Popular entertainer Fari Elysian shares how she left Russia to visit Nigeria after falling in love. She also shared how she ventured into skit-making after moving to Nigeria. The professional photographer turned entertainer is famous for her comic roles and acting in Nigerian movies shared parts of her journey with A-Choices Magazine.
A-CHOICES: First of all, thank you for agreeing to grant this interview. Tell us a little about yourself?.
FARI: Fari Elysian, that’s my brand name. But my real name is Farida. A lot of people don’t know that name. Elysian is a Greek word I picked and I like the meaning of the word. So I decided to make it my brand name.I’m an actress. I’m a social media influencer. I’m a content creator, a model, also a philanthropist. That’s what I do in Nigeria.
A-CHOICES: Why did you decide to relocate to Nigeria?
FARI: It wasn’t a decision, it actually just happened. I was in love with a Nigerian man and he was the reason I came to Nigeria in February 2020. I surprised him on Valentine’s Day because we were talking online and needed to see each other. We were missing each other and that’s how I got to Nigeria. The initial plan was just to stay for a month but then, the months turned into one year because of COVID and I just couldn’t go back and that’s when the real life started for me. I had to strive hard to even get like food and everything. I didn’t plan to stay here for longer than a month so I had to survive.
So, I felt doing something online would help bring me out or bring me some money and I saw how skits were popular in Nigeria. So, I did my first video with me speaking Pidgin in Port Harcourt because that’s where I was staying with my ex-boyfriend. It was a lot for me when views on the video got to 5,000 so, I did more. I got a little popular in Port Harcourt and I got my first 20,000 followers there so, it started from River States.
Then five months passed, things were not going well with ex-boyfriend, we broke up and that’s when I had to relocate to Lagos but I didn’t know anybody, just one lady.
She owns a pageant agency. I don’t want to go into details, but I was left at the airport from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. I didn’t know where to go and the person that promised me accommodation wasn’t picking calls and replying my messages, I had to find other ways. That’s how my Lagos story started. Success doesn’t come easy.
A-CHOICES: Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and home to Africa’s biggest economy. There is an exciting mix of culture with more than 200 ethnicities. As a foreigner, what culture shock did you experience in Nigeria?
FARI: I’ll be very honest, when it came to adapting I adapted quickly but the real culture shock for me was the way area boys behave and harassed people. I got harassed few times and that was for me a culture shock. Another was how people drive crazily there’s no policy. Somebody hit my friend’s car and drove away and my friend said let it go. If somebody scratched your property they should be held responsible for that. Those were the major culture shocks I had. But when it came to culture and other stuff I think I adapted quickly because I love cultures and Nigeria has a unique culture and that’s the reason I like traveling around states in Nigeria because I want to know different tribes and their culture.
A-CHOICES: Political and cultural unrest and widespread corruption remain major challenges to Nigeria’s global reputation. As a foreigner who now lives there, what can you say?
FARI: It is a sad picture because anywhere I go people complain about the same things and I hear these complaints every day. I don’t like how the government system is, I don’t like how a lot of things work here just like the example with the car; somebody hits your car and drives away. That’s not how things should be done, there should be some discipline there should be some rules. I feel government has to do better when it comes to those issues. And to safety, Nigeria is a really beautiful and rich country, Nigeria has a lot of beautiful resources, natural spots and personally, whenever I travel I realise that people in other parts of the world don’t know that these places exists in Nigeria. We can’t keep hoping that government will do everything for us that is why I do videos when I travel showing beautiful parts of Nigeria so my people down in Russia can see that Africa and Nigeria is not that bad, particularly Nigeria. Interestingly, I was able to change my family’s stereotypes and mentality and they’re excited to come to Nigeria. That’s a little change I made and I will keep making one person at a time.
A-CHOICES: What are some of your worst experience living in Nigeria?
FARI: The worst experiences was wild. It was wild for me to understand why police could harass people in the way they do in some states. I’ve been harassed by police twice and it wasn’t a good experience, it got physical. The second was in Imo State by a so-called joint forces, it was dangerous and they were in masks I couldn’t say who they were. We spent about six hours I and my friends, we ended up paying some money because we had to leave that place before it gets dark. Then I was nearly robbed two years ago on a bike. Both of us were coming from a set around 7p.m, Uber were not coming in into the beach by that time so we decide to take a bike out of the beach not knowing some people were following us. In the middle of a bush another bike came in front of us while we were on speed causing an accident intentionally. When that happened, I saw seven to eight boys coming out from the bush which meant they were waiting for us and if our bike had fallen, it was going to be a different story. So immediately I saw the guys coming I started shouting “dey go, dey go.” My friend was worried about her slippers but I had more experience and I felt we needed to get to safety. Our bike started speeding and they followed us till we got to the road. It was a crazy experience and I was traumatised, but again it comes to insecurity and safety.
A-CHOICES: Tell us about your recent trip to Kano?.
FARI: I was very excited to be in north for the first time. I didn’t know I would be so amazed by the city and the people, the way they welcomed us and made sure we were okay. I belonged to the biker’s club because I ride a power bike in Nigeria so I reached out to Kano bikers and they gave me the best reception. They gave me a bike I could ride in Kano and I told them I wanted to explore the city for just one day. I made sure we went to many places in Kano, I made sure we made videos documented it and I loved it. I just loved the reception and the culture, it’s beautiful.
A-CHOICES: Tell us some interesting facts you like about Nigeria?.
FARI: I think I like a lot of things about Nigeria, I like Nigeria as a country. As I mentioned, they have beautiful natural places, I love Obudu Cattle Ranch. And then food, Nigeria has different delicacies every state has its own unique food. Then the entertainment industry, the entertainment industry is the only space that is giving Nigeria and Nigerians good name out there. We have great musicians that made it out globally, actors, comedians and many of them keeping Nigeria really high. I’m doing the same thing Nigeria is my second home. Nigeria is the space where I discovered myself and my talents and the value I give to Nigeria is high and nobody can change that. Nigeria is a very tough space to be in, they say if you can survive in Nigeria, you can survive anywhere in the world and that’s a true saying because this place is not for everybody. While people are running out of Nigeria, me, I’m staying here, I’m bringing my generation here. One thing I’ve learned about Nigerians and African people generally is, no matter how much they struggled they’re still smiling and I value that a lot.
A-CHOICES: What is your favorite Nigerian food?
FARI: Egusi soup. Before it was just egusi soup and akara. Akara in the morning, egusi soup in the afternoon and it was like that till I went to Enugu. When I was there, I tried okpa and it became my favorite too. So now they’re three, egusi soup, akara, and okpa. Anytime anybody gives me this three, I’ll eat it even when I’m full. It’s really sweet, it’s really tasty and I love it.
A-CHOICES: Who is your favorite Nigerian artist in 2023?
FARI: It’s Burna Boy and Teni the entertainer. These two have been my favorite artist and they still are. They still are.
A-CHOICES: Were you expecting the reactions you got when you put out your first video?
FARI: I wasn’t expecting what I got. I put it out with the hope that at least I will have probably 20 comments. And when I saw more than 20 comments and I saw my first 5,000 views back in 2020 when I just started, 5,000 views was a big deal. It was a big deal. I was wowed that it worked I was excited. It exceeded what I expected and that made me do more. So I did more videos and we’re here today.
A-CHOICES: Who is the most popular skit maker in Nigeria and why?
FARI: I can’t say it’s one person because with skit making, it works like this; you get popular, you’re trending at the moment and another one replaces you immediately. Most of my friends that I’ve worked with had their shining times but what I can say some names keep giving good content and their names are always out there. I feel its people like Mr. Funny, Brain Jotter, Nasty Black and a couple of them, they’re doing well and always trending.
A-CHOICES: How do Nigerian skit makers make their money?
FARI: If I tell you how, tomorrow you’ll start making skits (laughs). Personally, people think I make a lot of money but I know I’ve not reached that level where I’m financially free, I’m struggling but I don’t want to tell you what I’m going through behind the scenes. So the money I’m making is not yet enough to hold me stronger and that’s why I’m still striving hard. Now as for content creators that I know, this is how it works, they have monetised social media platforms and if you see a good amount of views on YouTube and Facebook, its money.
There are a lot of people out there who also do illegal stuff and I wouldn’t know if a person made money legally or illegally. There are also cases where fans admire you and love whatever you put out. A fan might just gift you a house or a car. So sometimes it could be people buying it or surprising them. Also, brands come in, they pay good money but it’s not frequent but monetised platforms is steady income.
A-CHOICES: What can you say about discriminations based on skin colour?1
FARI: You know, racism is something that doesn’t die somehow even if you’re black or white. Though we’re fighting it but it’s there. I never thought I would face racism but I did in South Africa. When I traveled to South Africa it was a big deal, I faced racism of another kind, my own white people hated me because I was working with blacks that’s how bad the racism was in South Africa. But if we talk about Nigeria, Nigeria is a welcoming place, they like white people. But then again, you still see few people that are not happy with you probably because they had a bad experience with the white people or they worked for somebody that maltreated them. I had some few cases of people shouting at me on the streets, “get out from this country go back to your country, what are you doing here? You’re freely walking on our streets but if a black person is walking in your country you shoot at them, you kill them.” I’ll just look at them. Some people keep sending me hate emails that I should go back to my country, I should stop doing what I’m doing that I’m not welcome here and nobody likes me. I think lack of knowledge makes people do some things.
A-CHOICES: How did you get into acting?
FARI: Acting is what changed my life to be honest. I was invited to one movie for three days, and I was paid my first N10,000 which was the first money I made in Nigeria, and it was a big deal for me. So when I acted in that low-key movie, a lot of things changed because when I was on set, I was acting like it wasn’t my first proper acting I didn’t do second takes everything was from first take no mistakes. The director had to ask, “Did you act in Russia before?” I said, I never acted. And he said I was acting like a professional actor. I loved the experience and that was the moment I discovered my talent. I didn’t know about this gift, I didn’t know I could act so I took things serious and continued. When I got to Lagos, I was called for a role and that was my first proper movie, I acted the major role. The recent movie that came out “The Rising Sun” was the hit for me because my face was everywhere. The movie would be on Netflix soon.
A-CHOICES: What has been your favourite role since you started acting?
FARI: My favorite role was Mary Slessor because she was an amazing woman, she was the woman that stopped the killing of twins. So, her story was like a motivation and inspiration and I didn’t limit myself to the script. I had to do research about her because to be her character, I needed to know who she was. It was really stressful but I enjoyed every bit of it.
A-CHOICES: Is there a role you would love to play in the future?
FARI: Woman Wonder. I like extreme things. I want to play the wild character of a strong woman because in real life I am that woman. So that’s the kind of role I would like to play.
A-CHOICES: What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
FARI: All that I do makes an impact at the end of the day. It’s not just about me, it has never been about me alone. As I stated, I’m a philanthropist, I try to give back to the community and my fans. I do a lot of charity making people happy and smile in any little way I can. Let me be real as possible, I got a little Facebook money and my balance was N200,000 plus and I planned to feed 110 people, after spending and giving out, I was satisfied and when I looked at my account balance, I saw N9000 I was proud.
A-CHOICES: Who are your influencers and inspiration?
FARI: Everyone inspires me but talk about legends, its Denzel Washington. I like his lifestyle, I like what he put out here in the world. The other is Jackie Chan and Will Smith. These three people are big for me not because they’re great actors and they’re legends but also because they put it back to the world. For me, fame is not just about you being big and popular but using fame to make an impact. That’s my goal, I want to be super famous so I can use that as a tool to do what I actually want to do for the community.
A-CHOICES: Where do you find the most happiness in your life right now?
FARI: That’s a very tough question. When I make others happy, I get happy too, when I make people smile, I get happy. When I send money to my mother and my sisters and they are okay, I get happy. I think God blessed me with certain friends they are three, I went through a lot this year, and they came through in the right time. They supported and lifted me so, they are also a source of my happiness. I was alone in Nigeria but when these three people came into my life, it made me realise I’m not alone, that somebody really cares. They are part of my inspiration as well. I always believe happiness is not something somebody will give to you, happiness is something you have to find within yourself.
A-CHOICES: Where can people follow and catch up with Fari Elysian?
FARI: My brand name is Fari Elysian on all media platforms, it’s the same name on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Threads and everywhere else. And lastly, I’m working on a project right now, I’ve always wanted to produce my own movie so we started these short films on YouTube called Afro Tales. Every episode is a story of different people that happened and at the end of every video, we pass a message.
Author: Gbenga Teejay Okunlola
Author: Kangmwa Gofwen
Lagos Bureau Chief, Nigeria