Tag Archives: drumming

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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Artist Profiles: Baba Olajagun

Baba Olajagun

Born in Oka-Akoko in Ekiti State of Nigeria, Baba Olajagun (vocals, talking drum) is a pillar of New York’s Nigerian community. A highly esteemed master drummer, teacher and ceremonial performer, Jagun first came to the U.S. as a member of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Egypt 80 band.

Residing in New York City since the early 1990s, Baba Jagun has focused his efforts on keeping the traditional rhythms of his homeland present and accounted for. The 2003 release of the groundbreaking dance remix “Odo Oya” on Spiritual Life Records put Olajagun on the map as a recording artist in his own right.

Jagun’s own orchestra, Ancestral Rhythms, features some of the most skilled and exciting percussionists currently based in New York City: Kunle Ade (conga, jembe); Baba Azizi (conga, djembe); Foly Kolade (conga); Segun Ajaye (conga, djembe); Arthemio (conga); Tunji (sakara); Oscar Debe and Jojo Kuo (trap drums), and Judith Rahilly (backing vocals).

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Artist Profiles: Ayo Adeyemi

Ayo Adeyemi

Ayo Adeyemi was born in Nigeria where he was initiated as a babalawo in the indigenous Yoruba religion, Ifa. He has been drumming, singing and dancing since he was a child.

In the 1980s, Ayo, whose name means “happy,” moved to the United States, where he lived and toured with renowned Yoruba master drummer Babatunde Olatunji for eight years. Ayo has performed with The Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart, Keith Richards, Ginger Baker, Carlos Santana, and at the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

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Artist Profiles: Diplomats of Drum

Diplomats of Drum

The Diplomats of Drum are a band from Malaysia that comprises of each ethnic race in the country. The Diplomats fuses Malaysian melodies and rhythms with global beats and melodies, creating a unique brand of global Fusion. The global beats that they have pioneered have influenced many movements where they have played and they are highly regarded as the most exciting and promising youthful, ethnic-flavored percussion ensemble.

Born from pure creativity and experimentation with rhythms and percussion, the Diplomats of Drum started as an energetic bunch of street performers, slowly changing into a serious all percussion ensemble. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their diverse unified beats, combining showmanship and acrobatic stunts in their performances attract audiences. Eventually they evolved into a global fusion band. But they have not forgotten their humble beginnings, and have incorporated their drumline like percussion style and rhythms into their stage performances.

Influences include Indian classical vocals, Gaelic chants, traditional Malay rhythms, Afro beats and Latin grooves, Bhangra rhythms, Scottish Bagpipe, sitar, jembe and a drumline.

We’re a bunch of happy go lucky noise mongers who love music and everything about it. After many years of being session musicians, we decided to get together to form the Diplomats of Drum.”

We officially got together as a band in 2006, but have been playing as percussionists for some time before that. We decided to progress and maintain the band concept after being asked to perform at a friends charity gig. We liked that way we sounded, so we stuck to playing as a band, combining our percussive skills with the new found melodies, and added a few more members to complete the gang!

We’re a hodge podge of soundscapes! What we did is, we took the traditional melodies and rhythms of Malaysia, and fused them with instruments and sounds from other countries! In particular, we love Celtic music…so that’s why we lean a bit more towards it. Hence the term global fusion that is closely associated with us. Plus, we incorporated the percussions into the band, so we’re pretty loud!

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Artist Profiles: Sikiru Adepoju

Sikiru Adepoju

Sikiru Adepoju was born November 10, 1950 in Nigeria. American percussionist Mickey Hart calls him “the Mozart of the talking drum.” Sikiru Adepoju first came to the focus of the American music scene through his involvement with the Grammy Award-winning Planet Drum project. His technical mastery of the talking drum and various indigenous percussion instruments (dundun, gudugudu, gome, omele, sekere, etc.) have gained acceptance and respect among music listeners of all tastes.

Born in Eruwa, Western Nigeria, Sikiru grew up in a “talking drum family” where he began his tutelage of the instrument at his father’s side (Chief Ayanleke Adepoju), at the age of six. He then went on to tour and record several albums with renowned Nigerian Juju artist Chief Ebenezer Obey and his Inter- Reformers Band. Obey, who called his personal style the miliki (enjoyment) sound, began where noted juju entertainer I.K. Diaro left off. Obey drew in such Western elements as multiple guitars and a Hawaiian steel guitar soloist, adding them to the traditional rhythmic foundation.

After he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1985, Sikiru soon met world-renowned percussionist and leading African music artist Babatunde Olatunji. Shortly after meeting Olatunji, Sikiru joined his Drums of Passion ensemble and began a 17 year period with the group, recording and touring extensively throughout the world, until a year before Olatunji’s death in 2003.

While a member of Olatunji’s Drums of Passion, Sikiru recorded with Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana, and performed with the Grateful Dead, where he met Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. It was after meeting Hart that Sikiru also joined Hart’s Planet Drum ensemble. In 1991 the group’s debut release, Planet Drum, hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart, remaining there for 26 weeks, and went on to receive a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. In 2002 Sikiru joined Mickey Hart’s Bembe Orisha (party to the spirits).

Adepoju formed various bands, including The Honeymakers, Afrika Heartbeat, Sikiru Adepoju & Heart Beat, and Limbo Rhythm Project.

Discography

The Apocalypse Now Sessions, with Rhythm Devils (Rykodisc, 1979)
Juju Jubilee, with Ebenezer Obey (1985)
Drums of Passion: The Invocation, with Babatunde Olatunji (1988)
Drums of Passion: The Beat, with Babatunde Olatunji (Rykodisc, 1989)
At the Edge, with Mickey Hart (Rykodisc, 1990)
Planet Drum, with Mickey Hart (Rykodisc, 1991)
Jungle Fever, with Stevie Wonder (1991)
Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice & Peace, with Babatunde Olatunji (1993)
Big Bang, percussion anthology with various artists (Ellipsis Arts, 1995)
Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, with Mickey Hart (1996)
Watchfire, with Pete Sears & Friends (1996)
Supralingua, with Mickey Hart and Planet Drum (Rykodisc, 1998)
Honour Simplicity, Respect the Flow, with Kai Eckhardt (2000)
The Best of Mickey Hart: Over the Edge and Back, with Mickey Hart (2002)
Ijinle Ilu, with Afrika Heartbeat (2003)
Life After That, with Airto Moreira (2003)
Soup’s on Fire, with Jana Herzen (2003)
21 July 2004 San Francisco Ca: On The Road, with The String Cheese Incident (2004)
Circle of Drums, with Babatunde Olatunji (2005)
Ara Kenge, with Bola Abimbola (2005)
Global Drum Project, with Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo (Shout! Factory, 2008)
The Rhythm Devils Concert Experience, with Rhythm Devils (2009)
Mysterium Tremendum, with Mickey Hart Band (2012)
Superorganism, with Mickey Hart Band (2013)
RAMU, with Mickey Hart (Verve, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Obo Addy

Obo Addy

Obo Addy was born January 15, 1936. He was a prominent member of the first generation of African musicians to bring their traditional and popular music to Europe and the United States of America. This versatile magician of the drums embodied the past, present and future of Ghana’s musical culture. He celebrated past traditions while embracing new ideas and foreign influences. Internationally, Obo Addy’s contribution can be measured by the fact that he was one of the key originators of the seminal musical movement now known as “Worldbeat.”

His musical background was a combination of the rigorous standards of ritual music he learned from his father, a Wonche Priest (A Wonche Priest of the Ga culture is a traditional spiritual healer, herbalist, community adviser and conflict mediator. His skills include complete mastery of music and dance as used in rituals he performs for the community.), with the flashy international pop music he performed as a young professional with big bands in Accra, Ghana. After moving away from performing Western standards on the nightclub circuit, Obo Addy joined the National Arts Council of Ghana, becoming a master in the traditional music and dance of the many cultures in Ghana. He later moved to the United States where he created two colorful performing ensembles, each expressing one of the two closely-related sides of his musical personality: traditional and popular.

Okropong, meaning “eagle” in Obo Addy’s native Ga language, performed traditional Ghanaian music using a variety of hand and stick drums, talking drums, bells and shakers. While the musicians built layers of driving rhythms and singing, the dancers, clad in colorful West African garments, engaged in an energetic physical “conversation” with the drummers and the audience. Occasionally, Obo Addy complemented the drummers by playing the Dzili or Giri (a marimba-type instrument) in a manner which demonstrated the strong connection between traditional African music and jazz improvisation.

Bringing the jazz connection into the fore was Obo Addy’s second ensemble Kukrudu (Ga for earthquake’). This eight piece ensemble of African and American musicians performed a rich synthesis of musical styles on Ghanaian percussion and Western instruments including saxophone, trombone, guitar, electric bass and drum kit.

Not only was he a percussionist of consummate skill, but Obo Addy was a singer and vocal arranger of unique character whose harmonic ideas and expressive vocal tone demonstrate for audiences the very real connections between West African and African-American singing styles. The musical compositions performed by both Okropong and Kukrudu were are frequently preceded by stirring polyphonic vocal introductions which displayed these characteristics.

Obo Addy – Photo by Tom Pich

In addition to his performing activities, Obo Addy gave instrumental and dance residencies at academic institutions and was the founder and artistic director of the annual Homowo Festival of African Arts in Portland, Oregon. This festival showed American audiences how the music and dance performed by Okropong fits into its broader cultural context. Obo created a strong residency program titled “Rhythm Explosion” aimed at high school age students and not only showed the evolution of traditional to contemporary music but builts in several lecture-demonstrations for music students.

Since his international debut at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, Obo Addy toured extensively in Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Australia, throughout the seventies with his brothers in Oboade, and since 1980 with Kukrudu and Okropong.

In 1992 Obo Addy was commissioned by the innovative classical music ensemble, the Kronos Quartet, to compose “Wawshishijay” for their chart-topping album Pieces of Africa.

In 1996, Obo Addy was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. This is the highest honor a traditional artist can receive in the United States. Obo was the first African born artist to ever receive the award.

Obo Addy died September 13, 2012.

Discography:

Kukrudu (Cascade Recording Studios, 1981)
Obo (Avocet, 1984)
Okropong – Traditional Music Of Ghana ‎(EarthBeat!, 1990)
The Rhythm Of Which A Chief Walks Gracefully ‎(EarthBeat!, 1994)
Let Me Play My Drums (Burnside, 1997)
Wonche Bi (Alula Records, 2001)
AfieyeOkropong (Alula Records, 2003)

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Artist Profiles: Mustapha Tettey Addy

Mustapha Tettey Addy

Mustapha Tettey Addy was born in 1942 in a small village near Ghana’s capital Accra. The Addy family was known for their impressive ritual drummers and so Mustapha learned to play the drum from early childhood. He first performed outside of Ghana in 1964, when he toured several eastern European countries. Since then he has been a frequent traveler to Western Europe, specially to Germany. He also toured in the UK and the United States with various groups (e.g. Ehimomo) and led many workshops, especially at Die Werkstatt in Dusseldorf.

In 1982 Addy started to collect and arrange the Obonu drum music which has its main roots in the Ashanti region. He became a student of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana and also traveled through all regions of Ghana where he researched the music and the language of the different tribes. In 1986 Addy started a new group called The Drummers which later became the Obonu Drummers.

In 1988 Mustapha Tettey Addy opened a cultural center in Kokrobitey near Accra. At the same time he founded the Academy of African Music and Arts LTD (AAMAL). This center tries to retain traditional forms of music, arts, dance and craftsmanship. The AAMAL is a school for artists, musicians and teachers, but it also promotes young talents and supports the Pan-African cultural exchange.

Discography:

Master Drummer From Ghana (Lyrichord Discs, 1972)
Les Percussions Du Ghana (Arion, 1980)
African Ritual Music ‎(Insel Hombroich, 1984)
Solo Drumming ‎(Insel Hombroich, 1984)
Come & Drum ‎(WeltWunder, 1994)
Secret Rhythms ‎(WeltWunder, 1997)
Come and Dance ‎(Weltwunder, 2003)
Smart Boys, with Obonu Drummers ‎(Weltwunder, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Aja Addy

Aja Addy

Aja Addy was born 1948 in Accra, Ghana. He was an acclaimed Ghanaian master drummer and percussionist. Influenced by his work as a tigari priest, the nephew of Mustapha Tettey Addy combined the power of the Kpanlogo drum with the more relaxed highlife rhythms of Ghana. Aja toured extensively with Reinhard Flatischler’s MegaDrums ensemble.

My father was a drummer“, explained Aja Addy, “so I learned how to drum and to dance from him. He has taught me the songs we play in our concerts. They are from the villages in the Greater Accra region and you’ll hear them at any occasions, when a baby is born, at parties, weddings and funerals All my musicians are Ga, a people of fishermen, hunters, carpenters or masons like me. My family taught me how to work with cement. What kind of job you get depends on the region where you live. For example I lived near the river so I learned how to swim and fish, but when the river carried no water, we had to hunt, so I learned all this, but in different seasons. Once every year we go to Ghana to say hello to my family and to have the ceremonies. I also teach my students there.”

After two successful solo releases, Aja Addy recorded a live album titled Live Refreshment with his band Tsui Anaa (Patience). It was recorded in Bremen, Germany and covered traditional songs and rhythms of the Ga people in Ghana. They are played at ceremonies as well as parties and dance festivities.

Aja Addy died while on a tour in Japan in 2002.

Discography:

Coreana, with MegaDrums (Intuition, 1987)
Transformation, with MegaDrums (Intuition, 1990)
Power And Patience (Weltwunder, 1992)
The Medicine Man (Weltwunder, 1993)
Live Refreshment (Weltwunder, 2002)

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Artist Profiles: Les Tambours de Brazza

Les Tambours de Brazza

Conducted by Emile Biayenda, Les Tambours de Brazza works with rhythms from all over Africa, with particular emphasis on rhythms from Congo-Brazzaville, their home. There are approximately 50 different ethnic groups living in the Congo, and each of them lays claim to their own rhythms. Members of the company come from various of these ethnic groups, bringing great diversity and richness of culture to the sound of Les Tambours.

Les Tambours de Brazza – Photo by Azzedine Salah

Emile Biayenda leads the group from his seat at the trap drum kit, and freely exhorts his musicians to mix traditional rhythms with urban influences and electric bass. Formed in 1991, the group has been performing, recording, and touring ever since, although never in North America. They have released several CDs, played at major world music festivals in Europe, including Musiques Metisses in France, the Moers Jazz Festival in Germany, the Roots Festival in the Netherlands, among many others. In addition to concerts the group delivers wonderful workshops for school-age children, and adults. They have toured most of Europe, and North Africa, as well as Japan, and Hong Kong.

Discography:

Congo Drums (Playa Sound, 1996)
Ahaando. Le Griot Rap Compte (Contre-Jour, 1999)
Zangoula (Contre-Jour, 2000)
Tandala (M10, 2003)
Brazza (2008)
Sur La Route Des Caravanes (Buda Musique, 2013)

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Artist Profiles: Fellé Vega

Fellé Vega

Fellé Vega, is a renowned Dominican artist; Dominican percussionist native of Santiago De Los Caballeros who defines himself as an Imaginary Folklorist.

Percussionist, composer, inventor, instrument designer, who over the course of his multi-faceted 25-year career has shared the national and international stage with many notable artists, has participated in numerous jazz festivals around the world and led several musical groups, has served as instructor and lecturer at percussion workshops in addition to being a composer and designer of musical instruments.

This craftsman of rhythms and varied instruments exhibits in his music a strong ethnic fusion that is the result of the African, Spanish and Taino influence ever-present in the Caribbean.

Devoted to finding the sound of life, Fellé has distinguished himself by his experimentation with recyclable materials and everyday objects that have percussive possibilities, such as pails, lids and pots, which he then turns into musical instruments. His use of such materials to create music has earned him on many occasions the title of musical wizard from Dominican music critics.

Fellé currently heads the Monday’s concert series Monday’s Jazz every Monday in Bar Code, is the musical director of the jazz and world music group Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas, and member of the most famous percussion quintet in the country Cuero, Madera y Metal, as well as the music coordinator of the Palafitos Jazz Festival in Moca.

He is the creator and director of motivational percussion workshops offered at public and private schools called Tocando la Vida, (playing the life) and conducts an innovator idea for workshops based on percussion dynamics for corporate human resources department called SonTeam.

Fellé designs and manufactures percussion instruments under his own trademark, Tokit, for which he uses wood and recyclable materials. The percussion instruments called Boombaquin (percussion box), Tata, Gargaritas, Gayumba, Cuadrangarang, and Tambiro are some of his original creations.

At the moment, he is pointing all his energies in commercialize internationally the Boombakini. This instrument was designed by Fellé in the early 1990s and has being played by several Dominican and international musicians around the world. This is the first Dominican instrument that has been patented, something that makes Fellé very proud.

Discography
 
Retreta para el alma, by Felle Vega and La Orquesta de las Danzas Mezcladas (2005)

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