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The singer stars in the lead role in Afolayan’s latest Netflix original ‘Swallow’.

With over a decade in the music scene, singer Eniola Akinbo aka Niyola is no stranger to the Nigerian entertainment industry. However, the songstress recently took a bold first step into unfamiliar waters in new Netflix Nigeria original ‘Swallow’.

Niyola’s acting career launched in the Kunle Afolayan directed film where she plays the lead role as Tolani Ajao, a young woman in the 80s who struggles to not get absorbed in the pressures present in her society.

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Interestingly, prior to meeting Afolayan, Niyola says she never tried acting save for one time she featured in one of Tosin Igho’s school projects, an experience she barely even remembers.

In a recent interview with Pulse, the acting newbie talks making her unprecedented acting debut in the film adaptation of Sefi Atta’s ‘Swallow’.

Have you done any acting before ‘Swallow’?

Not really. I feel like everybody when younger, we all did something of that nature but not anything noteworthy. There was this time Tosin Igho asked me to help him with a presentation while he was in film school. I don’t even remember I did something for him, yeah other than that it has been music videos.

Swallow
Swallow

But thanks to people like Ijeoma Grace Agu giving me tips while on set. I remember the first day and I was so nervous that I was doing nonsense. There were certain things I didn’t know about like how you had to literally repeat everything you did and I didn’t know. It took Ijay explaining to me and I think the second day was better and it just progressively got better.

The people, the actors, and the crew on set were very accommodating and very helpful. It was my first time but I really did feel like home. It felt like familiar territory.

Did you somehow feel connected to the character you played in ‘Swallow’ and what helped you embody the character?

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It’s a tricky one because there’s many shades of me and I think that the side of me that I express at every given time depends on really what or who I am dealing with. So I wouldn’t say I’m a withdrawn person, I’m not.

Niyola as Tolani Ajao in 'Swallow' [Instagram/Niyola]
Niyola as Tolani Ajao in ‘Swallow’ [Instagram/Niyola]

But, I think the answer to your question is, I can definitely say that I drew a little bit of inspiration from Tolani even though I think she was a mumu. Often, she would just have these sudden outbursts like maybe when she was dealing with Sanwo and I’m like Ode! Why didn’t you tell him this before and you kept quiet the whole time.

So, while I don’t know I feel like I drew inspiration directly from my life to embody the character, it was more indirectly from things I have seen around, friends, family, people.

What was it like working with Kunle Afolayan?

Acting is very intense and I keep saying this anytime someone asks me but somehow on that set, it was so easy. It was work but it didn’t feel like work. It felt like we were hanging out it and I was learning.

It was a first for me but at the same time it felt so familiar and I felt so comfortable you know like times I didn’t do things right and he [Afolayan] wanted it another way, he would just come to me and you know I think that intelligence is the ability to simplify things.

Working with Kunle Afolayan and the rest of the crew was really amazing and I feel like it starts from the top. If the director or producer knows his onions, it trickles down.

What struck with the ‘Swallow’ story?

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For me, it was a lot of things. There were a lot of things that were taken out from the book because obviously when you’re doing an adaptation, you have to make a few compromises here and there.

Niyola as Tolani Ajao in 'Swallow' [Instagram/Niyola]
Niyola as Tolani Ajao in ‘Swallow’ [Instagram/Niyola]

For me, her relationship with her mother struck me and this is personal for me because I recently lost my mom. Then there is the fact that Nigeria of that time had the struggle of people just wanting to do better and the fact that Rose and Tolani were young girls and the pressure to become was what led them to want to push and peddle drugs.

Bringing it to today’s world, there remains not much difference. We are still dealing with these problems and that really jumped out to me how voiceless young girls were in that time and it’s still very true till today.

‘Swallow’ premiered on Netflix on October 1, 2021. The film adaptation of Sefi Atta’s novel of the same title centers around Tolani and her roommate Rose.

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