If you grew up in the 1980s in Nigeria, you remember when child stars were huge. Chichi of Africa, Tosin Jegede….
I was talking to a friend recently wondering why there was a boom of them at that period, and he had this theory: With the political climate at the time, adult Nigerian artists had to be seen as either supporting the government or they had to squirrel themselves out of the country. It was a no-win situation because those who made money performing for the military were accused of selling out by their peers and the people, but of those who left the country, none of them found considerable success outside.
In the midst of this turmoil, a vacuum was created that was filled by child stars. They were young, and innocent. The message was positive and they had none of the hang-ups of the adult stars.
If you remember any of this, you might also remember the song Children Arise by Tosin Jegede. I think it goes something like this: *sings* “Children Arise, and let’s rebuild the nation….” *trails off*
The music video for Children Arise showed children taking on adult roles in society. It showed a child dressed as a doctor treating a patient, as an engineer, as a lawyer. The video would cut from occupation to occupation and always return to footage of the child star performing in front of her band. The band members were all children mock-playing the instruments. A child behind the drums, children playing the guitars, and so on.
This music video was shot in my primary school. And the minute they told us, the students, about it, I knew I had to be part of this momentous occasion. I would like to say something dramatic like, “It was my one chance at fame,” but that isn’t true.
More honestly, it was one of the many chances at fame that I would screw up.
The day of the music video came and we had no classes that day. The director, set manager, and the rest of the technical personnel arranged the scenes and outlined what they wanted to do. The scene of the band performing took place on the school field and the others were scattered around the school premises.
I was selected to be the drummer, which was the best possible position because after each of the job segments they would show the band scene, it was maximum face time for me and I would be in the same scene as the main attraction, the singing star. As the drummer, I would be centre stage and I planned to beat those cymbals with such vigour, there was no way you would miss me.
Forget the star, look at me twirling my drumsticks.
Before filming, we took our positions and the cameraman started to pan around the band, scoping out the scene and he realised that from the front when shooting, he couldn’t see my head over the top of the drum set. They tried raising the drum seat, putting books under it for me to sit on, but it was no help. I was too short to be visible over the drums so I was asked to leave the drums for someone taller.
I was devastated.
The director was an understanding man, and he didn’t want to see the dreams of a rising child star (me) go down the drain. He asked me to switch places with the kid playing the guitar.
I put down the drumsticks, got up, and walked to the front to take my place as the lead guitarist for our fake band.
Now, I don’t know what they were making electric guitars with in the 80s, probably lead or plutonium. The set manager gave me the guitar, I put the strap around my neck and slumped to the ground. That shit was heavy as hell.
He reached out to help me, but I brushed him away, “I’m fine, I’m fine. I was just checking the floor for my pencil.”
He stepped back and watched me fumble around for a minute, watched me grit my teeth and set my feet apart like a weightlifter as I tried to stand properly. My skinny seven year old legs trembled.
Everyone was looking at me as I attempted this feat, and as I straightened up, sweat dripping off my forehead, I gave them a nod that I was fine. It was more like a half-nod really, because the rest of my strength had gone into lifting that guitar.
No one was fooled. There was no way I was going to be able to feign playing an instrument I couldn’t carry by myself.
And like that, I was ejected from the band.
They had finished taping all the career scenes (the doctor, the lawyer, and the engineer) so I couldn’t even get a fake occupation as a consolation prize.
But there was one more scene left.
(Once again if you remember) the last scene of that music video has a car pulling up to the front of a building, a steward hurries to the car and opens the back door and Tosin Jegede steps out of the car. A mass of paparazzi made up of photographers (children carrying cameras) and journalists (children carrying notepads) rushes to her and starts asking questions and taking pictures.
I was given a pen and paper and added to the back of the paparazzi scene. They explained our cue: Stand around looking as if you’re waiting. When the car drives in, don’t move until it stops and the steward opens the door for the person inside. Run to her, form a semi-circle and do as if you’re taking pictures and asking her questions.
High off the earlier disappointment, and even though I was positioned at the back as a late addition, I was pumped and ready to be the best child journalist ever.
The car rolled in, and Action!
If you ever see that video, keep an eye out for me.
I am wearing a dark green shirt and khaki trousers. I am the blur that slides in from the left side of the screen. I dart between two other journalists, trip over a photographer and fall into the middle taking two other children down with me just before the video fades to black.