A Titan Takes A Bow

A Titan Takes A Bow

Femi  Akintunde-Johnson

When the news rolled across the globe on Wednesday, 7 February, 2024 that one of Nigeria’s more renowned and most respected uncles, Jimi Solanke, has changed address, the Nigerian creative community paused momentarily in contemplation of the greatness and selflessness of a spirit-being thoroughly immersed in the creative process, all the days of his life. It is in this plaintive mode, we dig out of a short ‘reflection’ of Olujimi Solanke published a couple of years ago in the book, ‘Reflections: Anthology of Thoughts on Nigerian Movie Industry’ (Amazon, June 2021).

  “JIMI SOLANKE: In our estimation, a huge percentage of his fans are much younger than him, on account of his over four decade dalliance with passionate entrenchment of the socio-cultural construction of the African child through folkloric storytelling; thus we call him Uncle Jimi. But Olujimi Adeboye Solanke is more than a master storyteller: he’s a dramatist, poet, folk singer, playwright, visual artist, culture educator and writer.

 He was in the first set of students admitted in 1963, into – in his own words –  “the first School of Drama in Africa”… at the University of Ibadan. So it was easy to appreciate his dexterity and maverick career when you consider his sojourn with the first and second generations of Africa’s major scholar-playwright-dramatists: Professors Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi, Femi Osofisan, Zulu Sofola, Akin Euba, and others.

Even long before Ibadan, Solanke was a doughty music composer as a student of a secondary school near Ikenne. He revealed that one of Roy Chicago’s classics, “Oro ma re ara adugbo…” (Onile Gogoro) was actually composed by his precocious teenage self! Few years later, he was jamming with Chris Ajilo (who died on 20 February, 2021 at 91) at a nightclub in Ibadan! Charmed life! 

After school, lured by the migrant lives of committed artistes, he found himself in the company of Soyinka, Ayo Lijadu, Demas Nwoko…at the Mbari ‘club’ around 1961. And Theatre became his life.

In Ibadan, after graduating with a drama certificate in 1966, he was a staple in Soyinka’s plays, including in the epochal Death and the King’s Horseman. He was also a part of Nigeria’s first homegrown filmic adaptation, Kongi’s Harvest by Ossie Davis and Francis Oladele, in 1970.

With fiery-eyed devotion to the stage, Solanke (81 on July 4, 2023) is so enraptured with the performing arts that his trajectory, after leaving UI, has taken him to the University of Ìfé (from 1969) as an associate fellow of the Institute of Cultural Studies led by Ola Rotimi; to leading roles in Rotimi’s plays: Kurunmi, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, The Gods Are Not to Blame, etc. In fact, he was ‘detained’ in Benin City of the 1970s by then military administrator of Mid-Western region, Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia (died 9 March, 2017), after a bewildering performance as Oba Nogbaisi in Rotimi’s tragic historical play, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi. He spent the next three years setting up the drama, dance and music sections of the new Midwest Region Arts Council.

And that was just the beginning of a remarkable career. He surged through to the heights of being the Dance Director at FESTAC 77; to travelling to the US performing in traditional African dresses with his group, The Africa Review; to featuring in plays by Femi Osofisan (Chattering and the Song – published 1977), and other drama dons.

Yet Jimi Solanke would later, after his return from the US in 1986, be famous as a folk singer and inventive creator of several popular children’s series on the burgeoning television stations of the 70s and 80s. He created, designed and/or presented these glorious kids’ stuff: Children’s Scene (on WNTV, the precursor of NTA, Ibadan), Family Scene on Lagos Television (LTV, 80s); Storyland (the epic that ran for about seven years on NTA network), and African Stories on Africa International Television (AIT).

  His musical compositions, which often traverse many of his other dramatic offerings, have been captured in few albums: Eje Ka Jo, In The Beginning, Ase, Storyteller, America Has Got Magic, Orin Orisa, Multiplicity of Praise, Hidden Gold and Once Upon a Time.

   (After) six decades of devotion to dramaturgy, the grandee of popular theatre and grassroot music retired to his hometown, Ipara-Remo (Ogun State); not as a mere recluse bemoaning ancient glitters, but a weaving, thriving and evolving master builder and ‘harnesser’ of budding talents. He (built) his pet project, Centre for Creative and Performing Arts Enhancement on a serene 10-hectare land, with hope and thirst for sustaining a legacy that will outlive him and his peers. Typical of an anchorage for countless thespians.” 

Adieu, master storyteller… continue to serenade the host of heavens in celestial glory.

Mr. President, Is It Your Final Answer?

Though one is not versed in economics, not to mention macroeconomics…we however remember that some people warned years ago when our political leaders were throwing money at poverty, claiming they were trying to help the poor, especially the vulnerable poor, with all sorts of schemes: Sure-P, Trader-Moni, N-Power, Anchor-borrower, etc. Instead of the poor getting out of the grind of poverty, today we look back in biting frustration as the number of Nigerians below the poverty line has exploded uncontrollably. 

 Few years ago, some people familiar with the intricacies and twirls of economic inevitability warned us that the ways and means we were printing money to offset our incredible thirst for foreign exchange and fulfilling wooly campaign promises… would lead to 1,000 of our dear Naira going for only $1. Poor naira. Alarming as that sounded, nowadays we are shocked daily as the naira continues to fall like a luckless orphan, torpedoing to hitherto unbelievable figures – ₦1,800 to the dollar! 

 The pressure on foodstuff and other edibles have snowballed into people grumbling loudly on the streets, and not merely in their bedrooms. Daily, the cost of living goes a step higher than the day before – just when you were thinking, it could not be worse than yesterday! There are regional threats to embargo food migration from one section of Nigeria to another, while the government, in typical knee-jerk reactions, have been running around in circles to find answers to the immediate and present danger of food scarcity. 

Yet, the president is insisting he would not support setting up a price control mechanism to stem the spiralling hikes in food prices. Apparently, he seems worried about the antics of few Nigerians who gleefully play the roles of profiteers, renters, hoarders, and such unscrupulous economic saboteurs. As a free market apostle, the president wants his government to speedily intervene, and flood the country with food and agricultural products, to checkmate the lecherous middlemen. Let’s join hands to pray for their interventions to work out as planned, and with immediate effect. 

 Nonetheless, the president should start thinking of some sort of control in a land where some of us would not ignore any opportunity to make extra money simply because the president has ordered law enforcement agents to seek and confiscate warehouses hoarding food items.

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