Here Comes Nollywood’s ‘New Man’, Chidozie ‘Sambasa’ Nzeribe
You cannot miss the acting chops of Chidozie Sixtus Nzeribe if you have seen Eric Aghimien’s award winning movie ‘A Mile From Home’. The tall and well-built actor and product of the Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) who is popular as ‘Sambasa’, pulled off a great performance in that movie that chronicled the life of a university student who joined a gang in his quest to avenge an injustice meted out to him by a notorious gangster.
Sambasa played the role of Suku, the leader of the avenging gang and the Anambra native showed from his performance that he worked harder than other actors in the low budget but yet smartly helmed movie. Easy going and very humble, Sambasa speaks about his career as an actor, and life.
We first saw you in the movie ‘A Mile From Home’. Was it your first outing as an actor?
It was not my first as an actor but it was my first major movie production. I studied Creative Arts at the University of Lagos and so I took part in a number of stage productions both as an undergraduate and a graduate. But ‘A Mile From Home’ was my very first movie production.
You played the role of a gangster but in real life you don’t look it. First, how did you get on the set of that award-winning movie and what was the experience like?
True, when people meet me in real life, they find it difficult to believe that I played the role of Suku, the cultist and gang leader. But in real life, I am just myself. I am Sambasa. I am not anything near a cultist or gangster. I have never held a gun in real life. But that is what acting is about. It is make believe.
As to how I got on set, the director and producer Eric Aghimien came to our department while I was in my third year to audition people for the movie. That was how I got on the set of the movie. And the experience was mind blowing. It was a tough road. I almost didn’t graduate well because I had to be going back and forth location for months. It was that tough. But we did it because we believed in the project. Eventually it turned out great. I really bless God for the experience.
But you fitted snugly into the role?
Well, maybe because of my training and the fact that I was guided by the director and I did my own research too. I read the script, understood what the role demanded and with the encouragement of the director and the fact that he believed from the very beginning that I could pull the role through, I had no choice than to go the extra mile to find the centre of the role.
Did you study Creative Arts by choice or you were forced to study it?
No, it was my choice. I grew up with a healthy appetite for watching television. I grew up with my siblings and my parents who are now both late. Dad died before mum. My mother was actually a drama teacher and choir leader in church. She took me to church during rehearsals. So I think the interest grew from there and that prepared me.
So you didn’t have other career interests?
Oh well, at first I wanted to be a businessman. I also wanted to be a footballer and I almost got into the Navy. But it was the arts that appealed to me. I was almost not going to make it to the university because I lost both parents and things became difficult for me until help came through St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Isolo, Lagos. They have a scheme for orphans in the church. So the Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) offered to train my brothers and I.
They gave us scholarship up to university level. I recall that before my mum died, she was about sharing us to relations to go and learn some trade. Her dream was for all of us to go to a higher institution. So I am grateful to St. Mary Catholic Church, Isolo and CWO for the scholarship. I am also grateful to my extended family for their support. My greatest asset in life so far has been my family, the church and my friends. They supported me and believed in me.
So after ‘A Mile From Home’, did you get to feature in other productions?
After ‘A Mile From Home’, I got a call to be a part of another award winning movie, ‘Ojuju’ featuring Gabriel Afolayan and directed by CJ Fiery Obasi. I played the role of Fela in ‘Ojuju’. After that, I took part in a television series and I have had other invitations and works I have done that have not been released yet.
And how has the journey been for you in the movie industry so far?
Well, so far, so good but it can be better. But I am grateful to God for how far He has brought me and how far He is going to take me. God is my number one inspiration. There is a lot I want to do and I am sure God will lead me on to achieve them. I have just started and I know that it is tough. It is a crowded industry with so many people wanting to push out. There are people who have been there for years trying to have a break. But I am not scared. I am only aware and I just really need to push and push harder. Sometimes you attend auditions and you don’t get a call back and so on. So one has to try more and I will just keep trying.
How did you come by the alias Sambasa?
I will tell you a little story. After secondary school, I had the hunger to be successful. My mother was struggling to raise five of us: four boys and one girl and so things were really hard. My mother traded in 20 different items—from selling fufu, akara and yam and to selling groundnuts. In fact, anything that was in season. There was a time I hawked fufu around just so I reduce the stress she had to pass through to raise us. So I worked as a dry cleaner after I left school and I later opened my own video game shop after working for a fellow.
Play station was booming then. At a point, I was using only Brazil, so boys started calling me Samba. With Samba sticking, I decided to give it meaning. So I now created a meaning out of my own ideology of life. So I called myself SAMBASA and it means: Surviving And Maintaining Balance Against Societal Aggression (SAMBASA). That means no matter how tough it is, I will remain on the positive side and make my own mark, no matter the situation.
What are your likes and dislikes and where are you headed, career wise?
I like productive, creative and industrious people. It is a turn on for me. I like the game of soccer. I am a loyal Arsenal fan. I like being productive. I love being part of something that represents greatness. What I don’t like is disbelief because my life is based on belief—believe in God and believe in what you can do. As for food type, if you want to get my attention, give me fufu and vegetable, egusi or okro soup.
As for my career ambition, I want to be good in everything I do. I don’t want to be put in a box. I want to return to modeling, do more acting and also sing and act in a musical production. I want to be regarded as an all-rounder and an artiste that is different.