Who is Tajudeen Olakunle Fawole?
I am the third and last child of the late broadcaster and actress, Bukky Ajayi. The first son is Wole while the second is Akinwande. I am an actor like my late mother, who was also a notable name in the make-believe trade. Like they say, ‘like father, like son.’ But in my case, it is ‘like mother, like son.’
Sometime ago, you made a name as a rapper with the stage name, Abounce. Would you say your interest in showbiz was informed by your mother’s remarkable feats in the movie industry?
I honestly would not say it was a deliberate influence because I never thought of going into entertainment or acting. It just happened. I copied my mother in many things. I do not know if there is a divine influence in that direction.
Can you recall some fond memories with your mother while growing up?
Some fond memories of my mother happened while I was mature. They occurred during the later stage of her life. She used to sleep on a couch in the living room while I did the same in a room nearby with the door always open. Whenever I woke up in the morning, I would check on her. She liked to cut her hair. I would touch her hair and scratch her head. It became a ‘ritual’ which I did every morning. If I forgot to do so, she would call me and say, ‘Abounce, won’t you touch my hair?’
After that, I would open the doors, make coffee for two and gossip for a while before leaving for work.
What was the gossip always about?
It could be anything ranging from girls, state of the nation to the movie industry. I recall a time I was trying to woo a lady and she was giving me a tough time. I told my mother about her one day as we were discussing some issues. She jokingly told me that she did not like ladies who give men tough time. There was a day the lady came to our house and greeted my mother. But my mother did not answer her well. As we were leaving, the lady told me that she greeted my mother and she did not reply her greeting warmly. When I returned to the room, my mother asked me if the lady was still adamant and I said it was normal for a lady to behave so initially.
My mother looked at me and said, ‘‘Even when she greeted me, I did not answer her well too.’’ I burst out laughing because I realised that she was cold to the lady because she had yet to give in to the friendship proposal of her son. That showed how playful my mother could be. She was not just a mother but also a good friend.
How would you describe your mother?
She was a superwoman.
Tell us about her academic sojourn in England to when she returned home and started work with the Nigerian Television Authority.
I was not born at the time she went to study in England. I was born in the 70s. But for a while, we lived in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Later, we moved to Lagos and she worked as a newscaster. Then she participated in the television series, Village Headmaster. I used to go to the studio sometimes with her whenever she was on set.
Have you ever acted with her?
Yes, I acted with her.
Can you tell us the major film you acted in with her?
The closest I ever got with my mother in a movie was in the film, Cash Money. I got an African Movie Academy Awards nomination for my role in that movie. I act as the son of a woman whose husband always maltreats her. The woman takes ill and I am caught trying to smuggle some drugs out of the country. It is an interesting movie. I know that I cannot match the acting skills of my mother. It was thus a privilege acting in the movie with her. I felt as if I acted alongside the English-American actress, Elizabeth Taylor. What made it easier was that she was my mother in the movie. It was as if we were at home talking. It was very natural.
Your mother has acted in many Yoruba and English movies. Which of the works is your favourite and why?
There is no particular one that I will choose. I have watched many of her movies. I appreciate her amazing talent. I was close to her and watch her on television often so I am used to everything she did. Sometimes, I called to inform her that she was on television and she would ask to know the movie that was showing. There is a programme I am part of, Hush, on Africa Magic. She watched some of the episodes as I always told her what happened on set and that the crew sent their greetings. One day, while watching it, she frowned, asking me why I was not in a particular episode. I laughed and told her I cannot be in all the episodes. That really indicated the way she encouraged me in what I do and took interest in my career.
Your mother’s choice of word in Yoruba especially English movies is commendable. Did she mandate her children to speak English fluently at home?
Yes. One must always be careful of one’s manner of speaking the English language in the presence of my mother. If one was not careful, there was no way one would miss deafening slaps, beatings with slippers on one’s buttocks in the absence of the cane and so on. She was also a very balanced person. She made sure all her children were well groomed in many aspects of life. I remember a day I did something wrong and she said to me, ‘‘Do you think only good English will see you through your life?’’ When I think about that statement now, I see that what she said that day was deep. She ensured that we adhered to the rules of English and also speak Yoruba but it really did not mean that was all there was to life. That was the message she passed across to me that day.
How did she correct any child who misbehaved?
There was a day I did something wrong and my mother told me she would give me a mark to show my children. She did. I am surely going to show the mark to my children. I cannot remember how old I was then but I was sure that I was not 10 at the time. After beating me, she bathed me and complained that I made her beat me.
Would you describe your mother as a disciplinarian?
Yes but not a strict disciplinarian. I think she became softer at her older age because my aunt used to say they always ran away whenever my mother was around because she would not allow any child dirty the house or speak poor English.
What are the favours you get as the son of Bukky Ajayi?
My mother being Bukky Ajayi is a blessing even after her death. Many people like her and not that she was the richest actress or because she was close to many and helped several people. The support her family got during her burial was massive. I cannot thank everybody enough. That showed the kind of person she was. You can imagine the feeling when someone told you that he or she would be there for you because your mother was there for him or her. But as my mother taught me, I had to apply wisdom to everything even if I was to be given anything on a silver platter.
I do not announce myself as Bukky Ajayi’s son. I do not go anywhere saying, ‘‘I am Bukky Ajayi’s son give me a job or money.’’
It is always, ‘‘Are you Bukky Ajayi’s son?” And my response will be, ‘‘Yes, I am.’’ Then, the person will say, ‘‘You should have told me you are Bukky Ajayi’s son.’’ I then wonder what would have happened if am not Bukky Ajayi’s son. My mother taught me to be independent.
Apart from being self-reliant, what other values did she teach you?
She taught me to trust people even though they can betray the trust. Some people always say they cannot trust anybody because of certain experiences but they have no choice since they have to relate with human beings.
My mother also taught me to be selfless. She lived for others and was involved in many humanitarian activities.
Did she urge you to get married before her death?
She would have loved me to get married before her death but I did not tell her the reason I did not. Her greatest advice to me about relationship was to marry my friend. She said that way we would be able to discuss intimately and settle disagreements amicably.
Can you tell us the reason you did not marry before her death?
She was my focus at the time she lived. If I was in a relationship as I wanted to then, I would have a divided attention. That was why I devoted my attention and time to my doting mother. If I was at work and it was closing time, my heart would be at home. If I attended a party, I was always in haste to leave because I would not want to stay too long away from her.
How did she relax?
She liked sitting on a couch, munching something and watching Food Network on TV. My mother had a sweet tooth. She ate cookies, chocolates etc while relaxing. She loved chicken sandwich. If I asked her if she would eat rice or other things, she could delay her response but the mention of chicken sandwich often whetted her appetite. She would then say, ‘‘Thank you, oko mi (my husband). Help me get it.’’ She had a way of making me grant her requests and I am biddable to her.
What was her favourite drink?
She loved soft drinks especially a new brand in town which she said contains no caffeine and sugar.
How often did she watch the movies she acted in?
She did that a couple of times.
What did she say in those moments?
She tried to see areas of improvement. It started when she was a newscaster. My mother would ask me to record the 7pm news as she presented live. She would watch it whenever she returned home to check for mistakes and improve on them. I also learnt that from her as I always watch some movies I featured in to know the areas to improve on.
Who were your mother’s friends who visited your home while you were young?
At a time, we saw many of them on set because I attended a boarding school. But I recall that aunt Joke Sylva, uncle Olu Jacobs, Kate Adepegba, Tade Ogidan and many others always visited. Many artistes also did.
Did she tell you why she converted to Islam?
We never spoke about it. I grew up knowing her as a Muslim. She was born a Christian but later became a Muslim. We just did not discuss it because I am a Muslim while my elder brothers are Christians.
What was her favourite way of dressing?
She liked wearing anything that would make her free like kaftan boubou. At times, she wore my shirts while at home.
What was her favourite song?
I know she liked songs of the late apala exponent, Haruna Ishola. My mother loved listening to his songs especially a particular track, ‘Oroki Social Club.’ She made me fell in love with the songs of the talented musician. I bought some of the artist’s compact discs for her listening pleasure.
What was her favourite food?
It may be a bit difficult to answer this question but I know that my mother liked vegetable soup. What she ate the soup with also varied from time to time.
Where were you when she died?
I was at home. She died while sitting on a couch in the living room. I later noticed that she was no longer breathing.
What was the first thing you did?
I called the doctor and my brother was with her.
Was she sick?
Yes but her death was old age-related.
How close were you to her?
We were very close to the extent that I told her everything except some bad secrets that boys would not tell their mothers.
Can you share some of the secrets you hid from her?
They are secrets that I will not tell you too (laughs).
How are you coping without her?
It has not been easy because she was a confidant. I am trying to move on. It is hard waking up and seeing nobody to call, ‘Iya Abounce’ and having to drink coffee alone without my wonderful mother.
Did she have any regrets?
She had none that I know of.
What was her view about Nollywood?
She hoped that the industry gets better and for the practitioners to be well remunerated.
What was the feeling like the morning after she was honoured with the ‘Industry Merit Award’ at the 2016 edition of the African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards?
It was really nice. She was happy. I teased her by saying, ‘Iya Abounce, the award winner,’ the following morning. One could see the glimmer of happiness in her eyes. She did not know that she would receive an award. She was told she was invited only as a guest but the organisers told me she would be honoured, so it was really a big surprise to her.
Did she have a premonition of her death?
No. She did not. The only thing she did was to request that anytime she passed on, she should be buried as a Muslim. That request came long before her death so it was not something that she said few days to her death.