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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Interview: "My father used to share work with my mum" - Sayo Jimi Solanke

In this interview, Sayo, one of the children of ace story-teller Jimi Solanke shares intimately how growing up with her father was like living in storyland, a children’s television programme made famous by the folk music artiste himself. It is an interesting read:

Did you or any of your siblings feature in Storyland?
Yes, my elder brother and sister featured in it. I was told that my mum was carrying me in her womb when my dad first recorded Storyland. But I watched a few episodes later on. I featured in some of his other children’s television programmes, likeAfrican Stories and Fun Space. I also featured in some of his mini-projects wherehe would talk about particular topics that taught good lessons to children. We went to different towns and villages. There was no special treatment for us on his shows. Everyone was treated the same.

What kind of father is he?
He is humble, caring and proud of us. He is a wonderful person. You can tell from the way he related with the children on his programme. He loves children very much. If someone could love children who are not his like that, you can imagine how much more he would love his biological children. He loves his children. But there are some things that he does that could really be annoying sometimes (laughs), like if one wanted to go out, he would always ask, ‘where are you going? Let me drop you off’. You could say that was fine when we were much younger, but then as we started growing up, it was still the same. Now, he still wants to drop us off everywhere, just to make sure that we are safe and fine.

He is also a disciplinarian and a generous giver. He can give anything to anybody as long as he has it. Sometimes when we go out, he could just decide to buy drinks for people or give them money, as long as he has to give. He is just fun to be with .

How does he react when his children makes him angry?
You don’t want him to be angry at you for any reason. You know he has a deep voice and he uses it to show his anger. You will know he is angry when he put the voice to use. Then, he can shout at anybody. Also, because he lived in the US for some years, he could sometimes use slang words such as ‘bullshit’ and ‘bloody fool’ when he is angry. I’m not sure I have mentioned this to anybody before. There was a day my sister went out and I think she came back late for one reason or the other. He was really angry and asked her where she went to and why she came back late. That was one of the reasons why I told myself at a very tender age that I’m not sure I would want a guy to visit me at home or even go out. I’m older now and understand some things better. Obviously, he had good reasons why he did some things, but then we were too young to understand its importance.

How many siblings do you have?
We are seven in all. I have two step-sisters and a step-brother.

How close are you to each other?
We are close, so much that you wouldn’t even know that we are step-siblings. If you see my step-sister you will think we are twins. She lives abroad with my other step-siblings. But when they come around to Nigeria, we are always together. My step-mother is now late.

How is the relationship between your parents?
They celebrated the 29th anniversary of their marriage recently and I have learnt so much from their relationship. Sometimes, they disagree over issues but they settle it quickly. In other times, they behave like Romeo and Juliet. Sometimes my mum behaves as if she is my father’s mother. They have this beautiful relationship despite the difference in their ages. My father is much older than my mum and you wouldn’t know because of the way they relate.

What lessons from your father would you like to teach your children?
I want to replicate the love that he has for his children. He has always dedicated time for us and I really also want to dedicate time for my children. I wonder how many fathers have that kind of time for their children. It’s okay to say you are chasing money to take care of them, but the most important thing is for them to find comfort in you and be able to relate with you. That’s one of the things I learnt from both my parents, despite their jobs. Another thing I would teach my male children is the act of sharing house chores with their wives. My dad can just decide to go to the market and buy foodstuffs, whether they are available in the house or not. He does so at will. Most men nowadays would think that it is strictly the woman’s job.

What are some of the fondest memories you have of growing up with him?
There are so many of such moments. There were times when he would just come and tell us stories and we would all laugh. And I always loved and enjoyed listening to him whenever he sings. I could be doing something else but I find myself dancing to his songs. That’s one of the things I appreciate. Then, all the little gestures, like whenever we go out with him, I am always proud when he says to people, ‘this is my daughter.’

Like your father, you also sing. Your siblings also have different gifts when it comes to the arts. Did he deliberately pass some of his skills to you?I would say it is hereditary, because my mum also did some study in Theatre Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife. But then, he did not stop anybody from towing that line (arts). Everyone just found his or her niche. For me, it was part of growing up because I had a lot to do with him, whether it was a performance on stage, acting or singing for the children’s programme. Apart from seeing my dad on television, I just fell in love with the arts. He did not have anything to do with it per say, but he introduced me to it at a young age and I just picked it up. I watched him perform all my life. He still does today. When you put the whole of us together, we would make a band, with everyone singing the different parts.

Officially, I am the only one that sings. I’ve had to sing backup for him as well. He has an album that he hasn’t released yet and I did the major backup vocals in Yoruba and English.

Do you think Nigeria appreciates your father’s talents?
I don’t think they have appreciated people like him enough because in the first place, the generation of people of his kind is fading away. Some young people in this generation might not know who Jimi Solanke is. I also believe that with the kind of things he has done, there should be a platform on a national level, like on the Children’s Day, for people like him to tell those evergreen stories that teach good values and wisdom; not for the money, but basically for children nationwide to benefit from.

All those good societal values seem to be fading away. One person cannot do it alone, but if there is support from the relevant channels, a lot of people can benefit from it. I’m not sure anybody would want to be a story teller without having a passion or talent for it.

How do you think Nigeria can restructure its television programmes in such a way that children can gain values from them?I think it has to do with rebranding. It doesn’t have to be maybe children sitting together the way it used to be, but something that will be more captivating for children of nowadays. I believe that it is not the same mindsets that we had then that they have now. They are much more exposed, so you cannot sit them down and say, come and listen to stories, but if you rebrand it and put it on social media, it would be good. The world today has gone beyond television and radio and is also centred on social media. So, if we could have such children’s programme on social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, children would learn a lot from them.

Asides Storyland and his other television programmes, what kind of television programmes did your father expose you to?Apart from Tales by Moonlight, I grew up watching foreign children’s television programmes like Kids Praise. We also watched a lot of movies growing up, such as Sound of Music. We watched a wide variety of television programmes, but obviously we didn’t watch what we were not supposed to watch at that age.

What are some his likes and dislikes?
He likes us relating with him. If there was anything that we wanted to do or say, he wanted us to tell him first, before our mum. He always wants to know what is happening. He doesn’t like to eat outside. He could go five days without eating outside. It is one of his principles. As such, we also grew up not liking to eat outside also. It took a while before I even started eating snacks at various eateries. He doesn’t joke with things that had to do with values or good character.

Your dad once said that he did not value materialistic possessions. What do you think was the basis for that statement?I have met some persons who on realising that I was Jimi Solanke’s daughter, expected that I would be living in a high brow area of Lagos or Abuja. When I told them I was based in Ife then, just like my dad also, they were surprised.

So with that, I can say that my dad is not materialistic. He drives a new car now, but at a time, he drove a particular brand of car for over ten years and then we used to wonder when daddy would buy another car. Then, he would tell you it’s not about the car he was driving, but about who he is. So people take him for who he is and not what he has. You would expect that someone like him would have a mansion. But then, he believes that life is simple and you don’t have to be flamboyant, wear the best dresses, have all the cars or build the best houses in the world. It’s not that he couldn’t do it, but he just felt it wasn’t necessary. And I think that has actually worked for us. We are not materialistic. It’s good to have that kind of mindset. It actually helps you to be content with what you have.

Was your house like a sort of reality Storyland?
Yes, you could say that. It was interesting and fun. Sometimes, when daddy has a new story, before he goes on set to record it live, he tells us about it. I remember us sitting down and he would be telling us those interesting stories. Even if he wants to send a letter to someone, he always read it out for us to hear first. He always has something to talk about.

Your father was featured on CNN Inside Africa some years back. How was his reaction to the global recognition he got?When they came to Nigeria to record the programme, I wasn’t there but I heard about it. But when it came out, we all watched it together with him and it was just like a mini-family meeting. Everybody was all smiles, like we were watching a comedy, drama, action film and everything put together. We enjoyed it. It wasn’t like we hadn’t watched him in previous interviews, but then, it felt great all the same.