Africa: When I was ‘normal’, I didn’t have money – Denrele
Anyone who has ever met Denrele will tell you that he is a total goofball who can pretty much talk his way out of anything! He showed up in typical Denrele fashion in bright yellow boots with an oversized jean jacket.
He opened up his trunk to reveal a massive suitcase and said, “We need men to carry these!” After asking him for a description of himself, he started off with “a million contradictions, sometimes perfect, sometimes a mess…” I decided to get comfortable because I knew I was in for a long interview.
Denrele Oluwafemi Edun has been in the entertainment game from time. He has spent the majority of his lifetime performing and from the looks of things it’s obvious that he couldn’t have had it any other way. We have seen Denrele grow from his childhood days as a leading character in Kiddievision, the NTA kids show, to modelling, to becoming one of the most widely-recognised TV personas in Nigeria. The entertainer has won several awards including Best TV Personality (Nigerian Entertainment Awards) and Most Popular TV Presenter in Nigeria (City People Awards) as well as interviewing the likes of Beyonce, Akon, Snoop Dogg and many others. Guardian Life caught up with Denrele who talks about Nigeria’s reaction towards his persona, the lowdown on his failed marriage plans and gives us an exclusive on his new reality TV show.
Denrele has always been open about his humble beginnings. He was born in Hamburg, Germany to a Nigerian dad who was a DJ at the time, and an Indian-Mauritian mother and shortly after, he moved back to Nigeria at the age of five where he became an errand boy for his uncle. According to the entertainer, “I was not born with a silver spoon, but I worked really hard to create one.”
And so he did, Denrele stumbled upon his talent after tagging along his cousin for an audition; he unexpectedly got a leading role in Kiddievision, earning about 3000 Naira monthly and his journey to entertainment had begun. Following his entry into Unilag, although he had planned to study mass communication or law, Denrele became best friends with superblogga Linda Ikeji when they found themselves in the same faculty, studying English education. He recalls their days in Unilag when he says, “Linda and I were very close, she knew when I was broke as she would put money in my notebook because I hated borrowing money. She would sense it and she was always there lending a hand.”
During the course of his career, Denrele worked as a model, with his first modelling gigs for Fanta and Mentos and also a dancer for the likes of Rugged Man and TuShot until he finally landed his calling as a presenter in 2005 for music channel Sound City, the job which he says finally “defined everything” he wanted to do. According to Denrele, “I was the underdog and the least paid when I started working…I worked my ass off and the next thing I knew everybody was asking for Denrele, I had to be on every red carpet and every show. When I got to interview Beyonce in 2006 I was earning 45k and they started paying me 200k, my journey with Sound City began.” However in 2011 Denrele resigned from Sound City. He confirmed that his relationship with Sound City went bad. “We ended on a crazy note that wasn’t benefitting to both parties.” He said he took the channel to the next level, but the channel also gave him a platform.
The man in a pair of heels
Denrele got our attention when he decided to dress elaborately with a feminine twist. He was the first and most controversial male entertainer to wear women’s clothing, as well as makeup, hair extensions and his statement heels. He explains: “I was inspired by clothes that were meant for the runway, I wanted to look different from the guy next door.“ Is he expressing an alter ego or is there more to it than just clothes?. While his sexuality has often been questioned over the years, he has never openly said he is homosexual and his dress sense – however suggestive – is no obstacle to his success he says. “Forget the outlandish hair, I can walk in anywhere and still get what I want.”
As Nigerian culture tends to be conservative and often judgmental (homosexual acts are still punishable by up to 14 years in prison), it comes as no surprise that people openly condemned him because of his feminine nature. He says, “Nobody understood what I was trying to do. Inasmuch as Nigerians are fun loving, we are also conservative, so I got a lot of negative reception.” He also recalls often being confronted upfront by strangers in the absence of social media, but these days people are able to hide and express their comments on Twitter and other platforms.
Denrele talks about this decision being a difficult choice, as he recalls instances he was physically and psychologically bruised for sticking to it. He explains, “When I didn’t have a car, conductors would push me out of the buses and they would shout about a mad man on the loose, when I was in Unilag people used to stone me with pure water…. I remember going home to cry, it wasn’t just the choir, they told me to stop coming to church, it was difficult.” Denrele regained his confidence when he landed his first major interview with Remi Tinubu, the former first lady of Lagos who rewarded him with 50,000 Naira after she told him, “You are so good at what you do! Do not change.” At that point he adds, “ I thought if she can tell me this, then to hell with anybody!” Just last year, Denrele shocked us all when he unveiled his plans to get married to a girl named “Yvonne” but according to Denrele her family were not in support of the union.
He explains, “They said there would be a lot of terms and conditions, that I would have to behave a certain kind of way. I thought about it but when I was “normal”, I didn’t have money, if I am broke how will I pay bride price…the girl and I are still friends…” He expands further on his future plans to eventually have children and a family of his own, but not anytime soon.
The exciting year ahead
Denrele has had no shortage of airtime this year as he continues make headlines. Earlier this year, he was approached by CNN and was featured on their African Voices segment, which they aired for about two weeks. He also talks about renewing his show The Boot on Ebony Life, where he drives around Lagos in keke marwa with Frank Donga, looking for celebrities and asking absurd questions. After being a contestant in the last season of the MTV show, Lip Sync Battle, Denrele was chosen to replace Dbanj as a commentator on the show as they filmed their second season. He is also proud to announce a new reality TV show in the works. He says, “While I was in South Africa, Fox TV approached me and I have a show centred on me. It will be scripted reality, it is unorthodox but at the same time it has that Denrele element.”