Joke Silva: “I Think My Whole Life Is Privileged.”
Joke Silva is a celebrated name in the Nigerian entertainment industry, known for her award-winning talent as an actress, a business executive, and a trainer.
She is the co-founder of Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts, which focuses on grooming young Nigerian talents in the thespian arts. Lufodo is also a media and impresario company whose presentation, Holy Child Musical, remains unforgettable.
Joke Silva is also the manager of the prestigious Glover Memorial Hall, which serves as a cultural center for showcasing theatrical performances and other forms of art. In commemoration of her 62 years birthday, which was marked recently, TNR had the privilege of sitting down with her at her office in Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos, to discuss her career, training talents for Netflix, her Nollywood Royalty marriage to Olu Jacobs and her hopes for the future of the Nigerian entertainment industry.
TNR: We have a lot of great plays. What’s the challenge making them into films?
Silva: One, I don’t think people have looked at them to do them. And, sometimes, it’s just finding the person who has a passion to do it, to put it on film. “Eleshin Oba,” I love what Biyi Bamidele did with it by mixing Yoruba and English.
I know Lola Fani Kayode had always wanted to put it on film. And then she left the country.
For me, I would just say it’s just finding the people or the production house that wants to produce those plays.
That’s just it?
It’s as simple as that.
When they did “Kongi’s Harvest,” Soyinka eventually excused himself from it. The international audience couldn’t understand the voice over. They overdubbed it. Do you think that kind of problem would occur if we decide to do a Nigerian play on screen?
I don’t think so.
Most actors don’t sound like you or Mrs Taiwo Ajai-Lycette?
We sound the way we sound because we trained abroad. But there’s no need for Nigerians to sound like British. We have our own way of speaking English. It’s very legitimate. Will Africa understand us? Yes, Africa will understand us. Will Africans in the diaspora understand us? Yes, they will.
So, basically, anybody else who doesn’t understand us, we’ll subtitle. Simple. I mean, I don’t think the Chinese gives a flying sausage whether I understand the Chinese he’s speaking or the Korean. So, we subtitle or dub. It’s as simple as that.
And, to be honest with you, we don’t really understand the Americans too when they’re speaking.
They have the big box office. Are we ever going to get there?
We definitely will. We’re going to get there and we’re going to surpass it. That time is coming and it’s coming very soon. Sooner than we expect.
Let’s talk about Glover Memorial Hall, the primier film and theatre hall. How intense was the bidding process: influence bidding , process bidding or was it money bidding?
No, there was no money bidding. There was influence bidding and process. All sides who were interested, used the influence that they had.
But, at the end of the day, what tilted it in our favour was the fact that there was an open bid and we had to go before a panel where each side discussed what they were bringing to the table, and we won.
Did the partnership with Ciuci Consulting give you any advantage?
It definitely did. For us in Lúfòdò, we’re good artistic people, we’re good at reading the community and bringing things that we know the community will enjoy and interpreting it at a scale.
And even just understanding what an artistic program should be about. We’re very good with that. But business is not really our forte.
My husband is pretty strong in marketing. That’s his forte. All the other things that go with the business aspect of an edifice like this, our partnership with Ciuci was indeed a very important game changer.
What did they bring to the table?
Their experience in just making businesses succeed. In Delta State, there was a hospital that people didn’t believe would function without it being beyond the reach of the common man. But hey, they’re the ones doing it and doing it right.
We’ve always wanted to partner with business people . Ciuci are the only ones who understood the industry and could understand that they didn’t approach our industry the way they’d approach the medical or the monopoly which is almost like trading and do it well.
So would you say Glover Memorial Hall has hit its stride?
Glover Memorial Hall is on the journey to becoming a success and it would be a success. We’ve been a part of Glover Memorial Hall since the nineties.
You grew up around here.
Well, the Silva family house is in Bamgbose. One came to watch a couple of Ogunde plays here as a child. But even as a professional, our company has produced plays in GMH before this new iteration when it was under Uncle Steve Rhodes.
I think we were the production company that used Glover Memorial Hall the most apart from Uncle Steve and the Steve Rhodes Voices.
We used to bring our plays here. There was also the fact that my great grandfather on my mother’s side was on the first board of trustees of Glover Memorial Hall. And his photograph was here till they started this current renovations that you can see.
Of course, I didn’t know the 1887 building. That came down in the early sixties. I know that soon after Uncle Steve passed, we had been trying to get Glover Memorial Hall.
How many plays have you performed here?
Crown Troupe has come here with probably about four different plays and we hope we shall be doing more. But we just took over last year, 2022. We’ve had about two other robust plays. Total six.
You’re training youngsters for Netflix, right?
They’re not that young because we want, at least, a first degree, preferably in the humanities. A lot of them are even masters degree holders. We are running a training for actors and for writers. Specifically, for the screen. It’s for the Nigerian film industry. But, yes, it’s supported by Netflix.
I can’t have an interview with you and not talk about the royal marriage of Nollywood.
But I don’t think that’s part of theatre.
For your fans, it is. We’re interested in the journey.
Will I marry the same person over again? In a heartbeat. Definitely. Did we have our challenges? Incredible ones. Along the way, did we find that God is an important aspect of a marriage? Very definitely. Without that spiritual cover, I’m not sure we’d have survived, especially because of the industry we both are in.
Technology too helped us a lot because when the new technology came and there was mobile phones, it was easier to keep in touch with each other.
You were in a few movies together.
Yes, Yoruba movies, English movies.
How was it working together?
Fine. We did a TV series together as well. It’s also fun when we’re on the same location, yeah.
Do you say that the visibility of both of you was something to cope with?
Visibility, lack of anonymity. You have to learn the strategy to cope with that because we need lack of anonymity to succeed in our profession. It’s a given. It’s an occupational hazard.
But, for any performer, when you lack anonymity, then you must learn how to manage it, you know. Your audience, your fans , want to be part of your life. And things like that. So you have to manage information. So that there are somethings that remain sacred, especially when you have a family so that your children also have a safe space.
How is that even possible? If you just say your name is…and you mention Olu Jacobs, you already don’t have any safe space.
Yes you do because the audience knows only what you share, Yeah.
But what you don’t share with an audience, they tend to invent.
Oh yes, I mean there’s been a lot of inventions. People will always think whatever they want to think. There’s nothing you can do to stop them. But, as long as the people you love and you care about know the truth about you, that’s all.
There must be some stories that got under your skin. You never had any such moments?
Nope. No, because I think our training too prepares us for it. Our training is such that you’re under scrutiny all the time in pushing to perform a particular character. You know, and you’re rehearsing. You’re in rehearsals for a particular character. It’s not you, it’s the character that’s being scrutinized.
So that scrutiny, that constant critiquing, you know, it kind of prepares you for the lack of anonymity.
There’s also this pressure when you’re not at the same production, not in the same location. You weren’t in Ólóíbírí with your husband.
Yes. I love Ólóíbírí. I think it’s one of his most seminal works. Brilliant piece of work. I love it, yes.
He was in Ólóíbírí for quite a while. You were not in that location. How does that pan out?
Well, it is one of the challenges with any marriage where either of the spouses is not always around. There needs to be some sort of structure in the home.
The challenge then is that when the other party comes around and wants to be able to do what they used to do when they were all home. But you can’t.
You have to realise that a structure has been put in place as a coping mechanism when you were not around. So you need to take time to fit into that structure, so that we can then create a new structure that absorbs you in. So that was an issue.
Let me explain. Let’s say for example now. I’m giving a real-life example. There was a time when my husband was going from one location to the other. And so he’d not been home for, let’s say, a couple of weeks. And then he’s off again. So we actually didn’t see him for more than a couple of weeks at a stretch.
Alright, so I’m home, I’ve created a structure so that the family can function.
Now when he was home for a much longer time, there were things we did in a particular way. So, he cannot come back, and move things around. It was one of the challenges we had, when he would come back for those three weeks things.
He would spend the first week just de-stressing. He probably won’t get to the gate of the house. He stays in the house for the whole of one week. He’s not going anywhere. Only for him to now say,’Okay, I’ve finished de-stressing now. Yes what’s happening?’
Uncle no! You can’t. I’ve put this here because I have to get this at this particular time , because I’m taking this child here or something. Don’t come and start moving things differently. No, you are not allowed. So that created a bit of a stress.
I remember we were shooting Project Fame at the time. And he had just come in from Asaba or Enugu. At that time, our studio was in Ikeja, and he was complaining to Uncle Olaolu Akins. And he was saying, “Ah-ah, I’ll tell her this and she’s insisting on doing things her own way.“
Uncle Olaolu looked at him and went, “How long are you around for?”
He was aghast.
“She’s got to manage the space whilst you’re not around. So until you’re around for much longer, please do not disturb what she has put in place so that the house can function. Just come in, fit into what is there,” Uncle Akins told him.
So he calmed him down. He’s a very hands-on person. He likes to be involved in things, he’s like that. But you cannot go away for another three months, and then I will now have to start afresh. No, just leave me.
But there were many occasions when both of you were off.
How did the children cope with that?
We were very lucky. I grew up with a mother who was very particular about having a support system. She was a medical doctor who travelled a lot. So the kind of support system that she had—that I grew up in— was that the house helps we had were kind of integrated into the home… sometimes we had family members. But there were even non-family members that were integrated into the family.
The house help was an integral part of the family. So if they misbehaved, they were corrected as a member of the family. So it wasn’t like, you’ve done this and I’m sacking you. No, once they enter our house, there’s no sacking until they themselves are ready to leave. And you send them forth in a better condition than when they came.
That’s so African.
Exactly. So that’s how I was brought up. So that’s what I continued with. The current house help that I have has been with me for twenty-three years. And her daughter actually works for me now. She is my PA, and she went to the University. We were the ones who sent her to university. So that support system is very important.
When my parents were alive, they were very hands-on grandparents. So when I’m not around, the children and the house help go.
Yeah, that was my mother’s one condition. They must come with their own house help. She’s not going to disturb her own structure and get her own house helps looking after them. My friends used to call her professional grandmama. She loved her grandchildren. They were a big part of her life.
That was a big house.
That was a big house, yes.
Would you say you’re a privileged Lagosian?
I think my whole life Is privileged. From birth I’ve been an incredibly blessed child. And then the kind of parents that I have gave an added privilege in the sense that they were Ivy league. Professionally, my dad was a lawyer and my mum a medical doctor. And then this girl says she wants to be an actor.
It must have been a struggle, right?
Initially, they encouraged me to perform as a hobby. My mother played the piano and enjoyed listening to Classical music. She liked live performances. My father used to go to the opera with his friends in England. He had quite a few actor friends he loved. He loved the theatre.
And so when I showed an aptitude for performing, they were very excited. They would come and watch any play I was in in primary school and they would even choose the schools that I went to because they had drama departments in them. But when I said this is what I want to do as a professional, there was a stepping aside. You must be calming down (a popular meme).
I didn’t do as well as I would have liked in the sciences to do Medicine. My father was encouraging me to do Law.
Because he was a lawyer?
Yes, he was a lawyer. And I honestly regret that I didn’t do Law because I could still have been a performer. I felt that if I had anything else as a safety net, the likelihood of just going into that comfort, when things got hard, would be high. But the way lawyer thinks would have been so useful to have as a skill.
Anyway, it was when my father refused for me to go for a particular production at the NTA at the time that things came to a head. I’m like, ‘Everybody is waiting for me.’ I’m performing, you know. ‘What do you mean I’m not going? We’ve started recording. Who is going to finish my role?’
He said, ‘No, you’re not going?’ He locked me up in my room.
What performance was that?
I can’t remember. You know, we did all these television shows then. In the early 80s. And he just locked me in my room. And I’m thinking, ‘No. That’s not possible.’
But my room leads to the veranda. Then I jumped from the porch of the house. When my father realized that, ‘Eh, girl yì fé ja…’ (mimes bolting away with her fingers).
He told the gatekeeper to lock the gate. But I jumped over the fence. And they didn’t see me in the house for another two weeks. By the time I saw my mom, she was looking so haggard with worry. The thought of where is this child. And after that, I had a year out when I was allowed to perform. I was working on stage at the national theatre and all that.
The two of them then said,‘Okay, you’ve earned quite a bit of money, don’t you think you should go for proper training?’
So my mum used my savings to pay for me to go for my auditions for drama school.
They could have bought you the ticket.
All about learning to manage my money and things like that. So I auditioned for drama school and went for my training at Webber Douglas School of Dramatic Arts. (birthed by Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.)
It’s no longer in existence. It’s now a room in Central School of Drama. They call it the Webber D. Class in the Central School of Drama now. It was absorbed after the founder died.