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Jimi Solanke – A Rare Enigma By ‘Tola Badejo

Jimi Solanke – A Rare Enigma By ‘Tola Badejo

Jimi, the Musician

One of the teachers in United Missionary Primary School in Esa Oke, where I was a pupil in the early sixties, was a very beautiful damsel who was admired by all. She was fond of wearing the then in vogue tower headgear known in Yorubaland as onílégogoro. This lady was the cynosure of all eyes most especially when she tied the tower headgear at ceremonies. When my mother was transferred to Ilesa the following year, this lady was also transferred along with her to the same school. Thus, Onílégogoro followed us to Ilesa. For me the admiration of this beautiful auntie continued.

It was around this period that Roy Chicago and his Abalabi Dandies released a 45 rpm record titled Onílégogoro. My father bought a copy which he added to his collection of highlife records that we listened and danced to at home at our leisure, usually on Saturdays. My assumption then was that the song was composed by the musician who sang it. It took me decades to know who the composer of that song was. It was at a party in the early 90s where Jimi Solanke performed as a Guest Artist. After the musical rendition of Onílégogoro, Jimi Solanke announced with that unique and deep baritone voice that he composed the song in 1963!

I challenged him when he came back to his seat beside me. He did not argue with me. He simply said, if I could lay my hands on the record, the name of the composer is written on the label. This I did on my next trip to Ijebu Igbo. I ransacked my father’s archives and alas that record was among those old breakable record plates. Jimi Solanke was the composer.

The Jimi I knew before then was the talented story teller, actor and occasional musician whose first album was yet to be waxed. I later discovered that I was deeply ignorant of Jimi’s past musical exploits. His first Album, Ejekajo, was recorded in 1966. By 1986, he had waxed five more albums.

Perhaps the most famous music of Jimi Solanke is ‘Bàbá Àgbà, one of the tracks in the first Album of ‘Mac Arthur for Life’ series released in 1997. Jimi’s nickname remains the title of that famous track, BàbáÀgbà.

Of course, Jimi Solanke is truly a Bàbá Àgbà. He was 55 years old in 1997 when he recorded this music. To those of us who were and still remain his social friends, Jimi had the energy of a 40-year-old when he was already 55. Now that he is 75, the energy is still adjudged to be that of a 40-year-old. Our assumptions were and are based on the extent to which Jimi dissipates energy on stage.

Jimi started his music career as a chorister in Holy Trinity Church, Ebute Ero in Lagos in 1950 when he was probably still in the primary school. He was the Band Leader in Odogbolu Grammar School in 1958. His various exploits in the realm of music include musical stunts with various bands such as Roy Chicago’s Abalabi Dandies, Orlando Julius’s Globe Trotters and Chris Ajilo’s Cubanoes,

Jimi, the actor and playwright

Jimi has been on stage since 1965 where he played a lead role as ‘Oba’ in Wale Ogunyemi’s ‘The Vow’. Jimi was just 23 years old in 1965. One can imagine the energy he would have displayed on stage then, judging from the energy he continues to display even now when he is already a septuagenarian.

Jimi has also played leading roles in almost 20 other plays among which are Wole Soyinka’s “Before the Blackout” in 1966, Wale Ogunyemi’s “The Divorce” in 1966, Zulu Sofola’s “King Emene” in 1968, Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest” in the late sixties, Femi Osofisan’s “Chattering and the Song” in 1968, Ola Rotimi’sOvoranwen Nogbaisi” in 1974, Wole Soyinka’s “Madmen and Specialist”; “Death and the King’s Horsemsn”; Requiem for a futurologist: all in 1972, and Kole Omotoso’sLáńké Òmùtí” in 1973.There are 16 other Plays/Films in which Jimi appeared but did not play a leading role.  The scripts of these plays were written and/or directed by prominent playwrights and Film Directors of our time such as Wole Soyinka, Ola Balogun, Moyo Ogundipe, Tunde-Hundeyin and Bukky Wright.

From the foregoing, it is glaring that Jimi has not only dined and wined with the cream of the society in the Dramatic Arts, he is also one of them. Between 2000 and 2002, Jimi’s outfit, ‘Jimi Solanke Advocacy Productions’ produced three films which were directed and produced by Jimi himself.

Soap operas in TV series are also not left out of Jimi’s exploits in the world of Dramatic Arts. This started with his creation, “Children’s Show” with the WNTV in Ibadan in 1962. Jimi’s other creations in this station are Orisun Theater in 1964 and “Armchair Theater” in 1965. Several other creative works of Jimi featured prominently in many stations such as: NTV, Ibadan; OSTV, Akure; LTV 8, Lagos; NTA, Ibadan; OGTV, Abeokuta; NTA Network, BCOS, Ibadan; Galaxy TV, Ibadan and AIT, Lagos.

Perhaps one outstanding creative work of Jimi is the play he wrote for OAU Ife OUTREACH PROJECT in 2002. This play titled: “ETITI: All eyes on you” was published by Eternal Communications Ltd in Lagos and it was premiered during the IFE FESTIVAL OF CULTURE AND ARTS sponsored by Ford Foundation. Jimi Solanke moulded folklore, contemporary songs, choruses and dances with proverbs in ETITI with the dexterity of a seasoned playwright that he is. In ETITI, the notion that the egg eventually becoming a cockerel is used to stress the importance of our youths as the leaders of tomorrow while elders who deliberately hide the knowledge of some important aspects of our culture from the youths are heavily criticized. This is a significant contribution to knowledge in moulding our youths as the leaders of tomorrow. If Jimi had written hundreds of such books as ETITI, each with a different approach to the same theme, he would have been celebrated as a prolific writer. I make bold to say that if Wole Soyinka stands taller than Jimi Solanke in the literary world today, it is because Wole wrote more books and acted less playswhile Jimi acted more plays and wrote less books.

Jimi’s most recent creative work was published in 2012. The artistic collage collection titled Ancient &Modern Tales was described by Wole Soyinka in the Foreword to this book as being capable of achieving “occupational transformation of children’s minds to the culture of reading.” Wole Soyinka described the book further as: “… a product of creative empathy – instructive without attempting to be didactic. It does not ‘talk down’ at the children but inducts them, imaginatively, into a world that some simply take for granted, or of which others remain in lamentable ignorance.”

What did Jimi do in this book to warrant such laudable remarks from a Nobel Laureate? He used newspaper cuttings to create characters in ancient history (e.g. Ògún; Òpá Òràmíyàn), modern history (e.g. omo alákàrà; Almajiris), mythology (Egbére, Àrònì elésèta) and folklore (Ìjàpá tìrókó oko Yáníbo) and provided a brief write-up on each of them. To say that Jimi is innovative in respect of this collage collection is an understatement! According to Jimi in his acknowledgement, he says a colleague has called it ‘surrealism’. I agree because this feat can only be described with a hitherto unknown word.

Jimi, the person

I do not belong to Jimi Solanke’s age group, so I have nothing to say about his inborn character traits as a youth. I met Jimi Solanke physically for the first time sometime in the early eighties when he had just relocated to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). The meeting was at the Postgraduate Hall Buttery in the company of a mutual friend, Ayò Igińlá. I had known Jimi, the energetic and talented actor and musician, right from the 1960s, watching the plays he acted and viewing his TV programmes. For the first time in my life, I met a Yoruba man whose age-group was a decade ahead ofmine, and who interacted with me as if we were equals. He made me feel at our first meeting as if we had been friends for a long time. This is a character trait that many Yoruba men, including me, do not have.

I have seen Jimi go into heated discussions with people over issues, but never over personalities. Most times, he keeps quiet when discussions degenerate from issues to people. What this means is that he respects people’s personalities and tolerates their idiosyncrasies. This trait he combines with being a no-nonsense man when people tend to take advantage of his generousity,most especially in social circles. This is a rare combination of traits that is uncommon. Those eyeballs which do not glow unless he is calling an opportunistic barman to order remind me of the aposematic trait of some insects whose colour and patterns act as a warning to predators that they are unpalatable, toxic and dangerous. When I eventually met Jimi’s siblings at his 70th birthday in July 2012, I discovered that the eyeballs are hereditary.


I have seen and dined with great poets, great actors, great playwrights, award winning musicians, exceptionally energetic men, innovative and creative people, talented artists etc. None of them has combined all these traits as Jimi has done. The word enigma has many definitions. The one on my mind is ‘something hard to understand or explain’. I find it difficult to comprehend how all these qualities can be encapsulated in one single ageless human being. Jimi Solanke is indeed a rare enigma.

Prof. ‘Tola Badejo

Department of Zoology

Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

May 5. 2017.

Little did I know that a failed proposed celebration of Jimi Solanke together with a few colleagues almost a decade ago, would metamorphose from a prehumustribute to a eulogy.

As the saying goes, “Man proposes, God disposes.” Who are we to question God?

Bàbá mi Àgbàlagbà!

I do not know any mortal being

In your hydra-headed chosen profession

Whose admirers surpass yours

In magnitude and status

Our forefathers used to say


Má  j’ekòló

Ohun tí nwón nje l’ájùlé ðrun

Ni ko a won je

I trust that you will not eat millipedes

Neither will you eat earthworms in heaven

The zoologist in me knows that

Millipedes and earthworms

Will never cross paths

With a magnificent body

That is neatly caged

Six feet below the ground.

Adieu Bros Jìmí!

Till we meet to part no more.

February 06, 2024.

Gatekeepers News is not liable for opinions expressed in this article, they’re strictly the writer’s

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