“My person is my person,” Kemi (Lala Akindoju, as the world knows her) told me yet again, a few weeks ago. “Whatever happens, that one is standard.”
There are some codes that underpin modern living, especially in a social media age. Certain mores that come from nowhere, but seem to dictate how we must behave, irrespective of our better natures.
Like, you know, should a single woman be best friends with a single man, especially when both are famous? Can she dare be so happy for him that she stands as his ‘best man’ when he gets married? Should she disregard the commitment so that ‘people will not talk’?
Or, you know, that silly rule that once people were a couple and are no more so, they can’t be there for each other, they can’t ‘carry each other’s matter’ on their head. Because they may stand accused of, as Nigerians say, ‘over-do’.
“But you are my person,” Kemi would say to you when you worry about her. “People who truly care for each other have to stick together.”
The only thing that matters to her is heart. That she has so much of her heart to give to all those who are blessed to be in her circle, to those who she cares about. And for these ones, she will sacrifice time, energy, perception, money – anything.
That’s what makes her special. If she cares enough about it, she will give everything to it – no matter the cost.
The public sees this passion expressed in another way – it manifests in the intensity of her craft: her forceful professionalism, her outstanding talent, and the endless the dedication to her art.
The fact that she is very, very easily a pioneer in acting, even if she doesn’t get the full credit she richly deserves (though the AMVCA Trailblazer Award was a great start). Kemi, alongside Wole Oguntokun, Kenneth Uphopho and others, through strength of character and force of talent, pulled Nigeria and Nigerians to pay attention to the theatre – despite the fact that it, and Nigerians, gave so little in return.
It was enough that she was passionate about this, and so she would give her all to it, putting aside her Second Class Upper Insurance certificate from the University of Lagos, and she would put aside her Masters degree from the Pan Atlantic University.
Some people do it to be stars. Kemi does it because she loves it.
And all the people, and all the talent that she drives and pushes forward – at the Creative Industries Expo, or at the Lagos Theatre Festival, or at the Africa International Film Festival, or at The Future Awards Africa or at Ndani TV – will testify to her graciousness.
For many young women who want to be actors, she is a beacon. For many young men who have sought a leg in, she has been a rock. For those who prefer an enduring, lasting career over flavours of the month, she is a model. For many productions needing a woman of many talents, she has given of sacrifice. An entire industry finds Kemi at strategic points at strategic moments, oiling the wheel, driving the day, fulfilling dreams.
But it is to her friends, family and those who have been lucky to call her ally, that this glorious intensity is most precious – where there is a loyal, dedicated, passionate person, whose heart is only love.
As she turns 30 today, my wish for my ride-or-die friend and ally is that the past 30 years be only practice for the greatness that lies ahead.
And we pray that as she continues to grow in greatness and strength, that her grace continues to be refreshed from heaven – the grace to love, the grace to care, the grace of her single-minded commitment to others.
Happy birthday, Kemi.