Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: (Babatunde) Olatunji, Drums of Passion

Recorded in 1959 and released in 1960, “Drums of Passion” is a remarkable album.  Babatunde Olatunji was a Nigerian student who came to Morehouse College in Atlanta as olatunjia student on a Rotary International Foundation scholarship where he formed a drumming group as a way to help other Nigerian students cope with homesickness.  The music overwhelmed the scholarship after Olatunji’ moved to New York to pursue a graduate degree.  His group began attracting attention in jazz circles.  John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie were early fans and John Hammond, who is credited with “discovering” Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen among many, many others, secured Olatunji a recording contract with Columbia Records.  “Drums of Passion” was the inital result and it exploded on the music world like a rhythm bomb.

The music on “Drums of Passion” is all percussion and vocals with the emphasis on percussion.  At the time of its release “World Music” wasn’t a recognized marketing category and many US listeners had little or no prior exposure to African drumming.  Full bore African drum music can be so rhythmically complex that it is virtually incomprehensible to Western ears that are untrained in this type of music.  Where the experienced listener (who would usually be a participant dancer in the music) hears a complex weave of sophisticated rhythms the unexperienced hears an undifferentiated percussive roar.  In a desire to introduce Western listeners to his native Nigerian music Olatunji made the wise decision to keep it simple.  The album was recorded in stereo, atypical at the time, and the drums and percussion instruments are very well miked so that each instrument can be clearly differentiated in sound and located in space within the mix.  The result is that the interweaving rhythms can be clearly heard, understood and enjoyed without prior experience.  It is a superb recording. 

“Drums of Passion”, which has never been out of print since it was originally released, has had a long and illustrious life.  The album has been variously credited with introducing Americans to world music, being the first album of African music recorded in the US and being the first album of African music recorded in stereo.  Initially it was widely hailed in jazz circles and it led Olatunji to gigs with Randy Weston, Max Roach, Cannonball Adderly, Horace Silver and many others.  Silver, Yusef Lateef, Charles Lloyd and Clark Terry all spent time in later editions of Olatunji’s group.  One of the tracks on Drums of Passion”, Gin-Go-Lo-Ba, became one of Santana’s signature tunes after they covered it as “Jingo” on their first album.  Music from “Drums of Passion” was a staple on the playlists of David Mancuso at the Loft and Francis Grasso at the Sanctuary, arguably the most important underground dance venues in New York in the formative days of underground dance culture in the early 1970s.  In later times the World Music police have turned up their little noses at the album for not being “authentic” enough to satisfy their prissily insistent tastes. 

“Drums of Passion” is powerful, exceptionally well recorded music that retains its power to excite almost 50 years after it was originally released.  If you like drumming, rhythm or dance and haven’t heard it, check “Drums of Passion” out. 

Music from this CD can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 006 – Jingo: Listening with Open Ears


06/21/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

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