An interview with the ultra cool Akin Omotoso

Posted by Vuyi Qubeka on 26 January 2015

Actor and filmmaker Akin Omotoso is better known for tales involving conflict, but his latest film Tell Me Sweet Something, is a love story set in his hometown, Joburg. To him, the city is the most romantic setting.

I remember first seeing Akin Omotoso very, very many years ago on Generations (only the most popular soapie in the country – then, and now). He played prominent businessman Khaya Motene who fell in love with the beautiful Karabo Moroka, born into the rich and powerful Moroka family. Now you must understand, Generations was a staple in most black homes back in the 90s and these characters became very much a part of our lives. They sort of became like… distant family. In fact, for many years I would refer to Akin by his character’s name, learning only much later (when I finally distinguished between the on-screen character, and the off-screen individual) what his real name was.

Fast forward more than a decade, and I found myself in the same room as this living legend, along with another legend, my editor – Sonya Schoeman (we did the interview together). This has gotta be one of the coolest interviews I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of.

 

“The problem we have is that the continent is so stigmatised… We tend to think the grass is greener in Europe or the United States when, actually, all it really is is good PR.”

 

A man of cool. Photo by Tseliso Monaheng.

A man of cool. Photo by Tseliso Monaheng.

 

A colleague is visiting you from London. What hotel would you recommend?

12 Decades in Maboneng.

Why?

I haven’t stayed there myself, but I think Maboneng is a sort of creation of art. If you look at it, from the two roads that lead here, there’s a real sense of the artistic, the youth vibe, and the market on a Sunday. It’s a good space to be because, one, you can walk around, two, you always interact with really interesting people and, three, there’s enough diversity: there are restaurants, there’s the cinema. If I were coming to Joburg, that would be the kind of place I would stay.

What makes Maboneng a great place for a love story?

You know, Johannesburg’s reputation is not one of love. If you think about love, it’s always New York or Paris. But I was in Paris recently… and walking around the corner, there was a guy who had obviously been stabbed. He was bleeding and these guys were holding his head, and another guy was making a call. So that is a very violent scene, but that’s not the PR of Paris… I’ve always liked the city space, and if you think of Maboneng as a work of art and as an artist, I can admire the aesthetics… There’s a conceptual art thing going on, apart from Arts on Main. And then the idea that artists live there, for me that’s very romantic. It’s a completely different feel to when you’re in, say, Rosebank.

What’s your best childhood travel memory?

The first boarding school I went to was far from where we lived. To get to the school you had to get on to the ferry and cross the Niger River. That was a major thing. You read about the river, and to get to this boarding school, you’re on this water, on a boat and it’s taking you to this mysterious boarding school. So for a 12-year-old, that was quite a transition, and it was in a part of the country that you just don’t visit. Another was coming to South Africa.

Do you prefer going to places you know or don’t know?

Both. It’s always nice to go to new places. You think more and you see more and you’re always gauging more: how is this society dealing with things? Rio, in Brazil, is another place I love. It’s not even the beautiful women; it’s the place itself. I remember thinking: I could live here. I don’t want to leave the continent, but it was the feeling; it reminded me a lot of Africa. Another thing about Brazil is the West Africans. A lot of the African slaves were in Brazil… In Brazil you can find things that link to West African traditional beliefs and the food… there’s a direct line. Barbados is great. There’s a whole other vibe there.

You have Barbadian heritage…

My late mom was from Barbados; I have West Indian heritage. What’s not to love? Minimum temperature, 30 degrees, maximum, 32. Every day. The weather guy doesn’t even need to show up. What’s nice about it, if you think about people who have been removed from Africa – the slave trade scattered everyone – you’ve got African Americans and West Indians there. That’s a totally new culture. I like the weather and the beaches. Words can’t describe it. You can’t swim at the beaches in Cape Town; they’re just beauty. But culturally, as well, on a Friday night there’s this market called Oistins and you can get different types of fish and they prepare it for you. There are different stalls and it’s very communal – music, people coming together, people sitting on the beaches, eating. There are a lot of tourists there – they really cater to that. It’s also a small island… everywhere in Barbados, just turn left, you’ll get there eventually.

What would be important in a travel experience as a father?

My parents travelled a lot. People must travel with their children. The best education you can give is to travel with your children. They need to know there is a place beyond the edge of their nose. I think the only reason I can sit here and talk about travel is that from the moment I was born I’ve been travelling, and that has made a difference on how I see the world.

 

Akin’s recommendations for what to do in Joburg:

To eat good food…

try the House of Baobab. It’s a Senegalese restaurant and Senegalese food is very similar to Nigerian food. There’s a nice buffet there on Sundays for R110. And there’s also Little Addis Café on Fox Street, which serves Ethiopian food and is great.
Contact: House of Baobab, tel 011 039 1632; Little Addis, tel 082 683 8675.

For good vibes…

go to the Bassline in Newtown, for the Admiral and Jah Seed reggae nights. These happen every Thursday night, right near the Market Theatre. Apart from the reggae music, which you don’t have to love, it’s a confluence of people – old, young, all gathered to enjoy a type of music. And it’s the kind of experience that’s so singular to Joburg. I’ve never in Cape Town, Durban or wherever and got that feeling – that Joburg feeling.
Contact: Tel 011 838 9142, bassline.co.za

For shopping, galleries and restaurants…

go to 44 Stanley, which has a range of great shops – from fashion, décor, well-known designers, galleries and good restaurants. Contact: 44stanley.co.za

For a taste of Joburg culture…

go to the First Wednesday Film Club. It’s alternative cinema and a space where you can watch something else [not mainstream]. I run these nights with Katarina Hedren… If you come here, you’ll see what we’ve built over the last years. I think it’s a place where people feel comfortable. There’s no advance warning of the films. We pick the film, and when we’re lucky we have the directors here. Afterwards you can mingle and eat and the food, and it’s also free. You really get a sense of a social environment. It’s just a nice vibe. You can go away and say, yeah, this was a South African experience. It’s on the first Wednesday of every month at 19:30.
Contact: Tel 011 482 7111, atlasstudios.co.za

For movie nights…

go to The Bioscope. You’ll see different kinds of movies and the place itself is really creative with bucket car seats to sit in.
Contact: Tel 011 039 7306.

Stay here…

12 Decades Art Hotel. Rooms in this hip hotel have been designed by some of South Africa’s top artists and designers. Prices start from R450 per person per night sharing (self-catering).
Contact: Tel 0861 226 787, urbanhiphotels.com/12-decades/

 

The pleasure of hearing Akin's tales of adventure. Photo by Tseliso Monaheng

That’s one less thing on of my ‘uber-cool people to meet before I die’ list. Photo by Tseliso Monaheng.

This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of Getaway Magazine.

Getaway February Cover 2015
Follow my adventures on Twitter and Instagram: @vuyiroamsfree






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