Dipo Sodipo: Pope without a Cathedral – Bankole Banjo

St. Peter’s Cathedral Ake was brimful of joyful worshippers that Sunday morning in November 1994.

It was not the there-is-fullness-of-joy-in-the-presence-of-God kind of joy, rather there was a palpable sense of gratitude and jubilation for the blessing in the form of a new-born to the family of Dipo Sodipo, the self-styled Pope.

Pope had gotten married years earlier but the union was not blessed with a child. When the child eventually came, it was like a long awaited answer to prayers. Pope was a joy giver and a key member of the Cathedral. His jovial mien and outlook on life deserved a personal blessing. The consequent outpouring of good cheer was, therefore, a testament to the kind of man Pope was.

Dipo Sodipo was born to the Sodipo family of Igbehin Ancestral Route in 1954. He attended Abeokuta Grammar School (which produced Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the filmmaker Tunde Kelani, Guinness World Record holder, Senator David Dafinone, Barrister Olisa Chukwura) and then The Polytechnic, Ibadan, where he studied music. He co-founded a Choral Group with a group of friends which later metamorphosed into the K-12 Voices in the then Western Region.

The K-12 Voices regaled the campus with choral music and regularly performed on the Western Nigeria TV (and later BCOS and Radio Nigeria, Ibadan). He popularised the one-man band style which Tunji Oyelana had perfected years before he started his solo career. 

By the 90s, Pope was the rave of the Abeokuta metropolis. It is pertinent to recall that Abeokuta at that time was the melting pot of media enfants terribles. The presence of the then Ogun State Polytechnic (now Moshood Abiola Polytechnic), University of Agriculture & the Federal College of Education at Osiele aided the nightlife of the ancient city as students, whose social activities often rivalled their educational pursuit, drove most of the gigs in town.

From hosting KWAM1 to Sir Shina Peters, who ruled the juju landscape with his fast paced afrojuju fusion, students made Abeokuta a social hub rivalled only by Ife, Ibadan and Lagos. The city is also home to Ogun Radio, arguably the training ground for most legendary radio personalities and entertainers of today. Before every other frequency on the FM band hosted a radio station, OGBC 2 90.45FM was the beloved lone ranger.

From Gbenga Adeboye to Toba Opaleye, both of blessed memory; from Larry Echejile (now Izamoje of Brila FM) to Yinka Ayefele ( an accomplished juju musician who started as a Kola Olawuyi’s assistant and now runs his own franchise of Fresh FM radio stations); from the late Peter Okoduwa, who in of spite suffering great personal tragedy when he lost all but one child in a drowning accident, gave classical social and political commentary (think today’s Jimi Disu without getting annoyed), to a young Abisade Ologunde (who you may know as Lagbaja) who hosted a late evening show and Ambrose Somide now of RayPower, OGBC 2 was the home of broadcasting. And where there is such glowing media presence and a vibrant academic community, nightlife was certain to be a hit. 

Dipo Sodipo was the royalty of the social stratosphere. From parties to clubs, Pope held sway. He was made the President of the One Man Band Association at some point, perhaps due to his influence which rumbled deeper than his baritone voice and an ever present , jovial nature which endeared him to many. It is pertinent to note that following Pope’s passing, the young Orlando Owoh wannabe, Tunde Soyebi, who took over the mantle of leadership too died suddenly, leaving the Association rudderless for a long time as the members felt the leadership was cursed. But I digress. 

Many would recall Pope’s weekly soirée at Wetlands Clubs and then SuperFoods back in the day. Picture him sat behind two stairs of piano keys, playing to a pre-set tune he regularly changed to suit the atmosphere, sometimes a carton of his favoured Gulder nestled underneath the musical instrument, Pope sang with unmistakable swag and joy from within. And he didn’t just sing, he also engaged his audience.

Like Fela, he would recourse to banter with his fans most of whom were either his friends from way back or family or both. Indeed, after Nkan Nbe, their popular Friday night show on OGBC, Kolawole Olawuyi and Yinka Ayefele, would sometimes drop by at his gig in town to relax before departing for Ibadan the following morning. His popular saying, Elere fe to (Yoruba for the performer needs to take a leak) became synonymous with a musical interlude that stretched into minutes. Many believe he took the break not just for vesical reasons but for a smoking break. 

Pope married his heartthrob, Olapeju, a high school teacher, fellow alumnus of the Polytechnic, Ibadan, and had three daughters, Ayomipo, Ikepo and Dolapo. For most of his years, he lived in a modest apartment next to the Sodipo’s family compound in Iporo Ake, a short drive from St Peter’s Cathedral, Ake. At the time of his death, he lived at the upscale Ibara Housing Estate. His personal house,  a custom built duplex deep inside Obantoko was completed after his demise.

Recently, this writer drove past the house and could not but wonder how different the house would have been had Pope lived much longer. Not for lack of maintenance, far from it, it was simply a case of a palace missing its king. 

While he did music and became famous for it, Pope worked for many years with his elder brother, foremost publisher, distinguished Old Boy of Abeokuta Grammar School, venerable community leader, Gbemi Sodipo, as assistant director of Gbemi Sodipo Press in Idi-Aba, Abeokuta. Employees at the Press remember Pope as the life of the establishment, going about his duties with a playful and approachable attitude that endeared him to both permanent staff and short hires. In the course of his career, he waxed albums including Amoran, Full Bloom (arguably his most popular) and Getting Better, a worship/praise/thanksgiving medley. Getting Better was his response to God following an illness he survived. Despite committing to the life of a teetotaller, he remained social and lively till his death on 19 August, 2000 aged 46 years.

To many, Pope was a bundle of joy who gave his talent much heed, made a name and lived a life of comfort. 

His funeral on the 26th of August 2000 was a festival of tears. His cortege was led by his towering cousin-in-law, Tunji Okusanya of MIC Funeral Home fame, who himself died a few years later in the ill-fated Agagu plane crash. The cathedral was anything but joyful on that day. The magnificent edifice was all gloom as mourners, friends, fans gathered to pay their last respect to their Pope. Abeokuta wept as the shiny casket was wheeled into the Cathedral and then driven in a long motorcade that crippled economic activities all the way to his final resting place at the Anglican Cemetery next door to where we now have Ogun Tech Hub in Kobape, in the outskirts of Abeokuta.

Oladipo Eniola Sodipo lived a fulfilled life. Twenty one years on, it is hard to disagree with everyone that Pope died too soon; his style and performance have long become stuff of legend consigned to faded pages of history books.

Bankole Banjo is a Communications Specialist and Head of the Brand, Media and Communications department of one of Nigeria’s foremost insurance companies. 

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