Babatunde Olatunji

Babatunde Olatunji 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, particuarly 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 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." In 1997, He recorded and released Love Drum Talk for the Telarc label. In April of 2003, Babatunde Olatunji passed away after a lengthy struggle with diabetes.
Ron Wynn and J. Poet, Rovi