind and constantly a part of me. But I sing too. I am always in one concert or another. And there must be one reason or another that the Lord still lets me sing.

But you haven’t released the album you promised years ago?

It is still coming, relax you will soon get a full loaded album.

How about your child?

My children are there, coping with me and my lifestyle. I have children. The Lord gave me children. The Lord has many breasts and anyone who comes, He gives His breast. He is a kind God. And He gives us children so we can take care of them.

Are any of them taking after you in the arts?

Yes, in a way.

There was a time a brother of yours was singing apala, is he still singing?

Yeah, he was.

You did sing the song ‘owo’ with late Barrister, what was the experience like?

For me it was to honour the sound that escorted me to school. In the 70s when we were going to school, on the street you hear speakers blasting Barrister’s music, pop, soul, and others, (suddenly goes philosophical) Nigeria was great then, Nigeria will be great again because then when you waved, people waved back at you. I miss Nigeria.)

Can you recall when you worked with King Sunny Ade?

Yes, that was when we did ‘Nigeria yi ti gbogbo wa ni, ko ma gbo do baje, to ri ajo ko le da bi ile’ and so on.

How do you keep the youthfulness, any special beauty secrets?

It’s the Lord that keeps me and He alone knows the reason.

How do you cope with your schedules, you are in stage shows, you are acting on stage, you are in concerts, you are back to painting all at the same time?

I take each day as it comes. I don’t allow myself to get overwhelmed. I just call God ‘Papa oya come sit here lets discuss, which one should I do today (laughs). When He answers me, I stand up, off I go.     

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