Having come to the U.S. from his native Nigeria to study medicine, percussionist Babatunde Olatunji eventually became one of the first African music stars in the States. He also soon counted jazz heavyweights like John Coltrane ("Tunji") and Dizzy Gillespie among his admirers (Gillespie had, a decade earlier, also courted many Cuban music stars via his trailblazing Latin jazz recordings). And, in spite of it being viewed by some as a symbol of African chic, Drums of Passion is still a substantial record thanks to Olatunji's complex and raw drumming.
Recorded in 1993 but only released in 2005, two years after his death, it's a mystery why this sat in the vault for so long. Here the Nigerian master drummer collaborates with Sikiru Adepoju and Muruga, and the results are as good as anything he released in his prime during the 1960s. He can conjure up a groove out of nothing, making it flow and ebb, while the drummers talk to each other with their instruments. It's not quite all percussion, however, as the one-string ektar fiddle, synth, chants, and even (surprisingly) hammered dulcimer enter the mix. Each of the six tracks gets time to develop, and it's the kind of disc that will have listeners performing workouts on their bodies (keeping up, however, is a different matter). It's readily apparent just how good these guys were during this session, making it sound so easy. Olatunji might no longer be with us, but on this disc he leaves a strong legacy.
…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.
"I "grew up" with this recording and remember it fondly from my college days, but was completely unprepared for the way it sounds in multi-channel stereo. This is the real thing! – the drummers and singers are in a seamless circle around the listener. Bass response is staggering – we never heard it like this on LP. It's a remarkable achievement for all concerned." ~sa-cd.net
Ever since his astonishing debut in the 1959 recording "The Drums of Africa", Babatunde Olatunji has traveled the world spreading his infectious beat to the farthest corners of the globe. In this release Olatunji not only plays the drums, but also offers notes on the role of the drum in Nigerian culture, "The Story of Fire" as told with the drum, famous rhythms in play-along format, and much more.
Percussionist Olatunji was championing African music long before anyone devised the worldbeat marketing strategy.