Jimi Solanke, a veteran actor, dramatist, folk singer, poet, and playwright, who enchanted audiences with his expressive face, baritone voice, and contagious smile, died on Monday at the age of 81. He was on his way to the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital when he succumbed to a brief illness, according to his family.
Solanke, who was born in Ipara, Ogun State, in July 1942, began his artistic journey as a pioneer member of the Orisun Theatre Group, founded by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, in 1961. He later moved to the United States, where he created a drama group called The Africa Review, focusing on African culture. He returned to Nigeria in 1986 and worked with the Nigerian Television Authority, where he hosted the popular Storyland series for children.
He also starred in several films by Ola Balogun, such as Kongi’s Harvest, Sango, and Shadow Parties. He was praised by international media for his performances in Wole Soyinka’s plays, such as Death and the King’s Horseman, Kurunmi, and The Divorce. He was also a prolific songwriter and performer, who recorded evergreen folk songs like Ojoje, Baba Agba, Osupa, Bare Ni Joye, Bi a Ba Jeko, Oil Boom Palava, Omiyale, and many more.
Solanke was more than just an entertainer; he was also an educationist, a producer, and a cultural ambassador. He founded and directed Ibudo Asa, a cultural centre in Ipara Remo, where he promoted and preserved the Yoruba heritage. He was honoured with a state banquet by the Ogun State Government, under the leadership of Prince Dr. Dapo Abiodun, in 2020, when he clocked 80 years. He was also celebrated by Evergreen Musical Company, a leading music preservation and promotion outfit in Nigeria.
Solanke is survived by his wife, Chief Mrs. Toyin Solanke, and his children and grandchildren. He will be remembered as a master storyteller, who touched the lives of millions with his artistry and his omoluabi trait. He leaves behind a legacy that transcends borders and generations, and a void that will be felt for years to come.