By Muyiwa Adetiba
On July 18 (last week Tuesday), Music Minds, a chat group of diverse and disparate professionals with music as its common identity and strong unifying front, decided to honour one of its own. Jimi Solanke, known in the artistic world as, ‘Baba Agba’ had clocked 75 a couple of weeks earlier.
The honour in form of music—what else—was tagged: ‘A celebration of a living legend.’ An apt description because Jimi Solanke is in many ways, a living legend indeed. A multi-faceted and multi- talented artiste, Solanke transverses many artistic fronts with ease and almost equal dexterity.
A singer, composer, actor and dramatist, Solanke is a Jack—and a master —of many trades. (It is worth mentioning that ageless Taiwo Ajayi-Lycet, a multi- faceted artiste herself, described Solanke in her tribute on the night, as one of the best of their generation).
The group needed a venue that was cosy, yet convenient and central for its elite guests. It found one such place and more when members of the Tuesday Group of Yoruba Tennis Club decided to team up with the group to host the celebrant and others who had music, especially live band music, on their minds.
The evening was supposed to start at five. I got to the venue at 5.30. What I found convinced me that I was way too early. Waiters were putting finishing touches to the tables. The co-ordinator, a member of both the Music Minds’ group and the Tuesday group was supervising arrangements and issuing last minute instructions. The band was testing its equipment.
But more importantly, no guests. But this didn’t make me to regret coming early by African standard. The alternative would have been to join the rush hour traffic. So I found me a quiet corner and became an observer and chronicler. Soon, beautiful instrumental music started oozing out. The atmosphere was getting charged….
It took another hour for the hall to be decently full and for the show to commence. The intervening period was spent meeting and hugging those known to me—including the celebrant and his wife—as they trickled in. Tope Odebiyi, a young, petite, ‘oriente’ lady known as ‘Topsticks’ in the music industry, was introduced to me at my request. A co-member of the Music Minds’ chat group, I had heard of her drumming prowess and wondered if she was in the hall.
For an answer, she was called over and introduced to me. I immediately wondered how such a wispy looking lady could command and dominate perhaps the most ‘masculine’ of musical instruments next to the trumpet. I was soon to find out.
When I asked her how long she had been playing the drums and she said over a decade, my incredulous look must have betrayed me. ‘I am not as young as I look’ she said softly, almost shyly. We were still chatting when someone whispered into her ears. Apparently, it was to ask if she was ready to jam in a jazz session—a common request in their trade.
This wispy, petite lady slipped behind the drums and half closed her eyes as she slowly but lovingly caressed the skin of the drums with her sticks. Soon, the frenzy increased as she was transformed into a ‘tall, dominating’ being belting out so much energy and skill.
The rest of the crew became quiet as they allowed her to ‘solo.’ That was when she got a standing ovation almost to a man in a hall that included such dignitaries as Chief Alex Duduyemi, Prince Ademiluyi, Justice Olateru-Olagbegi, Tola Animashaun and Dr Akinyanju. Her performance was simply electric.
As her performance went on, I kept glancing at Jimi Solanke who was seated just two seats away from me on the same table. He was nodding his head and tapping his feet to the beat. Then he started squirming and twisting his body as a medley of jazz songs came in quick succession.
And when the band started on Louis Armstrong’s ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ it all probably became a little too much for Mr Solanke. The performer in him took over. He got up, removed his ‘agbada’ and took quick steps towards the band.
Before we could all grasp what was happening, he had grasped the microphone and proceeded to give life to the classic song with his distinct, baritone voice. Then he moved on to another of Armstrong’s classic ‘What a Wonderful World’, a song probably made for his unique voice. You could feel the current in the charged hall as voices became hushed and eyes were riveted to the stage.
After all, the maestro was performing; bringing his six decades of stage performance to the fore. He moved on to his own songs starting with ‘Onilegogoro,’ a song he wrote when he was about 15 and which has become one of Highlife’s all time evergreen songs.
His dance steps, his gyrations defied his age as he gave expression and life to each of his songs. I looked at his wife to see if she was worried about his physical exertions. She appeared unperturbed, so I relaxed. It was now 9pm, 30 minutes after the time I had promised myself I would leave.
But I couldn’t detach myself. Not when he was performing these songs so well; not when he was singing ‘Baba Agba’ the song that gave him his second name. I waited another hour hoping he would sing ‘The Path,’ a song he wrote for Ralph Macdonald, the American Jazz legend. But I couldn’t delay any longer. I had to release the driver; I also had a column to write.
A week later, I still remembered those two magical hours; the spontaneity of it all, honed and made easy by years of practice. And I wonder whether the world, not just Nigeria, has given due credit to the works of artistes and the roles they have played to make our world livable. The politicians pontificate and govern the world. But the world is refined and defined by different genre of artistes.
They are the ones who define civilisation and culture through their paintings, sculptures, architecture, music, songs and performances. I wonder what the world would be without the monuments and priceless submissions of creative people.
As for me, I am simply glad that my profession has brought me in close contact with many acclaimed artistes of different genre who have enriched my life and made me realise that a world without the Arts would be a world without form; a sad and ugly world indeed.
Baba Agba, you have lived life ‘your way’ and have brought joy to many in the process. I wish you many more years of creative endeavours.