ACTOR, musician, storyteller, Jimi Solanke has distinguished himself as an actor as well as musician – with the equal commitment that has resulted in high professional accomplishment in the two art forms.
As a young artist, he worked in the famous 1960 Mask with older actors such as Wole Soyinka, Segun Olusola, Ralph Opara among others. He also participated in the Orisun Theatre with such giants in the industry as Wole Soyinka, Dapo Adelugba and later teamed up with the likes of Akin Euba, Peggy Harper and others at the Ori Olokun Theatre under the Institute of African Studies at the then University of Ife.
His involvement with theatre is prodigious and he has acted in inumerable plays. It is also interesting to know that he is currently involved in theatre for development, which he believes can compel and motivate people into positive action. His words:
“Theatre is part of development all over the world. It is not just for entertainment. Theatre can make people who indulge in mutilating their female children’s genitals to stop. It can compel people who refuse to build toilets to start building them. Today, those who did not know the essence of boiling their drinking water have learnt to do so. Theatre is instructive.”
Jimi’s interest in music started from elementary school where he was band leader and major soloist for the church choir. His musicianship reached professional level even as a student with compositions that have become a vibrant part of Nigeria’s highlife heritage. As a composer, he wrote the legendary Onilegogoro for Roy Chicago and his Rhythm Dandies including a medium tempo work entitled Ore titan. Khaki no be leather has also been credited to him.
Few days ago, I was listening to a live recording of Eddy Okonta’s band at Paradise Hotel from the library of Femi Eso, a business man and highlife afficionado who also leads the Evergreen Band. Jimi Solanke was singing with great feeling and professional accomplishment on his own composition, Jen ro kan where his voice was not just perfectly blended with the big band sound of Eddy Okonta’s early sixties aggregation, the message enjoyed plenty of articulation.
JIMI deserves the honour that he today receives as a resourceful pioneer of highlife music; he has performed with almost all the veterans and pioneers of highlife including Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya, Orlando Julius, Eddy Okonta, Zeb Philips, a former member of Eddy Okonta’s outfit who later led the Blue Nine at the Central Hotel, Ibadan. The list is long.
His fans are quite familiar with the project album he recorded a couple of years ago on women and children, highlighting over-population and the avoidance of HIV/AIDS. But he has been recording on his own since the sixties. His Ejekajo, a response of Chubby Chekker’s ‘Twist’ rhythmic concept is a remarkable effort.
And, as if Jimi is better appreciated abroad than at home here in Nigeria, his Owo Orisa, the fusion of highlife and indigenous African music with rock without losing the basic elements of the music, continues to situate this album as one of the greatest ever released in America by an African.
But perhaps his greatest asset is the ability to structure simple melodies with meaningful and suitable lyrics to suit children. He has demonstrated this feat on radio and television all over the country, singing and at the same time providing the accompaniment on guitar.
An element that makes this feat even more astounding and startling is the fact that even though he is Yoruba, he has been able to reach out and endear himself to his target audience in the three main languages of Nigeria, plus Edo.
(Originally titled, ‘Jimi Solanke Dance This Sunday’ (first published Friday, August 23, 2002), article excerpted from the book the Great Highlife Party, published 2016 by Festac Books, to mark Benson Idonije’s 80th birthday anniversary).