This year we celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday and one of my dearest Uncles, Uncle Fola, in his tribute, mentioned the Solidra Circle. I thought it was a nice story at the time but did not think much of it after. Since then I have revived my blog, halftribedotcom, and have been thinking about how best to position it as a serious online magazine focused on people, stories, and events that matter, add value and make great conversations. And I remembered the Solidra Circle.
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, the Solidra Circle, the Solidra Award and the Award Nites were very much a part of my childhood. So I was curious and I googled them. But I found nothing. Nothing about the history of the Award, the Award Nites or the organization behind them. If you google it, all you’ll find are famous recipients of the Award who the Solidra Circle recognized for being talented at what they did and what they contributed to society, sometimes long before the world recognized them. But I wanted to know more. What was the Solidra Circle? How did it start? Who started it? Why? So I asked my dad. And it turns out that my father, Paul Atilade in Lagos, Uncle Fola (Sogbamimu) in London, and Uncle Yemi (Lijadu) in Paris, France, are among the four founding fathers of the Solidra Circle and this is their story.
Listen to Paul Atilade talk about the Solidra Circle, In His Own Words (11 mins):
The Solidra Circle has very humble but inspired beginnings. It was started in 1947 by four young boys whose goal was to make significant contribution to the society in a unique way. The Solidra Award is the award given at the Solidra Circle’s Annual Award Nite to deserving artists and has gone on to become one of the most recognized and sought after Awards for artists. Past recipients include female talking drummer, Ayanbinrin and her Tiwantiwa band; artist, Ndidi Dike; opera singer, Francesca Emanuel; performance poet, Ngozi Eziefule-Emenekwum; playwright, Lola Fani-Kayode; ethnomusicologist, Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko; musician, Bala Miller; author, Flora Nwapa; cultural artist and later Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Chief Segun Olusola (late), and his wife, actress, Elsie Olusola (also late); artist and painter, Bruce Onobrakpeya; musician, Steve Rhodes; actress, Joke Silva; highlife musician, Sir Victor Uwaifo; and many more.
To put this in context, what was happening around the world in 1947? On January 1, 1947, Nigeria gained autonomy from the British government; on February 3, Percival Prattis became the first African-American news correspondent allowed in the US House of Representatives and Senate press galleries; on February 10, in Paris, France, peace treaties were signed between World War II Allies and the Eastern European countries; on March 1, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to operate; on March 29, a rebellion against French rule erupted in Madagascar; on April 15, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball; on August 14 and 15 respectively, Pakistan and India gained independence; on August 27, the French government lowered the daily bread ration to 200 grams, causing riots; on October 5, President Harry Truman delivered the first televised White House address speaking on the world food crisis; on November 20, Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten; on November 29, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine between Arab and Jewish regions, creating Israel; and on December 21, 400,000 Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered while migrating into India and Pakistan. And in 1947, Cambridge University began admitting women as full students, and in a cave in and around the Wadi Qumran, the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.
And on August 13, 1947, in Lagos, Nigeria, four young aspiring students, Paul Atilade, Yemi Lijadu, Lale Lipede, and Fola Sogbamimu, founded the Solidra Circle; motto: Social. Literary. Drama. As Uncle Fola says, little did they know then that the Solidra Circle would grow to become one of the more respectable and dignified organizations in Lagos today. The citation for the recipient of the award goes like this, “Solidra Circle Lagos has watched your progress over the years and considers your efforts commendable and deserving of encouragement and to that extent the Solidra Circle confers on you its 2007 Award for Art.” The recipient? Artist, Dotun Alabi. The article in The Nation was titled, ‘Dotun Alabi, an artist and professional painter, joins the league of those honored by Solidra Circle.’
TO BE CONTINUED …