Efa Iwara is one of Nigeria’s young and versatile actors. The rapper-turned-actor has created an impressive presence on all content platforms – from feature films to TV series and web series. Regardless of the medium, he does a great job by embodying any role he is given.
In this interview, he tells PREMIUM TIMES how his brother inspired him to explore music, his transition to films, how he bagged a role in ‘The Men’s Club’ and much more.
PT: To what extent did being the son of a Professor of Linguistics father and a Librarian mother mold your formative years?
Iwara: I think that played a huge role in the person that I have come to be because that means that I was surrounded by books all the time. We always used to read many books; from fictional to non-fictional books. That gave me a huge amount of knowledge about different things.
I think that was very important. Although, since I moved to Lagos, I’ve probably read like just 10 books because I don’t have a lot of time to read a lot of books but I’m still looking to create more time to read more.
PT: You’ve spent a significant part of your life within the confines of the University of Ibadan. Coupled with your background, one would expect you to be a nerd. But this is you writing rap verses at the tender age of 9. How did music, particularly rap, get into the picture for you?
Iwara: I think I’m still somewhat of a nerd. So, my older brother is also creative as well. I mean, with three sisters and one brother, normally, you get close to your brother. And we spent a lot of time together and I’ve watched him listen to rap music all the time. He was also part of a rap group. Of course, the younger brother tends to emulate their older brother. So, I ended up loving rap music.
I wrote my first rap verse when I was nine; which was wack at the time. My brother laughed at me so hard. But yeah, I’d say that I went into music because of my brother.
He pretty much inspired me to do music. But… also, my father has to take some of the credits. We played a lot of music and watched a lot of movies at home. Even though we’re a very academic family, we are also very much in sync with entertainment. It was very well balanced.
PT: I’d want to believe that it’s one thing to be in sync with entertainment, it’s another thing to have one of your offspring wanting to explore a career in that space professionally. Given their disciplines, did they have concerns about you venturing into entertainment when you were starting out?
Iwara: If you grew up in the 90s and your parent do not have worries about you going into entertainment, then I don’t think they are your parents (laughs). Of course, any parent would be skeptical about their child going into entertainment at the time.
PT: So, how did you deal with that? How did you convince them?
Iwara: So, yeah, that’s the thing. They were worried especially during the 90s and the 2000s. People at the time associated entertainment with drop-outs, no-gooders, alcoholics, drug users; people who would not have done well in life. I couldn’t blame them for having concerns.
The onus was on me to convince them otherwise. But luckily, times have changed. I was talking to a friend of mine and we were discussing how people have seen more entertainment than what it used to be. You can now do so well for yourself. Back in the days, if you’ve gone to play football, your father will beat you. But now, every son has to play football o. You’ll say, look at Messi.
Music-wise, you’ll say look at Wizkid, Olamide, Davido. So, I realized that the only way to convince them would be to keep myself going and be successful. Now, they are very supportive.
PT: A lot of people will identify you as an actor now but your first introduction professionally into the world of entertainment was music. I mean you were part of the group – X-factor, at some point. Before making the switch to films, describe the experience of making music professionally?
Iwara: So, when I became an official rapper in the industry, I was young and I was doing it for fun, majorly. As time went on, I realized that to succeed, I’ll need more than just having fun. And the record label I was with could not compete with the big dogs; Mavins, Storm Records, DMW. And the kind of music I was making wasn’t necessarily mainstream. It’s not for the street. It’s still not mainstream, but there are more possibilities now, compared to then.
Now, you have Spotify, you have Apple Music. But back then, it was just Radio, Clubs, performances, and Alaba mix. It was kinda weird how we had Terry G, Shayman.
Unknown to a lot of people, I listen to that kind of music as well. I really do like Terry G. No jokes. I listen to him but it’s not just my style of music. I dropped the Waka EP. It was online but there weren’t streaming platforms to put it on. I couldn’t make money from that. And then, when my deal was done in 2016, I started paying attention to my other love, acting, which I’ve been doing sparingly over the years.
PT: I read that you said that you started acting out of boredom and you were falling out of love with music at that time. It’s funny because you appeared to be significantly doing well as a musician. I mean you were on M.I’s Illegal Music II.
You had an EP back in 2011 called The Waka. There was a track on the EP, ‘Ring N Your Finger’ that had Yemi Alade on it. It feels like you were doing well. So, what was it about the music that was boring you?