Sir Jimi Solanke
Veteran Songwriter, Actor, Performer, Visual artist, Poet and Storyteller
…Celebrating Uncle Jimi Solanke at 80!
Sir Jimi Solanke, or Uncle Jimi Solanke, as he is fondly called by his fans, clocked 80 on the 4th of July 2022.
He is, unarguably, a veteran songwriter, actor, performer, visual artist, poet and storyteller.
DAWN Commission joins friends, family and all other well-wishers in celebrating one of the pillars of arts and a thespian of no mean repute, Sir Jimi Solanke, KCW as he clocked 80 on July 4, 2022.
Born July 4, 1942, Olujimi Solanke, a native of Ipara Remo, the Baba Agba, African culture ambassador extraordinaire, trained at the School of Drama, University of Ibadan. He began his professional acting career in 1961 as one of the pioneer members of the Orisun Theatre Group, founded by Wole Soyinka. His father, Alfred Tayo, was a chief in Remoland like his grandfather. Both were Lisa, the next person to the Paramount ruler, the reason Jimi’s middle name is Adeboye.
Sir Solanke’s foray into musical entertainment blossomed while he was a student at Odogbolu Grammar School, Remo in Ogun State. Together with his friends, he formed a band, Koroba. They turned their steel buckets into musical instruments to perform sundry folk songs. He wrote songs like onilegogoro, Ore Titan, Na Today You Come, Khaki No Be Leather while in secondary school for the then Highlife music Legend Roy Akintola Chicago. He often sneaked to Abalabi Nite Club at Olorunsogo in Lagos to sing with Roy Chicago’s Band. He also featured in the band of other great Highlife veterans like Eddy Okonta and Chris Ajilo.
His involvement with theatre is prodigious and he has acted in innumerable plays. It is also interesting to know that he is currently involved in theatre for development, which he believes can compel and motivate people into positive action. His words:
“Theatre is part of development all over the world. It is not just for entertainment. Theatre can make people who indulge in mutilating their female children’s genitals to stop. It can compel people who refuse to build toilets to start building them. Today, those who did not know the essence of boiling their drinking water have learnt to do so. Theatre is instructive.”
His seven decades as a veteran of varied exposures, experiences and impacts in the global entertainment industry resonate in many broadcast stations, countries and festivals. His epic performances at the Western Nigeria Television, WNTV, Ibadan in the 1960s; to his stunning presentations and amazing stagecraft in Senegal at the World Festival of Negro Arts and Algeria for the Pan – African Cultural Festival in the 1970s attest his hot passion and theatrical brilliance. He has featured in great epics like Death and the King’s Horseman, Kurunmi, Kongi’s Harvest, The Divorce and Ovaramwen Nogbaisi, a performance that turned him into an immediate resident of Benin City for five years on royal.
Described in 1970, while on a tour of Europe by the Oxford Times, as a “Skilled Nigerian Actor” and by the New York Times as the star of an “Excellent Troupe” in the Performance of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest. Baba Agba, as he is fondly called is recognised as “a better singer than an actor”. He however sees himself entrenched in both and calls himself an “actor-singer” because” when I sing, I act and when I act, I am musical in delivery says Baba Agba.
For a fact, he is a consummate quintessential songwriter, actor, performer, visual artist, poet and storyteller extraordinaire. With his booming endowment (gift of voice), Baba Agba rings out folktales in an enchanting sonorous voice backed with gesticulations and mimicry to pass messages. He sings in different golden tones passionately. His voice is discerned with enthused acknowledgement. When he dances, his whole body is taken into creative expressions. He selects the songs he sings, chooses roles he played and does not believe in counting them.
He characteristically holds audiences captive in Africa, Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East. He set the Cranston Hall, Us on fire in 1977 performance and has toured Nigeria with many global musicians, including Chubby Checker of Twist fame and Millicent Small of Rock Steady. He was with Ralph MacDonald, the lead voice in the chartbuster, Ona La, The Path, the song used a year later to open the famed Apollo Theatre, in New York. “I take my profession, music, theatre, dance, seriously, I interpret roles painstakingly”, he enthused the secret behind his ardour.
He is a resourceful pioneer of highlife music; he has performed with almost all the veterans and pioneers of highlife including Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya, Orlando Julius, Eddy Okonta, Zeb Philips, a former member of Eddy Okonta’s outfit who later led the Blue Nine at the Central Hotel, Ibadan.
His fans are quite familiar with the project album he recorded a couple of years ago on women and children, highlighting over-population and the avoidance of HIV/AIDS. But he has been recording on his own since the sixties. His Ejekajo, a response of Chubby Chekker’s ‘Twist’ rhythmic concept is a remarkable effort. And, as if Jimi is better appreciated abroad than at home here in Nigeria, his Owo Orisa, the fusion of highlife and indigenous African music with rock without losing the basic elements of the music, continues to situate this album as one of the greatest ever released in America by an African.
But perhaps his greatest asset is the ability to structure simple melodies with meaningful and suitable lyrics to suit children. He has demonstrated this feat on radio and television all over the country, singing and at the same time providing the accompaniment on guitar. An element that makes this feat even more astounding and startling is the fact that even though he is Yoruba, he has been able to reach out and endear himself to his target audience in the three main languages of Nigeria, plus Edo.
Sir Jimi Solanke is a highly disciplined, focused and principled entertainer. He is blessed with lovely children and a beautiful wife whom he fondly calls TOY coined from her name Toyin. He is a man of impeccable character and an outstanding gentleman.
DAWN Commission celebrates you Sir! We wish you more years of creativity and hospitality to the world.
Happy Birthday once again to Baba Agba!