The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is on stage at the Arcola Theatre, the best-selling novel by Lola Shoneyin’s is adapted by Caine award-winning playwright Rotimi Babatunde. The UK premiere features live #Yoruba music, songs and dance. Director Femi Elufowoju, jr maintains the gusto of the original story. “Baba Segi has three wives, seven children, and a mansion filled with riches. But now he has his eyes on Bolanle, a young university graduate wise to life’s misfortunes. When Bolanle responds to Baba Segi’s advances, she unwittingly uncovers a secret which threatens to rock his patriarchal household to the core” Arcola Theatre #TheSecretLives
Jumoke Fashola plays the role of the dominant Iya Segi, the first of Baba Segi’s four wives. Alt A caught up with Fashola.
Q: How do you juggle your broadcasting, acting and singing careers?
I have been fortunate to do the things that I love. I have two radio shows, BBC Radio London, a weekly Sunday breakfast show, which runs between 6 and 9 on Sunday morning, it covers everything from religion, moral and ethical issues. My BBC Radio 3 programme is a rotating presenter chair which I share with Julian Joseph and Kevin Le Gendre. It is specifically about Jazz music. I run the Jazz Verse Jukebox a jazz and spoken word improvised night at Hoxton Hall. Acting has always been a passion it is how I started and so when this opportunity came up, I said why not. Saying that, I am in the middle of a ten-week run of working 7 days a week it is a bit tiring, but it is what I love to do so I can’t complain.
Q: Tell us about Iya Segi what do you like about her or dislike?
My role Iya Segi, (I have to sometimes explain this to people) Iya is a Yoruba word, which is where my roots are from, it means mother of. Essentially my role explores what a woman would do to maintain the status quo. What I like about her is she is really clever. Is she manipulative? You can say she has learned how to speak the language of others to get her own way. Which is either bad or good depending on your perspective. I think she is a character who learns to survive in an environment that is not necessarily one that she has always wanted. Like any other person she has dreams and ambitions, which to some extent she has fulfilled, she has her own shop, has own businesses and has learned on how to drive. To achieve that in the house she is in she must be manipulative or strategic. And because she is a control freak, any new member to the house she just cannot control herself and when Bolanle who is the fourth wife comes in, I think she has that moment when she realises that she does not have the appropriate power to control Bolanle.
Q: Your album entitled The Condition of Being a Woman, what motivated the title and why is the condition of being a woman relevant in light of the current conversations around the #Metoo and #Timesup movements?
The album came out in 2014, four years ago so it predates #Metoo and #TimesUp, the songs on the album are about what it means to be a woman. I mean for instance on the album I Am Stranger talks about how women are alienated even in the best of circumstances, it is about the alienation of being a woman generally. It talks about being sassy, it’s about the spectrum of being female. There is sassy music from the 1920’s song Rough and Ready Man which is about a woman declaring exactly what she wants from a man. The Girl You Can’t Forget which I co-wrote with Simon Wallace is all about how women can be memorable and unforgettable even years down the line and it talks about the reasons why you won’t forget her.
The Nina Simone song Four Women is all about the trajectory of different women at different stages in their lives, from young to more mature and the challenges that they face. Welcome to Love is about discovering love for the first time, realising the freshness of it and that almost disbelieve that someone can love you despite yourself. I love being a woman, we grew up in an age where we were almost expected to not celebrate who you are, and I celebrate who I am as a woman. Once you identify who you are you should celebrate, whether is about sexuality or gender you should celebrate that. That was part of the thinking behind it.
Q: One would be forgiven if they are deceived by the concept of a man having many wives as an adornment of male power in this play, it turns out that the women have the upper-hand. Why is it important that women are empowered especially through this medium, the media?
It is quite interesting that Lola, the writer of the book is female and Roti who adapted the book for the stage is male. Obviously, the play is based on the book and you can see that thread throughout. Lola has such an interesting background and has great knowledge of a polygamist family and you can see that in the book. There is a tendency to think he (Baba Segi) is the head of the household, he has all the power but quite rightly it is the women who have the power. It is because it is the women who determine the course of their own lives through the choice of the actions they take. One of the things I love about this is how families can have secrets, secrets can live quite openly in a space where you think they could not be any. When we first started working on the production the Director Femi Elufowoju, jr challenged to us to find out what each character does, what each character brings to the table. He ploughed the depths, that is why he is such a brilliant director. You get the fullness of it, it is not shallow, in an unusual way not a feminist way it is a feminist play. It is saying that women have always been in charge. I have lived in Nigeria and I know you would not mess with a woman in the marketplace who has her own business.
When we started the production, we had some quite interesting conversations with some of the boys in the play, Usifu Jalloh described how there are certain tribes in Sierra Leone which are completely matriarchal. And that the women are utterly utterly in charge, they are in charge!
In some ways that is what the play brings to the table and it also shreds light on Africa in a way that is not stereotypical you know, that, oh my god we … eat whatever, because our culture is so rich, so diverse and so full of joy and the way we use music to communicate. The idea that music is separate from life is not the case. Every day in Africa, certainly Nigeria there is music that says something. The whole thing about having a talking drum that can say your name, play your name that kind of stuff is life giving and life affirming. But also, I think coming back to your point, yes, it is a patriarchal society, but the women have found a way to forge their own path that is why I am proud to be part of this production.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is on stage at the Arcola Theatre until the 21st July 2018.
Competition: Alt Africa has teamed up with the Arcola Theatre to giveaway a pair of tickets for the 7pm performance on Saturday 14th July 2018. If you cannot wait to see this production book tickets here.
To win: Name the actor who plays Baba Segi? All correct answers must be emailed to the editor by 10th July 5pm. Winners will be notified by email and must stick to the competition dates. Image credit: Left Jumoké Fashola and Tania Nwachukwu (Credit Idil Sukan)