Close this search box.

Jimi Solanke: Maestro of Timeless Melodies, a Life Well-Lived

Jimi Solanke’s creative odyssey enriches cultural tapestry until the final note. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Vicent Maduka, Peter Igho, Bode Sowande, and Ohi Alegbe share fond memories.
March 8, 2024
10:57 am
Jimi Solanke

In the grand composition of life, there occasionally emerge virtuosos whose talents resonate through the halls of history long after their final notes fade. Jimi Solanke was one such consummate artist, a man of multifaceted brilliance who mesmerized audiences with his lyrical mastery for over six decades. As we pay homage to this venerated figure, let us take a moment to appreciate the extraordinary movements that defined his career.


Jimi Solanke’s story isn’t just a biography; it’s a journey through the pulsating heartbeats of African music, folklore, and the arts. Born on July 4, 1942, on Lagos Island, Solanke’s early life hinted at the prodigious talent that would later captivate hearts and transcend artistic boundaries. Ogun state, hailing from Ipara Remo, Ogun state, laid the foundation for a life steeped in diverse musical influences.



It was as if the universe conspired to shower the young Solanke with an array of artistic gifts. His golden voice, described as a magic touch on any tune, coupled with a body that moved with the innate rhythm of music, marked the emergence of a true creative force. His mind, a cauldron of imagination, could bend words and worlds for that awe-inspiring effect. Solanke wasn’t just a musician: he was a storyteller, a dancer, a playwright, an actor, a visual artist, and a poet—a polymath in every sense.


As the news of his passing at 81 reached the public ear, it wasn’t just the loss of an artist that gripped the country; it was bidding farewell to a living repository of cultural richness. His influence on the history of African music is profound, and it’s poignant that he departed a day after the Grammys officially recognized African music with its category.


In his journey through life, Jimi Solanke wore many hats, but perhaps the most endearing moniker was “Uncle Jimi.” This title, bestowed upon him by admirers, encapsulates the warmth and familiarity he exuded. Whether through his folk music, his mesmerizing performances on stage, or his magnetic presence in various artistic circles, Solanke wasn’t just an artist; he became a cultural touchstone.



Growing up in Lagos, Solanke’s early exposure to an eclectic mix of sounds, from Joe Nez to Frank Sinatra, ignited the spark of his musical journey. His artistic inclinations, nurtured within the confines of Olowogbowo Methodist School and Odogbolu Grammar School, hinted at a destiny that diverged from his father’s vision of an engineering career.


Solanke’s ties to the artistic community in the Midwest or the Bendel region also took root early on, as media personality Ohi Alegbe recounted: “I’ve known him from a distance in Benin, when he was working for, I think the Bendel Arts Council. There were a number of them who came to Benin then, and they had just established Midwest Television, so they used to act on some Bendel Playhouse on Bendel Television.”


Ibadan, with its vibrant cultural scene, became the crucible where Solanke’s artistic identity solidified. Working at Caxton Press during the day provided a livelihood, but it was the nights spent singing with bands like Victor Faulkner’s, Zen Phillip and the Blue Nine, Eddy Okonta, and Chris Ajilo and the Cubanos that defined his true calling.


During his formative years at the University of Ibadan, Solanke crossed paths with many who would go on to become artistic giants themselves. Veteran TV producer, director and fellow performer Peter Igho fondly recalled, “I met Jimi Solanke at the University of Ibadan; it is a pity I didn’t get to talk about those I met in the University and admired, apart from Wole Soyinka, and a few others who also taught me. I met performers like Jimi Solanke.”



Solanke was also a part of a group of creatives from the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies and Drama Center who brought a fresh, bold approach to the arts. As broadcaster and first Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority Vincent Maduka recalled, “They were creatives, some could not understand them. They were strangely dressed, or their attires were strange to people in a time when drama was being professionalized in English Language. They were people we might refer to as rebels because they rejected European form of music and drama, bringing in their own creativity both in appearance and style of performance.”


His dual life eventually led to an unexpected turning point: his uncle’s stern ouster for being “unserious.” It was a pivotal moment, a crossroads that propelled him towards the gathering of intellectuals at Mbari Club in Ibadan. The likes of Wole Soyinka, Chris Okigbo, and J. P Clark became his mentors, shaping not just his artistic prowess but his worldview.


Mbari Club wasn’t merely a cultural center; it was a sanctuary for the exchange of ideas and the birthplace of transformation. Here, Solanke’s life intersected with the visionaries who saw beyond conventional boundaries. The camaraderie and intellectual ferment fueled his passion and eventually led him to the Department of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan.


As a pioneering member of the Orisun Theatre Company, founded by Wole Soyinka, Solanke’s theatrical journey unfolded. His performances in iconic plays such as “Death and the King’s Horseman,” “Kurunmi,” and “Kongi’s Harvest” solidified his position as a performer extraordinaire.


Bode Sowande, who worked closely with Solanke in Wole Soyinka’s Orisun Theatre company, vividly remembered his multi-talented colleague: “I first met Jimi Solanke in the late sixties. Very closely as co-members of Wole Soyinka’s Orisun Theatre. He was robust with musical talent of both the song and dance. Versatile as actor on stage and the screen,” Sowande recounted.



“He was excellent in epic roles, like Ola Rotimi’s ‘Kurunmi’,” Sowande continued, highlighting Solanke’s commanding presence in iconic theatrical works of that era. “He was evergreen because he did not age, and his eyes glowed with joy of life till the end. He left behind the Jimi Solanke acting style and singing style.”


Veteran actress Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett who had the privilege of sharing the stage with Solanke, also vividly recalled his spellbinding presence: “When you see Jimi Solanke on stage, he’s larger than life! Extraordinary talent! He was dangerous on stage, he was bad, good and dangerous…I don’t think Nigeria had any male actor as formidable in performance as Jimi Solanke.”


Ajayi-Lycett’s words capture the awe-inspiring command Solanke wielded over the theatrical space, mesmerizing audiences with his powerful delivery and captivating physicality. “Those eyes were something…I saw the loneliness of the artist, someone so big nobody could recognize the depth, height and weight of the talent he had,” she added, underscoring Solanke’s unparalleled artistry.



Yet, Solanke’s artistic odyssey wasn’t confined to the stage. In 1978, he etched his name in history by claiming to have done the first rap in the whole world. His poetic chant in Yoruba on Ralph MacDonald’s “The Path” was a groundbreaking moment, a testament to his ability to transcend musical boundaries.


His versatility extended even further through collaborations showcasing his gift for storytelling. He seamlessly transitioned to television, gracing screens with his presence in shows like “Village Headmaster,” “The Bar Beach Show,” and “For Better for Worse.”


As Peter Igho reminisced, “When we were together on those wonderful days of producing films for Network, we brought Solanke to do the storyline for us, he voiced the storyline for us for one of those our children’s programs ‘Tales by Moonlight’ in his version of the storyline.”


Still speaking on Solanke’s innate command of the performance space, media personality Ohi Alegbe eloquently described Solanke: “He was a consummate thespian. His stagecraft was outstanding and astounding because he combined a voice rich with a commanding stage presence. He could command the space. There was no waste of space on stage with Uncle Jimmy Show (as he fondly calls Jimmy Solanke).”


His journey continued beyond the footlights of the stage. In the twilight of his career, Solanke embraced the role of a folklorist. His baritone voice, accompanied by the gentle strumming of a guitar, became the conduit for passing down cultural narratives to younger generations. Shows like “Family Reflections” and “African Stories on AIT” bear witness to this enchanting chapter of his life.


In a testament to Jimi Solanke’s unwavering passion and dedication to his craft, it’s noteworthy that even in 2023, a year before his passing, he lent his distinctive voice to Femi Adebayo’s epic saga “Jagun Jagun.” At an age when many would contemplate retirement, Solanke continued to embrace the creative sphere, leaving an indelible mark on contemporary projects.


His ability to adapt, innovate, and contribute to the artistic landscape showcases not only his timeless talent but also his profound commitment to the art he loved. In every note sung, every character portrayed, and every tale woven, Jimi Solanke’s legacy remains a beacon for aspiring artists and a testament to the enduring power of creativity.



Beyond the stage and screen, Solanke’s artistry extended into profound moments of cultural significance. As broadcaster Vincent Maduka recounted, “When General Murtala Muhammad died, we had never mourned a Head of State but Solanke alongside other entertainers and performers like the Mid-west Itsekiri women put heads together and ran a funeral program for him in the form of dirges.” With cross-legged solemnity and strummed guitars, Solanke and his peers composed poignant musical tributes, underscoring the vital role artists play in processing pivotal national events.


Those who had the honor of knowing and working with Jimi Solanke still hold cherished memories that speak to his exceptional talent and warm spirit. Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett who co-starred with Solanke in the play “The Divorce” after FESTAC ’77 had taken place, expressed her immense admiration:

“It pains me what artists like him go through when they are alive and, when they’re dead, we start making a big song and dance of them. It’s pointless when people work their hearts out and don’t get the recognition needed…He left a legacy which is more than can be said. He will live on. I still hurt but his legacy is indestructible.”


“The highlight of my life was having met him. Working with people like that elevates your game,” she continued. “He was an incredible performer, full of stage presence, powerful delivery…I wanted to contrast our past performance together with one when we’re grown up and play older people, bringing the experience of age, relationships and everything back on stage but it was not to be unfortunately. I’m disappointed my dream never came true because he was the one who quickened me on stage.”


Those who knew Solanke personally were left with indelible memories of his warmth and zest for life. As Igho fondly remembered, “He will sing the ‘e mi a bi ibeji’ Yoruba eulogy/lullaby. I fell in love with the song because he will always sing it whenever we meet.”



As we bid farewell to Jimi Solanke who died at the age of 81, we do so with a sense of gratitude for the gifts he has given us. As poignantly noted by Nigerian filmmaker Charles Novia, “He was an influential figure in the African creative sector, and he will be missed greatly.”


His music will continue to echo through the halls of memory; his stories will continue to inspire and uplift, and his spirit will live on in the hearts of all who have been touched by his artistry.


In the end, perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay to “Uncle Show” is to carry forward the torch of creativity and compassion that he lit so brilliantly in his lifetime.


We will never forget the legacy of the maestro who dared to dream.


Additional reports by Aoiri Obaigbo, Alo Folakemi, and Joan Irabor.


2 thoughts on “Jimi Solanke: Maestro of Timeless Melodies, a Life Well-Lived”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: TNR Content is protected !!









Alerts & Newsletters

© Rhythm Media Group LLC 2022