Tag Archives: Babatunde Olatunji

Artist Profiles: Babatunde Olatunji

Babatunde Olatunji

Babatunde Olatunji was one of the 20th century’s greatest masters of percussion. A beloved cross-cultural ambassadors, he made an unparalleled contribution in the saga of modern rhythm as he almost single-handedly seeded the sounds of African music into the American mainstream.

Born in 1927 to a Yoruban fishing family in Ajido, Nigeria, Olatunji arrived to the United States in 1950 to study political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where as an undergraduate he began performing informally and produced a popular show based on his country’s culture and traditions. He continued to play music intermittently during his graduate studies at NYU’s School of Public Administration, culminating in a Radio City Music Hall engagement backed by a full orchestra in 1957 – which brought him to the attention of the legendary jazz producer John Hammond at Columbia Records (whose other discoveries included Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen).

Olatunji’s debut album, Drums Of Passion, was released in 1959 and was an unprecedented smash hit; selling over five million copies, it was the first record to broadly introduce the sounds of African music to western ears. Early career milestones included that fateful performance at Radio City Music Hall, another at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and national TV appearances on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Bell Telephone Hour.

Olatunji’s dedication to the preservation and communication of African culture led him to establish his dream – the institute of African Cultural Studies. Headquartered in the heart of Harlem, he made his commitment to education by offering affordable classes in a wide range of cultural subjects to adults and young people – including not only “just plain folks” but also such major cultural icons of the era as Malcolm X and John Coltrane. His expertise in the area of African music and dance led to a diversity of new projects and roles throughout his life: as director of an educational television series; as co-author of the book African Musical Instruments, Their Origins and Use; and as an authoritative consultant for innumerable museum exhibits, media documentaries, and publications. He was active in the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s, traveling with the Reverend Martin Luther King as a fixture at NAACP gatherings.

Babatunde Olatunji

In the late 1980s, Gratefu! Dead percussionist Mickey Hart released the classic Drums Of Passion: The Invocation as part of his groundbreaking The World CD series for the Rykodisc label, followed by a multi-artist collaboration with Olatunji called Drums Of Passion: The Beat. Baba became an integral part of Hart’s award-winning At The Edge in 1990, along with jerry Garda and Zakir Hussain, and appeared regularly on tour with the Grateful Dead during the height of their fame and popularity – becoming a seminal influence in the drum circle phenomenon which blossomed from those halcyon days. In 1991, Olatunji and Hart co-founded the pan-global percussion supergroup, Planet Drum (the ensemble included Hart, Olatunji/ Zakir Hussain, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Sikiru Adepoju and Vikku Vinayakram) – winning the first-ever Grammy? Award for Best World Music Album, and selling out a national U.S. tour including legendary shows at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the historic Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

Olatunji penned many original compositions, including scores for both the Broadway and Hollywood productions of Raisin In The Sun. He assisted fellow Morehouse alumnus Bill Lee with the music for She’s Cotta Have It, the hit film produced and directed by, and starring, Bill’s son Spike.

More recent independent recordings, Celebrate Freedom, Justice, and Peace and Healing Rhythms, Songs and Chants -along with the Grammy?-nominated Love Drum Talk (Chesky Records, 1997) – found Africa’s musical ambassador to the west still forging forward with vitality and dedication, despite his advancing age and the increasing pain and debility he endured as a diabetic.

As a faculty member in his final years at both the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, Olatunji tirelessly pursued his mission of spreading African culture through the teaching of traditional drumming, dance, and chant. He lectured and taught at Universita Degli Studi Ni Napoli (Naples, Italy); Kodo Drum Society (Sado Island, Japan); Tantra Galarie (Interlocken, Switzerland); Frankfurter Ring (Frankfurt, Germany), and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, Virginia). In 1996, he was named Impresario of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, one of the two national dance companies of Ghana, and for many years led annual workshops at the International Centre for African Music and Dance at Ghana’s University of Accra.

Babatunde Olatunji

In 1996, he also received an honorary doctorate from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York for his outstanding and selfless service to the arts

Babatunde Olatunji passed away Sunday, April 6th, 2003, at Esalen Institute, California, with his family by his side.

Discography:

Drums of Passion (Columbia, 1959)
Zungo! (1961)
Flaming Drums (Columbia, 1962)
Olatunji
Drums!, Drums!, Drums! (Roulette, 1964)
Soul Makossa (Paramount, 1973)
Dance to the Beat of My Drum (Bellaphon, 1986)
Drums of Passion: The Invocation (Rykodisc, 1988)
Drums of Passion: The Beat (Rykodisc, 1989)
Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice & Peace (Olatunji, 1993)
Drums of Passion and More (Bear Family, 1994)
Babatunde Olatunji, Healing Rhythms, Songs and Chants (Olatunji, 1995)
Love Drum Talk (Chesky, 1997)
Drums of Passion [Expanded] (2002)
Olatunji Live at Starwood (2003)
Healing Session (Narada, 2003)
Circle of Drums (Chesky, 2005)

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Remastered Edition of Iconic Planet Drum Album

Planet Drum, the percussion album that became a world music sensation 25 years ago is available again, remastered and with new tracks. The 25th Anniversary Special Edition will be available on Friday, December 2nd, 2016 in various formats, including Vinyl LP for the first time.

On Planet Drum, American drummer Mickey Hart (The Grateful Dead) brought together percussion maestros from various parts of the world: Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram (India), Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju (Nigeria), Airto Moreira and Flora Purim (Brazil), and Giovanni Hidalgo (Puerto Rico).

The Remastered 25th Anniversary Edition includes 3 new tracks: Sea Of Showers, Throat Games, And The Spot. Sea Of Showers features Flora Purim And Babatunde Olatunji. Throat Games is a vocal percussion piece with Baba, Sikiru, Zakir, and Airto. The Spot starts with the sound of water drops, and then showcases Zakir and Airto.

Mickey Hart
Mickey Hart

Planet Drum: Song Descriptions by Mickey Hart

1. Udu Chant 3:40

Udu Chant represents the struggle of Life and Death, which throughout history has been portrayed in ritual using percussion. Airto plays Portuguese wooden shoes called tamanco. I play the “Beam” and a giant hoop drum from the Arctic Circle, which together form the resounding low end. Sikiru maintains a timeline bell pattern, while Zakir plays custom-made electronic triggers connected to digitally-sampled ¬Udu drums.

Sikiru Adepoju – Cowbell
Mickey Hart – Bass drum, snare drum, hoop drum, tambourine, triangles “Beam,” vocals
Zakir Hussain – Udu drum, balafon, tabla
Airto Moreira – Tamanco, bird calls, whistles, conch shell, claps, chimes, vocals

2. Island Groove 5:43

Island Groove is the soft side of percussion. It is a slow but simple 4/4 samba of ashiko rhythm, based on the sounds of the Yoruban consonants: go, pa, gun. When put together, they become drum talk. This song evolved as the rhymes one person played reminded another of something in their own background. We were able to collectively draw upon our various traditions, and contribute individually to the creation of this composition.

Sikiru Adepoju – Duggi tarang, dundun
Mickey Hart –Bombo indio with split bamboo, Drum set
Zakir Hussain – Madal, dholak
Airto Moreira – Caxixi, rattles, yelling, Chinese cymbal-throwing
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, congas, shekere, vocals

3. Light Over Shadow 3:51

Airto started this song with a slow groove which had the power of the drum set, without the usual accompaniment of cymbals. He used a variety of unusual instruments in the composition. Among these were Mexican donkey jaws and a metal spring which resonates on the body of the instrument when hit with a stick.

Airto Moreira – Snare drum, metal spring, toms, (quijada de burro) Mexican donkey jaws cowbell, cuica, flute, vocals
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, ashiko, ngoma
Flora Purim – vocals

4. Dance Of The Hunter’s Fire 2:59

Dance of the Hunter’s Fire demonstrates the basic African polyrhythm, four beats against six beats. It is an interesting comparison of two rhythmic traditions, the African and the South Indian. What you hear is Baba’s interpretation of the six-beat rhythm laid against four-beat carpet, while Vikku improvises on the Ghatam.

Sikiru Adepoju – Bell
Frank Colon – Shekere
Giovanni Hidalgo – Shekere and Congas
Airto Moreira – ¬jembe, shakers
Caryl Ohrbach – Shaker
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe
Flora Purim – Shaker
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam

5. Jewe “You Are The One” 4:06

Jewe is an example of the use of the human body as a percussion instrument. Five of us are playing in this song, slapping our chests and singing. This cupping of hands and slapping of the chest cavity created a hollow thud, and allowed us to control the vibration of our voices.

Mickey Hart –Vocals, body percussion
Bruce Langhorne – Vocals, body percussion
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals, body percussion
Flora Purim – Vocals
Gordy Ryan – Vocals, body percussion

6. The Hunt

This song represents the primitive with a feeling of the relentless pursuit of the hunt. Sikiru’s talking drum speaks over the djembe, Jew’s harp, and drum set to form a unique rhythm.

Sikiru Adepoju – Dundun
Mickey Hart – Drum set
Zakir Hussain – Naal, bells, tabla
Airto Moreira – Shakers
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, ashiko, ngoma
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam, Jew’s harp

7. Temple Caves 3:13

At the dawn of religion, the Paleolithic trance dancers gathered in subterranean temple caves for ritual celebration. The natural sounds of the caves were an eerie backdrop to the dances. The echoes, the bats, the water dripping from the roof, the whacking of palm against stalagmite and the stalactite resounded thought the caves, creating unique percussive sounds. These sounds were the inspiration for Temple Caves.

Sikiru Adepoju – Gudugudu
Mickey Hart – Split Bamboo, rain stick, shakers, Earth Drum, clackers, duggi tarang, body percussion
Zakir Hussain – tabla, taya
Airto Moreira – Slit gongs, conch shell, shakers, voice/breath
Babatunde Olatunji – jembe, congas

8. The Dancing Sorcerer 2:57

The Dancing Sorcerer features Airto on berimbau, and Zakir on tabla and madal. The berimbau is one of the oldest instruments known to man. In fact, it may be the image of a musical bow in the caves at Les Trois Freres (15,000 BC) that provided the first documentation of percussion’s connection to the sacred. This picture resembles a man wearing the skin of an animal and playing some kind of instrument, possibly a sounding bow or concussion stick.

Zakir Hussain – madal, tabla
Airto Moreira – berimbau

9. Bones 4:10

This song is based on a rhythm I played on the balafon, with bones as mallets. The rest of the ensemble added their own sounds. The use of bones, especially human bones, exhibits a relationship between percussion and ritual. Hitting one bone against the other, or using bones on drums instead of sticks has an influence on the sound produced, and on the person who produces it.

Mickey Hart- Bones, balafon
Giovanni Hidalgo – batá
Zakir Hussain – Dundun, shaker and bell
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals
Flora Purim – Vocals

10. Lost River 2:58

Lost River is a high-spirited song that demonstrates an interplay between the human voice and percussion instruments. To Zakir, this song brought to mind the singing of children in the mountains of India. The drums provide the strong rhythm which lays a foundation for Flora’s flowing melody.

Sikiru Adepoju – jembe, dundun

Mickey Hart – Drum set

Zakir Hussain – Duggi tarang, conch shell

Airto Moreira – Cymbals, shakers, wood blocks, floor tom, metal percussion
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals

Flora Purim – Vocals

11 Evening Samba 4:30

Evening Samba is a mixture of Brazilian and Angolan rhythms, a perfect frame for out extended bell improvisation.

Sikiru Adepoju – Bell
Mickey Hart – Bell
Zakir Hussain – Bell
Airto Moreira – Bass drum, snare drum, tom toms, tambourine, whistles, wood blocks, metal percussion, cymbals, bells
Babatunde Olatunji – Shaker, bell
T.H. “Vikku” Vinayakram – Ghatam

12. Iyanu “Surprises” 2:02

Iyanu was recorded in 1986, after the Olatunji sessions which resulted in the recordings of the “Invocation to the Orishas” and “The Beat.” The gourds were grown in my garden, and arranged into a new instrument, a gourdophone. Airto played metal brushes against split bamboo.

Molonga Casquelord – Vocals
Mickey Hart – Gourds, vocals
Airto Moreira – Vocals, bamboo with brushes
Babatunde Olatunji – Vocals, clapping
Flora Purim – Vocals

13. Mysterious Island 5:49

Mysterious Island began with recording I made of ocean waves late one night in Kona, Hawaii. I brought back the recording and played it for the ensemble. It was the inspiration for Flora’s seagulls and for her dialogue with a circle of wind chimes which she assembled and walked among during the recording of the song. Mysterious Island mixes the natural elements of water, rain, blowing wind, and birds with the sound of metal bells and the human voice.

Mickey Hart – Grand dumbek, body percussion
Airto Moreira – Bird whistles, nose flute body percussion, tambourine
Flora Purim – Wind chimes, seagulls, vocals
Jeff Sterling – Udu Drum

The Bonus Tracks

This special, remastered 25th anniversary release includes three new tracks produced by Mickey and Zakir, with Zakir’s arrangements of material from the original 1991 recording sessions.

14. Sea Of Showers 4:52

Sea of Showers features Flora Purim and Babatunde Olatunji singing over an elegant rhythm base that includes sounds from Airto’s Aboriginal Australian bullroarer to Flora’s chimes.

15. Throat Games 2:27

Throat Games presents a pan-global scat-a-thon by Babatunde Olatunji, Sikiru Adepoju, Zakir Hussain, and Airto Moreira, using styles of vocalizations from their various musical traditions.

16. The Spot 4:34

The Spot begins with the sound of water drops, and then Zakir Hussain and Airto Moreira dance with the rhythms of the tiny waves in an homage to the water gods.

Buy Planet Drum

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Olatunji’s Lasting Legacy

Babatunde Olatunji - Olatunji! Drums of Passion: Legacy Edition
Babatunde Olatunji – Olatunji! Drums of Passion: Legacy Edition

Babatunde Olatunji

Olatunji! Drums of Passion: Legacy Edition (Columbia/Legacy, 2009)

Celebrating the Nigerian drummer and percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, Columbia/Legacy has released the two-CD set Olatunji! Drums of Passion: Legacy Edition. The re-release of Olatunji’s Columbia recordings Drums of Passion (1959) and More Drums of Passion (1966) is a drumming extravaganza, complete with the original recordings, booklet with fabulous photographs and eight bonus tracks. With tracks that sound as fresh as they did when they first rolled off the presses, Olatunji! Drums of Passion: Legacy Edition proves that Babatunde Olatunji hasn’t lost any bit of the hypnotic lure that mesmerized fans.

The 1959 Drums of Passion was the first recording of traditional West African music ever in North America. With that and subsequent recordings Mr. Olatunji not only captured fans with his stellar skill but drew a number of fans and collaborators like John Coltrane, Mickey Hart and Carlos Santana. It comes as no surprise listening to stunning tracks like “Oya,” “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba” and “Kiyakiya” on disc one. “Oyin Momo Ado” will raise the hairs on the back of your neck it’s so good. Bonus tracks on disc one include the meaty “Nenu Di Ye Jewe” and a jaunty version of “Jolly Mensah” that includes Everett Barksdale and Al Schackman on guitar, W. Lee on bass and Clark Terry on trumpet, as well as the fabulous “Menu Diyeh” as Mr. Olatunji is joined by Ray Barretto on conga and timbales.

Disc two, More Drums of Passion, is just as spectacular with “Ayinde,” the deliciously quirky “Mbira” and the fiery Frekoba,” which has to be one of the most breath-taking eight minutes twenty-two seconds of drumming. The bonus tracks include the jazzy “African Waltz,” suffused with a wind and brass section that includes Clark Terry and Snooky Young on trumpet, Jerome Richardson on piccolo and tenor saxophone, Hosea Taylor on flute, oboe and tenor saxophone, A. “Bud” Johnson on baritone saxophone, Seldon Powell on aloto saxophone and Robert Brookmeyer and Dick Lieb on trombone. It really escapes me as to why this splendid track was never released. Other bonus tracks include “Hail the King” and “Saturday Night Limbo.”

Fans get a further treat and a look into the influence of Drums of Passion with Legacy’s free, multi-episode podcast available at http://podcasts.legacyrecordings.com.

In the big scheme of things there can be no real way to quantify the overwhelming influence this simply stunning percussion has had, but it takes only a listen to see how these two recordings propelled fans, music and musicians in a whole new direction. The only advice I can offer is to listen and enjoy because Olatunji! Drums of Passion: Legacy Edition will leave you thoroughly sated and pleasantly exhausted.

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Get With The Beat

Airto Moreira - Life After That
Airto Moreira – Life After That (Narada 70876-18077-2-1, 2003)

Babatunde Olatunji – Healing Session (70876-18132-2-7, 2003)

Airto Moreira and Babatunde Olatunji both have solidified reputations as master percussionists, trailblazers in the percussion realm and pioneers of global music. They teamed up from time to time as well, on each other’s projects and on such milestones as Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum album. Olatunji’s death earlier this year marked the passing of a true legend. I’m betting it’s more than a coincidence that his first posthumous album is emerging at the same time as a new release from Airto (on the same label, no less), but speculation on that point is far secondary to the fact that we have two stunningly good percussion-based discs here.

There’s nothing Airto Moreira can’t do with percussion. In decades of solo and group work with jazz fusionists, experimental musicians, rock and rollers, traditionalists and beyond, he’s been able to take even the most deceptively simple-seeming gadgets and make magic with them. And no wonder. He grew up in Brazil, land of imported African beats and a place where the rules of percussion have been rewritten repeatedly. Nonetheless, Life After That is a surprising stunner even for Airto. Some of his work has been more about creating moods and environments centered around percussion and vocal sounds than conventional drumming pieces, but this latest is the best of all worlds. It’s a near-perfect balance of feverish drum jams, rhythmic soundscapes, brilliant symbiosis of melody and beat and lots of just plain fun. Smack dab in the middle is ten minutes of Airto soloing on the Brazilian tambourine known as the pandeiro, and before and after that such guests as fellow percussionists Giovanni Hidalgo and Michito Sanchez, vocalist Flora Purim (Airto’s wife) and didgeridoo specialist Stephen Kent add to the festivities. A smattering of guitars, bass, piano and winds sometimes adds refinement, but this is a percussionist’s utopia through and through. Still, global music listeners across the board are likely to groove to what’s here, be it the Olatunji tribute, the sprawling “Ritmo Do Mundo” or the human beatbox-with-Jamaican-accents track “Let It Out Let It In,” which my kids have lately been singing around the house quite a bit.

Babatunde Olatunji - Healing Session
The words “healing session” could be applicable to just about everything Olatunji did in his life, given the shamanic quality of a performing, recording and teaching career that began with the unprecedented success of his Drums of Passion album more than 40 years ago. Some of his discs were pure percussion, some added other instruments for a more fusion-geared sound, and he too collaborated with many notable music makers in his day. Longtime fans may be taken aback with the relatively low-key Healing Session, especially if it’s the hard, fast, intensely polyrhythmic Olatunji they’re used to.

The intricacies of layered African percussion are present, although the slower, unfolding nature of the tracks show an intimacy and meditative aura not often associated with Olatunji’s sort of drumming. But it works, wonderfully. Steady, hypnotic beats are embellished with further rhythms that both comply and contrast, taking their time to build to blissful convergences of percussion and chants that seem to sway in and out of some misty, otherworldly place. If that description sounds like new age blather, forgive me. The track-by-track specifics in the liner notes (written by Olatunji himself) state the case much better. Suffice to say that this cd has the same sort of depth as the mystical music created by, for example, similarly inclined indigenous peoples and Gregorian monks- longing, hopeful, reassuring, ultimately striving to make this world a more beautiful place. Immerse yourself.

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