Chinonso Ngozi Arubayi is an ex-beauty queen, a model, singer, Nollywood actress and TV show host. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, the screen diva, who currently hosts ‘Urban Kitchen’, a culinary television show owned and created by Sate Television Limited, talks about her career experience, challenges and other issues
Tell us about your background and how you became an actress…
I studied Mass Communications in Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Okah, Anambra State. And I am also from Okah, but I have been living in Lagos all my entire life. I always knew that I was going to do television production because I have always been passionate about the media – television production – and dancing etc.
I think it is from my parents. My dad mentioned that he had a flair for it. He is very active as well, but he never tried out with television. My mum is also very lively, and I feel like in our time, she probably would be a social media sensation. So, somehow, it sticked in my gene, because I draw, I paint, and I dance. So, growing up, it was almost a struggle choosing which one to do. Listening to the parable of the person with five talents, I think I finally decided to use everything that I have. So, I started presenting while I was in the university. I fell in love with radio growing up, and at some point all I wanted to do was radio. I tried radio and got tired of it, then I tried producing and presenting television shows. At some point I got pregnant, put on some weight, and I felt I should just work behind the camera. So, I started working behind the camera. I was producing ‘On the Card’, ‘Project Swan’ and others. That was how I met Omo, the producer of Urban Kitchen, because he was also working with Spice TV at the time. After some time, I started auditioning again, going for movies project. Later I went back in front of camera and started hosting the in-house television shows. I was also doing red carpet interviews.
Tell us how you became the host of ‘Urban Kitchen’ show…
I am from a television production background. Omo and I had previously worked with Star TV together, and so when he started Urban Kitchen, he told me about it, and I like the idea. The truth is that life brought us together again at the right time, and we’ve been working together in Urban Kitchen project. He knows how much I love food. Although, he was initially skeptical about me hosting the show, since I am not a professional chef. I told him that this is a show that appeals to everyone in the society. If you just go on with a professional chef, there is tendency that a lot of people might not be able to relate with it because they feel that the show is just for chefs or people who are into culinary business. But when you have someone who enjoys the fine art of food, making it and eating it, then it is a perfect match. That is why at some point, he bought into my story.
How long have you been the host of Urban Kitchen show, and how has it been?
The journey has been for two years now. I have done two seasons of the show.
How has it been?
It has been very interesting, eye-opening; I have been able to meet so many people. I have learnt a lot, and I have met people from different cultures. I have tasted meals that I ordinarily wouldn’t taste if I was sitting in my house or even if I travelled. The experience is such that even if you travelled on your own, you probably might pick something that you are familiar with, but when you are on a platform or a TV show like this, that people and they tell you: ‘This is what I am going to prepare’ and you’re going to like it’. I don’t have a choice than to taste it, because part of my job description is to taste the foods. So, whether or not I would have tasted it on a normal day is out of it. I have taste what they prepare. I have had ‘Danlake Reloaded’, which was a very interesting one. ‘Danlake’ is a kind of food from the Northern part of Nigeria. I probably would never have tried it on my own, but because of Urban Kitchen I have been able to try that, and many other meals that I have been able to experience in the show.
You are also an actress. How has your hosting of ‘Urban Kitchen’ affected your career as an artiste?
As an actress, ‘Urban Kitchen’, emphasises your power of negotiation with budgeting skill. So, as an actress it helps me to negotiate getting some good deals, because I have learnt that when you place value on a thing, that is what it is. I have also reflected that on a personal note. And because as artistes, we are always going to different locations due to circumstances, so when I go to different locations, I have been able to manage my own feeding budget whenever I am out of Lagos or in Enugu or any other place in Nigeria.
What has been your biggest challenge as an actress?
I think, every career path is challenging, every career has its challenges, but as an artiste, there are so many challenges you have to deal with. For instance, in Nigeria, we (artistes) are not paid well. I say so because as an actor you want to be as creative as possible; you want to be able to immerse yourself in a character and bring out the best, give your script some time, do everything you can. But the truth is that because you are not being paid well as you should be paid, you see yourself switching or moving from set to set. In fact, in one month you would have collected five scripts, and you about to tear yourself apart as you try to be a village girl here and another character there, and son on… One part of your brain is trying to do learn British accent, the other part of your brain is trying do a very local village girl. So, it’s very challenging; you don’t have time to peel off one character before the other; you are moving from set to set. Also, people don’t keep to time. When it comes to time, a lot of people don’t respect people’s time. Sometimes a producer might disappoint, and before you know it they are calling you as if that is the time. Meanwhile, you’ve already kept that date available for them, and they canceled it. The next thing is that you are under pressure to leave one set to go and make up for the person’s ‘incompetence’. But some how you can’t really blame them because as a producer you just know there are so many people involved in making a production a success; even your makeup artiste can make you look unserious. So, those are the huge challenges – respect for time, and not enough money to allow you focus on one character. To tell you the truth, if I am given a million naira for a role in a movie, I will just balance and focus on that movie and wait till the next month or so till I get another project, and at the end of the year I would have made enough money to buy a house and do the wonderful things that I want to do.
Have you at any time experienced sexual harrasment?
Personally, I haven’t been harassed lately. I think that being harassed is not a Nollywood thing, it is a normal thing in other profession. If you are a woman you will be harassed. Even men are being harassed, it is just that they don’t say it because it would rob off their ego. So, have I been harassed in the industry? Not really, just the normal chasing. And of course, everybody will try their luck, but not to the point of where it is a harassment.
Have you been embarrassed?
I can’t remember.
I have no regrets. I live my life without regrets.
How do you unwind?
Good food. I like kareoolee. I like to take a walk on the beach sometimes. I like enjoy nature.
Who is your favourite musician?
I love Beyonce. To be honest, I think she is my favourite musician…