On Monday, news made the rounds that Jimi Solanke, a veteran Nigerian dramatist, folk singer, folktale proponent, playwright and poet, had died after a brief illness.
Solanke died on his way to the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital for treatment. He was 81.
Though a native of Ipara-Remo in Ogun State, Solanke was born on July 4, 1942, in the Olowogbowo area of Lagos Island.
He attended Odogbolu Grammar School, Ogun State, for his secondary school education.
As a secondary school student, Solanke started writing songs and later joined musical bands in Ibadan, Oyo State. He later attended the University of Ibadan, where he obtained a diploma in drama.
On completing his course, Solanke became one of the very first students of the School of Drama in Africa.
SON OF A CHIEF, GRANDSON OF A LISA
He also said that his grandfather was in fact a Lisa, the next in hierarchy to the king.
“We had many farmlands and I was born into a very large family. So if that is what you describe as a silver spoon, then you are correct,” Solanke said during the interview.
“Growing up, we were very comfortable but to date, I never see myself as someone born with a silver spoon because I love to work and sweat for what I need as a human being.
“I did not even live my life as if my grandfather was a Lisa and my father was a chief.”
THE AMBITIOUS BOY WHO RAN AWAY FROM HOME
Solanke also once revealed that his parents, upon learning of his ambition to become a thespian, did everything they could to prevent him from realising his dream.
To realise his dream of becoming an arts practitioner, young Solanke ran away from home. He then stayed in Ibadan for a long time to avoid coming into contact with his father, who was still very angry and disappointed over his career choice.
“I started working harder to become a good artiste, and along the way, I began to get recognised,” Solanke said.
“I began to get accolades; journalists began to write about me in newspapers, and I was also featured on television and the radio as well.
“Also, my father began to get compliments from his friends about my accomplishments, and that started to break his ice of anger.
“Each time I made an effort to go back home in Ipara or Lagos, wherever I knew he was, I would buy him gifts and upon receiving them, he would smile.
“When I got married in Ile-Ife, he started visiting me. That was how we became friends again.”
RELOCATION TO THE UNITED STATES IN 1969
In 1969, Solanke moved to the United States of America, where he formed a group called the Africa Review.
With the Africa Review group, Solanke and other members of the group showcased the beauty and diversity of African culture through their numerous stage performances.
During this period, he gained recognition from CNN as a renowned storyteller.
RETURN TO NIGERIA IN 1986
In 1986, Solanke returned to Nigeria, choosing Ile-Ife, Osun State, as his new place of residence.
It was during this period that he met Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate, who encouraged him to take up a lecturing job at the Dramatic Arts department of the Obafemi Awolowo University.
His return to Nigeria also afforded him the opportunity to have a lengthy career in film, television, radio and stage productions.
Solanke went on to feature in several stage productions, including Kongi’s Harvest, Sango, Death and the King’s Horseman, Kurunmi, Chattering and the Song, Shadow Parties, Ovoramwen Nogbaisi and The Divorce.
He also starred in TV shows, including The Bar Beach Show, For Better for Worse, Village Headmaster, Family Scene, Children’s Half Hour, Storyland and African Stories.
The all-round entertainer also wrote and recorded songs like Onile Gogoro, Eje ka jo, Jenrokan, B’areni j’oye, Adara and Owuro l’ojo. Solanke was the narrator of JagunJagun, a recent Nollywood hit.
THE BABA AGBA
Popularly known as Baba Agba because of his storytelling skills, Solanke is survived by many children and grandchildren.
As a result of his passion for preserving the legacy of Nigerian art, Solanke was a recipient of many awards and honours, including the National Merit Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Order of the Niger.
He would be remembered by many generations of Nigerians for his unique style of reciting folktales, his folk songs and his passionate gesticulations in a bid to pass morals down to his predominantly young audience.
Join our WhatsApp Group to receive news and other valuable information alerts on WhatsApp.