– China-based Nigerian artiste, James Ogbobe
From Petrus Obi, Enugu
He started off in Nigeria as a dancer. His family rejected him and was mocked by friends. But now, he is a success story as an actor cum singer with over 1.7 million online fan base.
In this interview, 28-year-old Nsukka-born James Ifeanyi Ogbobe opens up on his journey to stardom in the Peoples Republic of China. Enjoy it.
How I started
I started doing a traditional dance called ‘Igba Ndi-Eze’ while in secondary school in Nigeria. We formed a group to play this kind of music and I was the dancer in the group. Also, I danced for some similar groups in the locality. Later, I met some established musicians and I started dancing for them. I danced for Princess Ego, from Enugu Ukwu in Anambra State. From her I got to know Theresa Onuora (Egedege), who I danced for, for about a year and a half. From Theresa Onuora and Princess Ego, I got into the music industry for real and sang and danced for Prince Gozie Okeke. I was in most of the videos of Ozoemene Nwa-Nsugbe. I disguised like a woman in these videos but in live shows I dressed like a man. That’s how my life started in Nigeria. And while we were dancing for Prince Gozie Okeke, I danced alongside Nkoli Nwa Nsukka (Rachael Okonkwo) because we come from the same area and we were good friends.
Family rejected me
My parents passed on when I was in JSS 3. My family was extremely against me when I was dancing then; even people would laugh at me while I danced. Sometimes, someone would climb the stage to spray money and will whisper to my ears, saying ‘you stupid old man, you are too old to be a dancer; you better go back to school or find something to do with your life’. Some would tell me that men don’t dance, that dance is for women. I received several insults from people, but they were not to be compared to the ones I received from my own family members, most especially, my elder brother. He was very angry with me; my uncles were very angry too, they never liked me. But today, the story is different.
Coming to China
After my WAEC, I got a scholarship that took me to China to study for five years. I came to China, learnt Chinese language for one year; and from the second year, I decided to go into my major, which is Tourism Management. In 2003, I met a Chinese woman in a coffee bar; I was sitting in a coffee bar and she just walked up to me and asked where I came from. I said I was from Nigeria. She said ‘okay, you look very good and you have a nice body, would you mind appearing in television?’ I said it wouldn’t be a problem. Then, she said she has a job for me. I asked what kind of job? She explained that she wanted me to take part in a TV show, and that’s where my being in TV started in China.
I went for the show and from there other TV stations started looking for me until I got the one I am doing now, Informal Talk, which is broadcast in English every Friday at 9:30pm. From Informal Talk, I got the opportunity to go into movies. I did an online movie called, Yi Zhang Ke. Then later this year, I had an opportunity to shoot another movie that would be shown in the cinema, not online.
My favourite Nollywood actors
I have so many favourite Nollywood actors like Kenneth Okonkwo, Rachael Okonkwo, Nonso Diobu, Mercy Johnson, Jim Iyke, Emeka Ike, Genevieve Nnaji, Nkem Owoh, Patience Ozokwor, Emeka Ike, Ngozi Ezeonu, Chioma Chukwuka, Ini Edo, Pete Edochie, and a host of others.
On Chinese language
I speak Chinese very fluently. I can speak and read Chinese, but you know writing Chinese is very difficult. However, with phones and computers, I can write the language. I am from Nsukka and every village has their local language; so my Chinese is much better than my local language right now. Last year, when I came to Nigeria, I found out that I could understand everything said to me Igbo, but to speak it became a problem.
On Chinese food
When I first came to China, it was a big problem for me to eat Chinese food. For the first one week I ate only noodles, bread and tea. When I tried to eat Chinese food, I would vomit. But for like a month, I started trying and cooking Chinese food by myself, and gradually, I became adapted to it.
The funny thing about it is that, when I came home last year, I tried Nigerian food and I started vomiting, and my people were surprised. I was ashamed and I tried my possible best to be adapted to our local food again. I tried to also communicate with the elders in Nsukka dialect.
Between Nigerian and Chinese cultures
For me, Chinese food is much better than Nigerian food for now. I am just being honest. About culture, Chinese people are very traditional; they are not that open. If you are in China, you have to be very careful how you relate with people, because you might make them angry but they will pretend as if they are happy with you. They will keep on smiling, trying to show you that nothing has happened, and if you continue to do something bad, one day they will react.
On relationship, in Nigeria if you love someone, you might go straight to the person and tell him or her how you feel. But in China, someone might love another forever without telling him of her, and because of fear of rejection, he or she may die with the feelings. The person may even get married and have kids, and the other person may die single.
Home, sweet home
I am not happy that in China when I walk on the streets people recognise me but in my own country, Nigeria, it’s not the same thing. So, I want to do something with my own people like filming, modeling or even doing adverts for companies. For me, money is not the most important thing now; I am not saying it’s going to be for free, but I just need to do something in Nigeria, to work with Nigerians. I have to start from somewhere because nobody knows me in my country.