by Olutayo Irantiola
With the avalanche of tributes that have been written for the dexterous artist, Jimi Solanke, the Ipara Remo-born artiste is a colossus any institution has not named that a professor. I would like to add that, by many standards, as a professional artist, he is eminently qualified to be one. Having spent many years of his life at the Universities of Ibadan and Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). He has poured himself into the arts as a consummate writer of books, dancer, dramatist, folklorist, cultural researcher, songwriter, visual artist, storyteller, TV presenter, performer poet, much more than many academicians.
As a boy raised in Lagos, around the Olowogbowo area of Lagos Island. He was creating lots of creative works like facemasks, and lanterns at the period of Muslim festivities, and organized puppet shows in his father’s country. As a secondary school student, his craft led to a collaboration with musical artists and the prominent one was Roy Chicago, one song that he wrote that became a hit was “Onile Gogoro”. His father was not proud of his son’s interest, thereafter he sent him to “exile” in Ibadan.
His father sent him to his uncle in Ibadan, MS Sowole, the Western Region Commissioner in London. He attracted companies such as Caxton Press, Ibadan; Nigerite, amongst others. He was living in Iyaganku, Ibadan and they employed him as an Engineer-in-training at Caxton Press. Within a short while, he discovered the happening places in Ibadan, such as Independence Hotel, Oke-Bola where he met Orlando Julius and their relationship bloomed. Thereafter, he was not going to work again and he was sent out of his uncle’s house to start life as a young man.
He later joined the IK Dairo’s Globetrotters Band and later, he joined Chris Ajilo and started singing at Gangan Night Club. Thereafter, his father developed interest in his son’s craft.
About this time, he met The Mbari Club members such as the Professor Wole Soyinka, Chris Okigbo, Yemi Lijadu, and Raphl Okpara and that was how he joined the School of Drama (now known as the Department of Theatre Arts) at the University of Ibadan. He was one of the pioneer set of the school of drama in Nigeria and Africa, as well. As a consummate professional, the team that began the School of Drama moved to Ife to set up the Institute of Cultural Studies where he assisted Ola Rotimi, Peggy Harper, and Akin Euba at the Ori Olokun Acting Company, Ile-Ife. Then, he garnered all the experiences, and he was able to express himself to the fullest.
With his performance in Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, Solanke played the role of the King and he enthralled the state. He was engaged for five years as a Senior Cultural Officer for 5 years and he led the team to the Pre-FESTAC Festival. When acrimony started brewing, he left for Ibadan again. Then, he played at the opening of the National Theatre, Lagos. He left Nigeria for England and the United States of America in 1978. After his stint there, he returned to Nigeria and was engaged again at Ife.
Upon his return, he took to child’s tv series and it aired on LTV8 as Family Scene; NTA invited him and he was the lead anchor for Story Land; he was on Galaxy TV took and AIT where he anchored African Stories. The multifaceted artist had taught children on these TV shows through artworks, and this rejuvenated the creative artist in him as a pupil.
With all his venture around the creative arts and academia, Sir Jimi Solanke, KJW is worth more than a professor. Just like we have the likes of Ebenezer Obey and Tunde Kelani that have been given roles in tertiary institutions and given honorary professorship, it is time to confer this honour on Solanke, the distinguished artiste.
May I be the first to call him a professor then as he celebrates his one-week-long 80th birthday that began on last Saturday. Enjoy your years as an Octogenarian and I hope we will celebrate you again when you turn 90.