By Bimbo Esho
Born July 4, 1942, Olujimi Solanke, a native of Ipara Remo, the Baba Agba, African culture ambassador extraordinaire, trained at the University of Ibadan, School of Drama. He began his professional acting career in 1961 as one of the pioneer members of the Orisun Theatre Group, founded by Wole Soyinka. His father, Alfred Tayo, was a chief in Remoland like his grandfather. Both were Lisa, the next person to the Paramount ruler, the reason Jimi’s middle name is Adeboye.
His seven decades as a veteran of varied exposures, experiences and impacts in the global entertainment industry resonate in many broadcast stations, countries and festivals. His epic performances at the Western Nigeria Television, WNTV, Ibadan in the 1960s; to his stunning presentations and amazing stagecraft in Senegal at the World Festival of Negro Arts and Algeria for the Pan – African Cultural Festival in the 1970s attest his hot passion and theatrical brilliance. He has featured in great epics like Death and the King’s Horseman, Kurunmi, Kongi’s Harvest, The Divorce and Ovaramwen Nogbaisi, a performance that turned him into an immediate resident of Benin City for five years on royal.
Described in 1970, while on a tour of Europe by the Oxford Times, as a “Skilled Nigerian Actor” and by the New York Times as the star of an “Excellent Troupe” in the Performance of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest. Baba Agba, as he is fondly called is recognised as “a better singer than an actor”. He however sees himself entrenched in both and calls himself an ” actor-singer ” because ” when I sing, I act and when I act, I am musical in delivery says Baba Agba.
For a fact, he is a consummate quintessential songwriter, actor, performer, visual artist, poet and storyteller extraordinaire. With his booming endowment (gift of voice), Baba Agba rings out folktales in an enchanting sonorous voice backed with gesticulations and mimicry to pass messages. He sings in different golden tones passionately. His voice is discerned with enthused acknowledgement. When he dances, his whole body is taken into creative expressions. Today at 80 he says “my fear with dance is that the bones inside my body are already complaining, so, I dance like an elder”. He selects the songs he sings, chooses roles he played and does not believe in counting them.
He characteristically holds audiences captive in Africa, Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East. He set the Cranston Hall, Us on fire in 1977 performance and has toured Nigeria with many global musicians, including Chubby Checker of Twist fame and Millicent Small of Rock Steady. He was with Ralph MacDonald, the lead voice in the chartbuster, Ona La, The Path, the song used a year later to open the famed Apollo Theatre, in New York. “I take my profession, music, theatre, dance, seriously, I interpret roles painstakingly”, he enthused the secret behind his ardour.
Sir Solanke’s foray into musical entertainment blossomed while he was a student at Odogbolu Grammar School, Remo in Ogun State. Together with his friends, he formed a band, Koroba. They turned their steel buckets into musical instruments to perform sundry folk songs. He wrote songs like onilegogoro, Ore Titan, Na Today You Come, Khaki No Be Leather while in secondary school for the then Highlife music Legend Roy Akintola Chicago. He often sneaked to Abalabi Nite Club at Olorunsogo in Lagos to sing with Roy Chicago’s Band. He also featured in the band of other great Highlife veterans like Eddy Okonta and Chris Ajilo.
To his credit he has popular folk songs like Baba Agba, Bare Ni Joye, Osupa, Oil Boom Palava, Bi a ba Jeko, Gbangba Kedere Eko, Ojoje, E je Kajo etc
Sir Jimi Solanke is a highly disciplined, focused and principled entertainer. He is blessed with lovely children and a beautiful wife whom he fondly calls TOY coined from her name Toyin.
Happy Birthday once again to Baba Agba.
*Bimbo Esho is the Managing Director, Evergreen Musical Company ( Africa’s largest collector of Music of yesteryears)