THE GODFATHER OF CONTEMPORARY COMMUNAL CIRCLES, BABATUNDE OLATUNJI WAS BORN IN 1927 IN AJIDO, NIGERIA, FORTY MILES FROM THE CAPITAL LAGOS, A FISHING VILLAGE ON THE SOUTH-FACING COAST OF NORTH AFRICA. HE SHARED A COMMON DREAM OF UNIFYING HUMANITY THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE OF MUSIC. BABA FIRST SIGNED A RECORDING CONTRACT WITH COLUMBIA RECORDS IN 1959. THOUGH HE WOULD RECORD A TOTAL OF 6 RECORDS WITH COLUMBIA, HIS FIRST RECORD, “DRUMS OF PASSION” WAS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR AS IT SOLD OVER 5 MILLION COPIES IN 1959 AND HAS SINCE GONE ON TO SELL OVER 50 MILLION COPIES. HIS MOST RECENT SOLO RELEASE, “LOVE DRUM TALK” GARNERED HIM A 1998 GRAMMY NOMINATION FOR BEST WORLD MUSIC ALBUM. IN 2002, SONY MUSIC REISSUED BABATUNDE’S ORIGINAL COLUMBIA RECORDS CATALOG ON COMPACT DISC. IN 2000 BABA RECORDED HIS FINAL STUDIO PROJECT SPIRIT OF MUSICAL AFRICA ON MANSMARK RECORDS BEFORE HIS UNTIMELY PASSING IN 2003.
Artists that Baba Influenced John Coltrane: In 1961, Babatunde shared a bill with John Coltrane. In June 1962, John Coltrane composed and recorded as homage to his friend and inspiration, “Tunji.”
Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan sang about Baba on his “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan” album. (”What I want to know Mr. Football Man, is what do you do about Martin Luther King? Willie Mays? OLATUNJI?)
Micky Hart: In the mid-1980’s Baba collaborated with drummer Micky Hart of the Grateful Dead with whom he produced two critically acclaimed albums for Rykodisc, “Drums of Passion: The Invocation” (1998) and “Drums of Passion: The Beat” featuring contributions by Hart and Carlos Santana. Baba’s popularity surged in 1990’s , following his involvement the Grammy award-winning Planet Drum project, the multi-cultural world-beat percussion ensemble he co-founded with Micky Hart.
Carlos Santana: Carlos Santana re-recorded Baba’s version of “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba” in 1969 as “Jingo”, making it one of his band’s signature hits.
Tu-Pac Shakur: Babatunde participated in the posthumous collaboration with Tupac Shakur entitled “Wake Me Up When I’m Free” included on the slain rapper’s 2001 spoken world album, “The Rose That Grew from Concrete”. Babatunde Olatunji appears on the album courtesy of MansMark Records.
Baba in Film and Theatre
Baba Olatunji has written many musical compositions, including scores for the Broadway and Hollywood production of “Raisin in the Sun”. He also contributed to Spike Lee’s movie, “She’s Gotta Have It.” Beyond film and theatre, Baba also appeared on television when he made appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
Baba as Music Educator
In 1964, Olatunji performed at the African Pavilion at the New York World Fair and used the money to open the Olatunji Center for African Culture in Harlem. Olatuni Center for African Culture which was located at 43 East 125th Street in Harlem, NY focused on music education and social activism. Jazz innovators such as John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef became students at the Olatunji Center for African Music in Harlem. The center was the site of John Coltrane’s last public performance. The center ultimately closed in the 1980s.
Master Educator’s Music Workshops: Baba taught extensively in community schools and holistic retreats and institutes such as at Omega (upstate, NY) and Esalen (Big Sur, California) and lending is presence to a variety of events for world peace.
Considered the first ambassador of World Music, Babatunde Olatunji initiated a “World Music Revolution” that ultimately included such legends as King Sunny Ade, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela among others. Recognizing the influence of African polyrhythms in jazz, some of Olatunji’s earliest fans were the jazz greats of the time; men like John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Clark Terry, George Duvivier, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Taj Mahal, Pete Seeger, Bill Lee (Spike Lee’s father), and Dance luminary Alvin Ailey. The list of people Olatunji played with included Carlos Santana, John Coltrane, Tony Vacca, Madou Dembele, Sanga of the Valley (Anthony Francis), Sikiru Adepoju, Gordy Ryan, James Cherry, Arthur Hull and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Babatunde Olatunji spread his messages of love over five decades and inspired many artists and impacted many entertainment mediums.
Baba’s Time Line
1927 – Born in the small village of Ajido, Nigeria, about forty miles
from Lagos, the capital of the country. As a child, Olatunji accompanied
his great aunt Toyin to hear the drums – hollowed out from trees and covered
with the skin of goats – punctuate the lives of his people.
1950 – Olatunji and his cousin were each awarded a scholarship and were
on their way to America to attend school in Atlanta, Georgia
1954 – After graduating from Atlanta’s Morehouse College with a degree in Diplomacy, Olatunji moved to New York City to begin a Political Science postgraduate program in Public Administration at New York University. To cover
his expenses started a small drumming and dance group Insights
on the cultural divides between black and white Americans were the motivating
factor that brought Olatunji to begin performing the drumming of
his Yoruba ancestors.
1957 – Columbia Records producer John Hammond heard Olatunji performing
at Radio City Music Hall with a 66-piece orchestra. This meeting led
directly to a recording contract and the recording of Drums of Passion
1959 – Olatunji’s first album Drums of Passion, first album to bring genuine African music to Western ears, released by Columbia Records. It became an unprecedented, worldwide smash hit, selling over five million
copies and 50 million copies to date.
1963 – Join Martin Luther King for his March on Washington
1964 – Olatunji performed at the African Pavilion at the New York World
Fair where he was able to raise enough money to open the Olatunji Center
for African Culture (OCAC) in Harlem, offering classes in African dance, music, language, folklore, and history. The NEA help to fund Olatuni’s OCAC teacher and student training programs which went to all over the schools in the
New York tri-state area, all the way to Long Island. He drummed
at civil rights rallies along side Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X and
Nelson Mandela, but his musical activism also crossed racial identities
the All One Tribe Drumming Education Award for his
commitment to children, interracial harmony and education.
1996 – Cultural ambassador Baba Olatunji manifested another of his goals by inviting thousands of drummers to congregate at the Washington Monument, prior to Clinton’s Presidential Election to participate in Drum Dance and Prayer
1997 – Love Drum Talk, is last CD released was nominated for a Grammy
2003 (6 April) – Passed over to Ancestors.