I986: The Lagos Arts Council was putting together a 15-minute stage performance titled AJOJI. The play involved a wounded Hunter, an adorable Princess and four of her maids. The hunter was wounded by a lion, which he had killed. I played that Hunter while my paddy of life (till today), Yemisi Sunmonu (then Yemisi Olumuji) played the Princess. We were co-directed by Yomi Fawole (late) and Henry Anaziah
We were scheduled to perform at the Museum Kitchen, Onikan. We later we got to know that the then Military Administrator, Mike Akhigbe who was in mufti was in the audience.
While the rehearsal session was on, this gangling man strolled into the hall. Deafening silence overwhelmed us – actors, drummers and technical crew. Yomi Fawole abandoned his directing and courteously received him. “Who is this man with a massive presence that froze our rehearsal?”, we wondered. Then Yomi Fawole faced us and introduced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please let’s welcome into our midst, the Lion Voice, Uncle Jimi Solanke.”
The atmosphere was charged to a frenzy; a deity had just descended to mingle with us. I had watched Uncle Jimi on a kiddie programme on TV. I knew about his reputation as an actor, songwriter, musician, theatre director and more, but I was seeing him live for the first time. He sat down like a deity while Yomi Fawole set us in motion again. Intermittently, Uncle Jimi would stop the rehearsal and inject some magic here and there. We all enjoyed his subtle directorial technique, which greatly assisted us.
At the Museum Kitchen, our performance was superlative! In fact, the Military Administrator was so impressed that he called for the play again. It was re-staged for the year’s annual LAGOS STATE AWARDS NIGHT held at the State House in Marina. I have since got closer to Uncle Jimi Solanke especially after another meeting of ours a few years after 1986.
Till this day, I have not met any man whose voice is deeper and huskier than that of the elders’ masquerade. His songs are original, captivating and loaded with deep philosophies and morals. As an actor, only Prof. Wole Soyinka, Prof. Ola Rotimi (late) and other directors of that status could revel the joy Uncle Jimi gave to their stage direction.
Today, Uncle Jimi is 80 years old; and still standing firm and strong in all area of the arts.
Happy birthday, Uncle Jimi Solanke (Baba Agba).