Rakie Ayola plays Yemi Wande
Episodes 5 & 6
on the role of Yemi Wande in the third Sea Of Souls storyline became
a quest into the deep roots of her own origins for Cardiff-born
actress Rakie Ayola. It put her in touch with her ancestry and shed
light on a history she knew little about.
Yemi, I am Yoruba," she explains. "But I knew far more
about being Welsh than being Yoruba. It's a religion/tribe,
so it's almost like being a Celt. You can be African without
being Yoruba, you can be British without being Scottish or Welsh."
term Yoruba describes a number of semi-independent peoples loosely
linked by geography, language, history and religion and this ancient
tribe now numbers over 20 million around south-western Nigeria.
father is Nigerian and my mother's from Sierra Leone," Ayola
explains. "My brother was raised over there so he speaks Yoruba
which is akin to speaking Welsh or Gaelic."
The third story
in the Sea Of Souls trilogy sees Ayola's character, twenty-something
student Yemi, plunged into the dark and terrifying world of voodoo
while searching for her missing brother who she fears has become
embroiled in an extreme Yoruba cult.
investigations may have shed light on her origins but playing Yemi
also gave 35-year-old Ayola a glimpse of the dark side.
is an ordinary student who suddenly finds herself at the centre
of a living nightmare. Her father is dying from cancer, her brother
disappears and the horrific spectre of ritual Muti killings casts
a shadow over her safety and her sanity.
it wasn't the spooky side of it that leapt out at me when I was
reading it – it was the incredible sadness of it all for Yemi,"
finds herself completely alone in the world on top of having people
chasing her. The only person she can turn to is a complete stranger,
Gemmill. So when I say it's been a joy to play that's because for
an actor it's a gift, an absolute gift."
there was a price to pay. Ayola reveals that the harrowing storyline
of Yemi's experiences took its toll.
think I knew when I started doing it that I should prepare to be
under a cloud for seven weeks. To play her well I knew I'd be miserable
for longer than when I was just saying the lines.
difficulty was explaining that to people. They were constantly coming
up asking me if I was all right," she laughs. "Which
was lovely of them – but they weren't to know that I was thinking
about a scene coming up and I couldn't join in the fun at the moment.
cracked a joke I couldn't be laughing at that one minute and
running terrified across Westminster Bridge the next – I just
couldn't do that."
she came up with the perfect solution. "I developed a strategy
that, if I was in a situation where I couldn't be by myself, I would
simply put my Walkman on which said, loud and clear, 'Closed for
is acutely aware of the responsibility of playing Yemi and the potential
impact of this piece of disturbing drama.
don't want to offend any Yoruba people," she says. "To
many viewers these names will mean nothing, so we needed to emphasise
that Yoruba is a legitimate thing to be.
the woman next door is Yoruba, don't think for a second that she
is anything to do with Muti magic.
think it was important to cast it and play it in a way that says,
'OK, this originated in Africa but other people have taken it on.'
are people who do terrible things and it's a side of life that we
might not want to acknowledge, but it happens. These are the people
that Yemi needs to fear."
trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama where she
was recently made a Fellow.
was a wonderful ceremony in St David's Hall and I got to wear this
extraordinary gown and mortarboard in purple – my favourite
clothes colour," she says proudly.
blame it all on Barbra Streisand – it was seeing her in Hello
Dolly when I was a kid that made me want to do all this in the first
place. But after doing musicals at school and in amateur dramatics
I haven't done one since."
Ayola has made her mark in EastEnders – playing Dan Sullivan's
barrister – Being April and Maisie Rain, both with Pauline
taking on Yemi in Sea Of Souls is certainly the most challenging
thing I've done on screen," she says. "And it's opened
a whole new chapter in my life."
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