Nigeria’s Master Storyteller, Cultural Icon, Jimi Solanke Dies at 81
The multidisciplinary artist and cultural icon, Pa Jimi Solanke also known as Baba Agba has died at 81. He reportedly died at Babcock University Teaching Hospital, Ilisan after he had taken ill at his country home in Ipara Remo, Ogun state.
Solanke’s name is one of the cultural icons to have emerged from the Nigerian shores that made it to the Who’s Who in Contemporary World Theatre. Known for his rich baritone voice, Solanke will be remembered as the narrator in Femi Adebayo’s critically acclaimed movie on NETFLIX titled “Jagun Jagun.”
Born on July 4, 1942, in Lagos, Solanke attended Olowogbowo Methodist School and later proceeded to Odogbolu Grammar School for his secondary school education. His father and uncle wanted him to become an engineer, but he defied their wish, honed his craft till he became a popular face on television and in the newspapers.
Solanke was one of the first set of graduates of The School of Drama by the Institute of African Studies, the first in Africa at the University of Ibadan.
It later became the Department of Theatre Arts. Solanke later joined the Department of Dramatic Arts, at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University OAU) in 1969. He was an Associate fellow of the Institute of Cultural Studies.
Mentored by the likes of Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Akin Euba, Peggy Harper, Dapo Adelugba, and Demas Nwoko, Solanke was one of the thoroughbreds of his generation in performing arts.
Upon graduation, he moved to the United States of America where he created a drama group called The Africa Review, performed at Afro African schools. In 1986, he returned to his home country, Nigeria with three members of the group to work with the Nigerian Television Authority. One of the most memorable productions at NTA then was ‘Storyland.’
With a power to ignite mental pictures, Solanke fuelled the imagination of the youthful viewers with folktales, teaching valuable moral lessons with each episode.
Other shows where he etched his name on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) include The Bar Beach Show, For Better for Worse, Village Headmaster, Family Scene on Lagos Television (LTV), Children’s Half Hour, African Stories on (AIT), Sango – The movie, and many others.
In retrospect, he landed the lead role in most of Ola Balogun’s films and was part of the team that made the film Kongi’s Harvest which was written by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.
He played lead roles in stage plays such as Death and the King’s Horseman, Kurunmi, Chattering and the Song, Kongi’s Harvest, Ovoramwen Nogbaisi, The Divorce, and many more.
In addition, Solanke composed popular folk songs such as ‘Onile Gogoro,’ ‘Eje ka jo,’ ‘Jenrokan,’ ‘Na Today You Come’ and he was the lead voice in Ralph MacDonald’s The Path recorded in New York 1977, and a consultant for Theatre for Development, UNICEF, UNFPA, Women and Children’s Health.
His death has certainly left a vacuum in Nigeria’s creative space.
-Written by Yinka Olatunbosun, culture journalist. First published in THISDAY Newspapers.