By MOMODOU JARJU
In retrospect, her journey kicked off more than a decade ago. It was in primary school when her headmistress forced her to act on a minor role which eventually would hoist her heart to fall in love with acting.
“I got into acting unwilling-fully,” she says, aged twelve then in 2001. At the time, she was among kids hosting the “Kids Hour” at Brikama FM; a show they talked issues affecting the wellbeing of children.
Christened Mariama Colley from Brikama, West Coast Region about 35.8 kilometers from the capital Banjul, she is now an actress, activist, radio personality and the new country director of Global Peace Chain in The Gambia.
Mariama recollected that she used to be a shy and reserved person. But today, she is seen as a motivator in her society. But before then, the sad news of her life preceded.
Her dad got killed which took a great toll on her only for her to resort to acting to pacify her bereaved heart.
“I got stocked up with the acting,” she says “and then it became a rehab for me together with all that I was going through.”
Her dad, a driver, she said got into “conflict” with a fellow driver which resulted in his death.
This was a traumatizing moment for Mariama unless she had a role to play in a drama when her concentration diverted her bereft situation.
“So acting has always been a therapy for me,” Mariama said.
The Gambia does not have school of performing arts.
To Mariama, this is unfortunate.
But she said they would endeavor with the only platforms they have to produce quality-great-movies to tell their stories the right way to be celebrated globally and hopefully win several awards.
She said acting is not treasured in the country despite their steadfastness to change the narrative for people to understand art and its value.
She remarked: “Actors play a very important role in communities; we are like the mouthpieces of other people on stage. We put up plays on social issues, on political issues. We basically just create awareness in every story that we stage or filmed.”
To survive in the profession is difficult. It is not structured and lacks financial support.
Mariama hopes the National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture would show a helping hand especially with the enforcement of the copyright law.
If films are produced and released in the market unprotected, anyone can pirate them and get away with it, she added.
The Copyright Law 2004 is yet to be enforced by the authorities despite the fact that musicians and artists continue to clamour for its enforcement.
However, in 2018, Tourism and Culture Minister, Hamat Bah, endorsed it and thereby paving way for it to be published in gazette in 2019.
The regulatory authority, NCAC, is calling on all artistes and or intellectual creators to register their works with the authority to be protected.
Mariama, an emerging phenomenal actress in the movie industry acting leading roles in couple of movies, said they are getting lot of international gigs that is marketing them globally and she is optimistic of Gambia’s recognition in the international level soonest.
Most of the actors in the country have side jobs because they cannot depend on acting for survival. Actors hardly get returns from movies they acted locally. Most of them do it free for the passion.
“Unless and until you are very lucky to be involved in international standard productions which we have couple of them coming in The Gambia. Like we did a movie with some Swedish producers and then it was the highest paid film project in The Gambia that I could ever be involved in,” Mariama said.
The 2013 African Oscars Award nominee, said they were paid D30, 000 upwards per actor, depending on the amount of scenes they appeared for the Swedish film, titled ‘While I Live.’
However, the Ebunjan Theatre of Janet Badjan Young (a prolific Gambian playwright), creates a good platform for members to get paid for every performance.
“So that is also another medium of income and sustainability for actors in The Gambia and we hope and pray that there would be more theatre like that,” Mariama said.
Recently awarded the “National Certificate of Merit as Youth of the Month” by The Gambian Ministry of Youths and Sports in collaboration with the Balance Group for her contribution to national development, Mariama said her best bit in acting was when she joined the Ebunjan theatre because it is challenging, involving technical, smartness and intelligence, which she loves.
“For me is not about the award, is about putting in more efforts and more works and collaborative support that young people should be doing,” she said.
Mariama also produces. She is the proprietress of studio 411, a small production entity that produces short films to create awareness through films and theatre.
She was the production manager of ‘Gifts from Babylon’ a movie which made it to Hollywood.
It is her biggest career achievement so far, and it availed one of the actors to attend the screening of the movie in Netherland.
Aside from acting, Mariama is an active volunteer which she said has always been her main interest to help her communities.
But that’s not only the case. Generally, she is just a workaholic or a double-tasked person who can’t do one thing and be satisfied.
She described this as a risk-growth, because she desires to grow and be successful in all her career paths.
For this to happen, she said: “You need to be very hard-working. You need to have a thick skin. You need to be committed. You need to be willing and you need to learn to grow.”
I would rather be engaged in so many things to help me with my creativity and productivity as well, she added.
However, the average salary in the country, which is about three thousand dalasi (D3000.00), is also a contributing factor of her being a double-tasked person; a fact she confesses to.
“If you have one full time job your entire life depends on that. You are not allowed to grow. You are not allowed to explore and I am one adventurous person who loves to try so many things and I would also like to spread my wings across.”
For Mariama, the next big thing for her is to ensure every Gambian actor networks with international actors and producers, to help them build their career paths.