“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift.
That's why we call it the present.”
This quote is attributed to him at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/q106486.html
is the soul of life. The whole universe revolves in rhythm.
Everything and every human action revolves in rhythm."
- Babatunde Olatunji
New York Times Excerpt The Arts/Cultural Desk April 9, 2003, Wednesday
Babatunde Olatunji, Drummer, 76*, Dies; Brought Power of
African Music to U.S.
By JON PARELES (NYT) 764 words
LEAD PARAGRAPH - Babatunde Olatunji, the Nigerian drummer, bandleader and teacher who was a tireless ambassador
for African music and culture in the United States, died on Sunday in Salinas, Calif. He was 76 and lived at the Esalen
Institute in Big Sur, Calif. The cause was complications of advanced diabetes, said his daughter Modupe Olantunji Anuku.
Mr. Olatunji's 1959 album, Drums of Passion, was the first album of African drumming recorded in stereo in an American
studio, and it introduced a generation to the power and intricacy of African music. While field recordings of African drumming
had been available, Drums of Passion reached a mass public with its vivid sound and exotic song titles like "Primitive Fire."
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-In Memoriam -
Michael Babatunde "Baba" Olatunji
Our friend, brother and spiritual leader left this plain for another,
Sunday, April 6, 2003, 7:30 am, at the age of 75* (would have celebrated his 76th birthday on Monday, the following day).
Babatunde Olatunji, a renowned Nigerian drummer who pioneered world music and influenced musicians such as Carlos Santana,
Mickey Hart, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan, died Sunday at a Salinas hospital of complications from diabetes.
Mr. Olatunji, *who would have celebrated his 76th birthday on Monday, had been living for the past year at Esalen Institute in Big Sur,
where he was on the faculty.
Babatunde Olatunji is "Master of Drums", a virtuoso of West African percussion. Born and raised in Nigeria, Olatunji was educated at
Morehouse College in Atlanta and the New York University Graduate School. At Morehouse, he began performing informally,
entertaining fellow students. As the demand for his music increased, he entered the professional music field.
In 1959, Columbia Records released Olatunji's first album, Drums of Passion, which became an unprecedented, worldwide smash hit.
It was the first album to bring genuine African music to Western ears, and it went on to sell over five million copies. Olatunji has
traveled the world for forty years spreading his music and African culture.
Thirty years ago, he founded the Olatunji Center of African Culture in the heart of Harlem and he has been a member of the faculties
at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York for almost 15 years. At these institutions,
as well as at innumerable workshops and festivals, Olatunji continues to pursue his strong commitment to spreading knowledge of
African culture through the teaching of traditional drumming, dancing, and chanting in classes for adults and young people.
Olatunji received a Grammy Award in 1991 for his collaboration with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart on their Planet Drum album.
In addition, his composition "Jingo Lo Ba" has become a signature song for the rock group Santana. Olatunji also has written scores
for Broadway and Hollywood productions, including the music for She's Gotta Have It, a film by Spike Lee.
In 1997, Chesky Records released love drum talk, which went on to be nominated for the 1998 Grammy for Best World Music Album.
On it, Olatunji unleashes the rhythm of passion. Olatunji leads an ebullient ensemble of guitarists, singers and, of course, percussionists
through a series of spirited meditations on the nature of love. Lust, kinship, sensuality, courtship, and spirituality are the themes
Olatunji uses to fuel his joyous, infectious playing.
small village of Ajido, Nigeria, is several worlds away from San Rafael,
California. But one man, the percussionist Babatunde Olatunji, links them. He
made his home recently on the Big Sur coastline. Tomorrow in San Rafael,
Olatunji will be remembered in a memorial service, following his death a little
over a week ago after complications from a long history of diabetes. The
World's Marco Werman reports that Babatunde Olatunji's time in America began in
the south, in the fifties.
MARCO WERMAN: For many Americans, Babatunde Olatunji was their first taste of what is now called "world music."
Babatunde Olatunji won a Grammy award for the recording, "Love Drum Talk"; he also had a long collaboration with the Grateful Dead's drummer Mickey Hart. But before the mainstream acceptance, Olatunji in 1960 released "Drums of Passion." A decade before "Drums of Passion" came out, Babatunde Olatunji came to America for the first time on a Rotary International scholarship. He went to pursue a career in diplomacy at Morehouse College, the black men's school in Atlanta.
DR. EDWARD "E.B." WILLIAMS: We came to Morehouse in 1950, and our graduating class was 1954.
MARCO WERMAN: Dr. Edward "E.B." Williams was a classmate and a friend of Babatunde Olatunji's at Morehouse. Tunji, as Williams knew him, may have been studying diplomacy. But as Edward Williams says, it was Tunji's background in music that served as his own diplomatic language.
DR. EDWARD "E.B." WILLIAMS: With Tunji being the musician that he was, he was certainly able to appear in situations where there could have been some division of the races. He was always someone who was sought after because of his musical skills so that he was a quiet activist, I don't think that there's any doubt about that.
MARCO WERMAN: And sometimes, Olatunji's activism wasn't so quiet. Quiet or not, Babatunde Olatunji's musical activism became his trademark. He used to remind his classes at the Omega Institute in upstate New York that rhythm is the soul of life. "Everything and every human action" he said, "revolves in rhythm." And back in 1950, those words were apparent to Tunji's classmates at Morehouse College.
DR. EDWARD "E.B." WILLIAMS: He had bongos in his room that he used to play for us. His room was in one of the smaller dormitories that we had on campus. And there would be times that I would go in and I'd say "Tunji, play me something, play me something," and he'd be "No man, no, no, no, no, no." And you know, I would just insist. And he would take out the bongos and start playing. And then sometimes after supper some of the guys, if it was warm, would get him to come out in the court area that was in the middle of what we called the units at that particular time.
MARCO WERMAN: Babatunde Olatunji's performances at Christmas with the glee club have since entered the school's folklore. To this day, the carols with Nigerian percussion accompaniment continue to be one of the biggest draws at the Morehouse College holiday concert. Edward E.B. Williams was hoping to see Tunji perform with the Morehouse glee club one more time when he ran into him at a restaurant in Atlanta.
DR. EDWARD "E.B." WILLIAMS: He was being helped up the stairs, and when he got to the top, he got in and I got in to the restaurant, I said, "Ba-ba-tun-de O-la-tun-ji!" And he says, "Who is this? Who is this?" And he turned around and he says, "E.B.!" And we embraced. That was the last time I saw him, and he did tell me at that particular time that he really and truly wanted to come back to Morehouse to perform with the glee club at the next Christmas carol concert. And that was the last time I saw him and the last conversation we had.
MARCO WERMAN: Babatunde Olatunji's battle with diabetes grew progressively worse in the last five years. He succumbed to the disease last week at the age of 76.
was a virtuoso drummer who became a sensation in the '60s with his albums of
traditional Nigerian drumming and chanting. If Olatunji debuted in today's
environment, he would be subjected to much tougher scrutiny and evaluation
regarding "authenticity" than he received in the '60s. His heralded
albums, particularly Drums of Passion, weren't quite the innovative event some
claimed. They were fine LPs, but also contained a heavy dose of show business
and sanitized playing that would be duly noted today, particularly in the
specialist press. Still, his albums reportedly were very influential on John
Coltrane. They were among the few international releases to not just make the
charts, but also remain on them for years. Olatunji didn't make many albums in
his prime. From 1964 until 1967 he had four hit LPs. He'd originally come to
America in the early '60s to study medicine. Olatunji formed a band of African
expatriates mainly as an exercise and way to help each other avoid being homesick.
The ensemble scored a hit record and he became a musician. The popularity of
Drums Of Passion and More Drums Of Passion predated the '60s Black Nationalist
movement and Afrocentricity of the '80s and '90s. They also had some impact in
jazz circles, though they weren't as significant as the Afro-Latin revolution
initiated by Mario Bauza, Machito and Chano Pozo. Olatunji resurfaced in the
late '80s on the Blue Heron label with The Beat Of My Drum, a release featuring
a 17-piece band that included Carlos Santana and Airto Moreira. He subsequently
recorded more sessions for Rykodisc, including a digital remix of "Drums
of Passion." A few of his albums are available on CD. ~ Ron Wynn and J.
Poet, All Music Guide