Arts Icon, Jimi Solanke dies at 81

by Afolayan Adebiyi

Solanke was one of the foremost African dramatists. Jimi Solanke, as he was popularly known worldwide was a Nigerian film actor, dramatist, folk singer, poet, and playwright,

Early morning, Monday, 5 February 2024, the arts community lost an iconic figure, an African culture ambassador, film actor, dramatist, folk singer, poet, and playwright, Chief Olujimi Adeboye Solanke. The cultural icon was said to have passed on at the age of 81 during a brief illness at the Ogun State University Teaching Hospital, Shagamu, Ogun State.
Jimi Solanke - Feferity

One of the foremost African dramatists – Olujimi Adeboye Solanke

Solanke graduated from the University of Ibadan, where he obtained a diploma certificate in drama. After graduation, Solanke moved to the United States, where he created a drama group called The Africa Review, focusing on African culture. Members of this group usually put on African clothing, specifically Yoruba costume. They performed in black African schools. Solanke established himself in Los Angeles, California, where his storytelling career began. He was described as a “master storyteller” by Cable News Network (CNN).

In 1986, he returned to Nigeria with three members of the African Review group to work with the Nigerian Television Authority. His reputation earned him the lead role in most of Ola Balogun’s films. He was part of the team that made the film Kongi’s Harvest by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

Already a deluge of condolences have started pouring him on while celebrating the life and times of the arts icon. Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State in a statement described the death of the renowned African culture ambassador, Olujimi Solanke, as a colossal loss to the theatre community and the state.

Solanke was born on July 4, 1942 in Ipara-Remo, Remo North Local Government Area of Ogun State.

The governor condoled with the family of the veteran poet, dramatist, and people of Ipara-Remo. Abiodun said the late Solanke had consistently put the name of the state in the limelight for very good reasons, especially in the arts right from his days at the University of Ibadan School of Drama.

The governor urged relatives and other loved ones of the late poet to celebrate his life and ensure that the many legacies he left behind were preserved even for generations yet unborn.

He said: “Renowned for his tireless dedication to the arts, Baba Agba as he was widely known by his numerous fans across the country, was a great ambassador of our dear state.

“He promoted the culture and tradition of the Yoruba race on the global stage with his drama, music, poetry, and other works of art.

“He was at different times described by the Oxford Times and the New York Times as a ‘Skilled Nigerian Actor’ and an ‘Excellent Troupe’ respectively, owing to his performance of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest, during a tour of Europe.”

Abiodun recalled Solanke’s sonorous voice, impressive gesticulations, near-perfect mimicry, and electrifying dances, adding that the late poet would be greatly missed by all and sundry.

Mostly remembered for his television program: “Story Land,” on the Nigerian Television Authority, Solanke died on Monday at the age of 81 during a brief illness.

One of his contemporaries, Mrs. Ajayi Lycett, bemoaned the death. She lamented that ‘now, I am truly bereft! Jimi Solanke, my acknowledged, one and only stage husband has transitioned. He’s gone through that ever-revolving door of death, our ultimate friend and foe – to join some of Nigeria’s greatest.

She continued, ‘What a heartbreaking loss. He had stage magic. I had hoped that perhaps, we might yet have an opportunity to create some more electrifying senior stage magic moments together. Oh what a pity, it is not to be... That chemistry between us was divine. So, Baba Agba, perhaps we'll meet again in the next realm then, hunn? Your unforgettable inimitable mellifluous voice is etched in our memory forever, to be sure. Sun're o, Baba Ibeju!!!’
Jimi Solanke - Feferity

Jimi Solanke in his elements during his days as a folklore musician.

He was said to have held a meeting with some Remo Stakeholders the night before he died.

He has contributed to the global entertainment industry for seven decades now, leaving an indelible mark on several platforms from the Western Nigeria Television in the 1960s to the International Festival in Senegal and Algeria during the 1970s.

Solanke’s captivating theatrical brilliance and stagecraft earned him recognition and accolades, both locally and internationally.

His versatility was portrayed through his epic performances such as “Kurunmi”, “Death and the King’s Horseman”, “The Divorce”, “Ovaranmen Nogbaisi”, and “Kongi’s Harvest”.

The New York Times recognised him as the star of an “Excellent Troupe” during a performance of Wole Soyinka’s “Kongi’s Harvest”.

The man fondly called Baba Agba, Solanke was more than just an actor. He started his artistic journey as a pioneer member of the Orisun Theatre Group, founded by the renowned Wole Soyinka in 1961.

He was a performer, visual artiste, consummate quintessential songwriter, and storyteller extraordinaire.

He was the Founder and Artistic Director of “Ibudo Asa” in Ipara Remo, Remo North Local Government, Ogun State, Nigeria.

The cultural ambassador has left an indelible imprint on the history of African arts as his contributions to the enrichment of the Nation’s cultural heritage will forever be remembered.

Olujimi Adeboye Solanke left behind a legacy that transcends borders, resonating in the hearts of those who had the privilege to witness his artistry.

The arts thespian was survived by his wife, Mrs Toyin Solanke, children, and grand children.

Alagba Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

© 2024  Feferity Media Group

Images, courtesy; Google

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