Madam KOFO Reveals How She Got That Nick Name
How She Joined HUBERT OGUNDE Theatre Group
Many people don’t know Madam Kofo is an actress and a veteran for that matter. She is in fact a movie icon who was part of the Hubert Ogunde Theatre group way back. Only the older generation will recollect how Madam Kofo, who is known for tying dramatic gele to major events as her signature code dominated the theatre scene in those good old days. She has been acting for 51 years. She started from Stage and did a lot of TV dramas and soaps and has acted in many home videos before she took up other roles like becoming an MC at parties and events. This aspect of her life and career is what many know. But there are many other sides to this Osogbo born multi-talented actress whose real name is Kofoworola Abiola Atanda but who everyone calls Madam Kofo. That is her stage name coined from the role she played in a soap she acted in several years ago.
How did acting start for her?, we asked last week when City People met her at the Ikeja Golf Club where she had just played a round of Golf, Playing active Golf has helped her trim down a bit. It has also kept her fit.
“I started acting very early,” she said, “as far back as 1967. I started acting on stage. Then, I was still in school. I got my 1st award at Lisabi hall in Ebute Metta in Lagos with the play Ori Eni Ni Ngbe ni. I used to play the role of Babalawo, (Herbalist), in those days. The award was given to me by the first military administrator of Lagos State, Sir Mobolaji Johnson, who is our patron here, at Ikeja Golf Club.
That was then. I think the interest actually started when I was in elementary school. I started in a school at Mushin Local government near Odo Eran in Lagos. Then, I went to Osogbo. I am from Osogbo, in Osun State. When I left my Primary School, I went to Lagos Secondary Commercial Academy in Lagos. It is now Ilupeju Grammar School now. It was when I got to this grammar school that my interested came out. I joined the Theatre Group at Lagos Secondary Commercial Academy where we had Theatre groups, literary and debating society. I didn’t really set out to act.
I wanted to be a doctor in life. My other interest was to go into a profession where I can speak. That was when I was going to literary and debating society then. There they will give you topics to discuss with your opponent. That was what I was doing until later one day, I passed through where they were doing drama in the school then. In those days, girls always cut their hair then. I had a look then, that made me resemble a man. When I wear Agbada with cap I can resemble a man, without earrings. My uncle is a herbalist. (Babalawo or Onifa). He was the Araba of Lagos. Chief Fashina Agboola. He is late now.
They own the Odunfa Street at Ebute Metta. It was named after him, because that was what he did then, for the Oba of Lagos. The late Oba of Lagos gave him the title of Araba of Lagos then. He is from Osogbo but he was based in Lagos here at Ebute Metta. I used to go and spend holidays with him. I used to watch them, all the Babalawos that worked with him. I see the way they talk. I also used to read a lot of this Yoruba magazines then, Atoka. I used to read a lot then. I think the interest has always been there. I got to learn all the Ifa incantation.
So, one day when I was just passing by the drama people in school they had problem with the person that was supposed to play Babalawo. He would not utter any incantation. And if you want to be Babalawo you must have knowledge of one or two incantations. I now said I can try. They looked at me with a lot of surprise. How can a woman say she can play the role of Babalawo.
That was in 1971, 1972, 1973. That was how they gave me the role. Come and do it. I now sat on the floor and lay the Opele. I had seen my uncle and all his people doing it. I see the way they do it. I see the way they talk and I know what they are saying, even though I didn’t know the meaning of what they are saying. When I did it the way my uncle was doing it, people started clapping for me.
I now started incantations. When I started the incantations people now started shouting. That is how I got myself hooked on acting. They didn’t allow me go back to my literary and debating society again. I got stuck with the Drama society. I had to go and represent the school at an inter school stage play called Bi eni ni gbe ni (a stage play). Its like 30 mins stage play. I was the Babalawo. Our school won. And Brig. Mobolaji Johnson the 1st Military governor of Lagos State was the one that gave me the award.
From that point how did you now proceed?
That was in school. When I left school I didn’t want to pursue it. I wanted to be a doctor, an Engineer. Nobody wanted to be a Theatre Artiste. Nobody wanted to be a dancer. Late Duro Ladipo was my uncle. His mother is from Osogbo. The father is Ipetumodu. I loved dancing. One day I went to my Uncle Duro Ladipo, I told him I want to learn how to dance Bata. My father didn’t want me to do that. He wanted me to go to school. So, I will sneak out to where Duro Ladipo has shows. My father looked at artistes and those doing acting in those days as those who don’t do well. People see them as nobody, people who don’t know what they are doing. That was how I forgot about it until I came to Lagos.
We were at National Theatre in Lagos one day. It was newly opened then. Late Herbert Ogunde now came to National Theatre for a show. In the show, people were dancing. I was a soul sister. I can dance. I danced when James Bond came. We were the happening guys. But me I didn’t really have time because of my parents. My father was an Alfa. He was very strict about those things. Whatever I did, I sneaked out to do it.
So, we were dancing that day at National Theatre and Ogunde said they should go and call me. When I got to daddy I knelt down, and greeted him. I had left school at that time. I was working with Somolu Local Government. The current Chairman of Civil Service Commission, Alhaji Tunde Rotinwa was my boss at that Somolu Local Government and late Alhaji M. A Kotun. They were my bosses then at the local government.
Daddy said I can see you are dancing very well. He said, are you a dancer? I said No. He asked what I was doing and I told him I was working at the local government. He said I should come and see him. So, I went to Noble Street, Ebute Metta to go and see him. He asked me if I can come and join their Theatre Group. I said I don’t mind. But I will not leave my work, that my father will not like it. I said whatever they want me to do, I will do it. But if its travelling that is not too far, I can go with them, if it falls on weekends like Saturday and Sunday that I will not have anything to do. And they agreed. That was how I joined the Hubert Ogunde Theatre Company where they taught me how to dance Bata very well. I can sing. I can talk.
Infact, when they start any show then, I will be the one to first go on stage, to go and recite Olodumares Oriki. Whenever you are praising God people are bound to stand up, and praise him. So they always spray me a lot of money. That was my own role there, before Ogunde’s people will now come out and really dance. After the dancing we would start the drama. Before I joined Hubert Ogunde, I had one or 2 experiences with late Femi Phillips, Mama Rainbows husband. Mama Rainbow was not acting with us then. She was working at the General Hospital then. That’s Iya Rainbow (Idowu Phillips).
I joined Femi Phillips then. But the relationship didn’t last long. After then, Hubert Ogunde called me. From there I joined Village Headmaster. That was when late Uncle Tunde Oloyede was the Producer and Uncle Taiwo Ayorinde was the Director of Drama at NTV then, not NTA. So, I joined as an artiste. I did so many plays with them. Like 2nd Chance, Mirror In The Sun, House No 13 and, Ward 15 (a medical programme). I also played the role of Mama Aderombi, the 1st wife of Oloja of Oja.
That is Uncle Dejumo Lewis. My self, Eleyinmi, Councillor, Balogun, Madam Africana, all of us were in Village Headmaster until “Mirror In The Sun” came. Lola Femi Kayode now saw me and invited me to come and be part of “Mirror In The Sun” another production. From then, I joined the Hausa programme, “Winds Of Destiny” because I could speak a little bit of Hausa. I was given the role of Mama Tanko. Tanko is late now. And that is how we moved from one programme to another programme.
How did you come about the brand name Madam Kofo?
It came from my role in Second Chance. NTA was the happening place then. They had a lot of programmes. When they do this programme for this season, the next season they are going to do another one.
After “Mirror In The Sun”, then came 2nd Chance. It was Alhaji Gboyega Arulogun, then the Manager Programmes from NTV. He was the one that invited me. My Uncle Oladunjoye saw me acting in one of the Hurbert Ogunde shows at Glover Hall. So when Uncle saw me he said if I can act well like this, why are you here? He said come to NTA. And I told him I don’t know anybody there. So, he took me and handed me over to Alhaji Adegboyega Arulogun.
He was the Manager Programmes NTA. He was former Commissioner for Information in Oyo State, Ibadan. He is the father of the present Commissioner for Information in Oyo State I was waiting for Alhaji Arulogun in his office and I was just roaming around the NTA premises when Grace Egbagbe saw me and said. Are you an artiste? And I said no, I am not an artiste. I am only waiting for Alhaji Arulogun. She said you just fit a role that we are looking for. And that was it.
She said you can come up. From there I met a lot of people, actors and actresses. They were rehearsing and they needed somebody to play the role of Madam Bukky, not Madam Kofo. And the title of the programme was Never Too Late. It was Alhaji Arulogun Adegboyega that changed it to 2nd Chance. The programme was actually an adaptation of Mind Your Language in England. It was under Idiagbon and Buhari regime. They said they don’t want to see any foreign programme on TV.
They said look at Mind Your Language, can’t we have an adaptation of that in Nigeria to depict all the tribes in Nigeria.
That was how they all gathered together to do it. They have been looking for the person to play the role of Cash Madam. Then, I was very fat. Immediately, I entered Uncles office, all those artistes who were gathered there, all said, Madam, de Madam. I didn’t know what they were talking about. So they gave me the script to read, I read it. Later, during our recordings they now changed the name of the role. They said the name Madam Bukky was not good enough for the role.
Kofoworola is my own actual name. The said we should suggest names. I said why don’t we say Kofoworola. This name is big. I am big. I suggested something like Kofoworola Gbelepa Owo for somebody who sits at home to make money and does not work. The money just comes in. That is how we changed it to Kofoworola and shortened it to Madam Kofo. That was how I got the title. That was how the name Madam Kofo stuck and every one began to call me Madam Kofo.