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Music / Babatunde Olatunji

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He is the godfather of two generations of drummers in the West. In 1950 he came to the United States bringing with him the powerful rhythms of Nigeria. His are the rhythms of the Saints, of the Orisas: Ogun and Santo. He blended them with the exotic sounds of New York City to form a new kind of music.

Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead).
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Michael Babatunde Olatunji (April 7, 1927 – April 6, 2003) was a Nigerian musician, social activist and educator, but best known as a drummer. He was one of the first artists in World Music to become famous in the West. Drums of Passion (1960) made African music popular in other continents and produced Olatunji's Signature Song "Jin-go-lo-ba", which sold over millions worldwide and has been frequently Covered Up by artists as diverse as Serge Gainsbourg, Carlos Santana, Fatboy Slim,...

He was one of the pioneers of Afrobeat and had enormous influence on Jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Max Roach. Coltrane saw him as his personal mentor, because Olatunji evoked his interest in African music. In the 1980s and 1990s Olatunji was also opening act for Grateful Dead.

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Apart from his musical impact Olatunji also campaigned for civil rights for black people and was present when Martin Luther King held his 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington. He also protested against apartheid in South Africa.

In 1991 he won the Grammy Award for best World Music Album.

Tropes that fit his work:

  • African Chant: His band members often sang along during the drum performances.
  • Afrobeat: His music is often classified under this genre, but also as African folk music.
  • Cool Hat: Also performed in traditional African dress, with a white hat and long robe.
  • Cult Soundtrack: He provided music to Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It.
  • Epic Rocking: The tribal dances tend to take longer in reality, but due to restrictions of the LP format they were kept under a limit. When CD's became available his tracks became longer too.
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  • Folk Music: He often recorded traditionals from his home country.
  • I Am the Band: Olatunji's band was named "Drums Of Passion", but since his albums were released under his name he practically became the face of the band.
  • Instrumental: The drums and percussion are very dominant. Often it was accompanied by singing, but there are pure instrumentals too.
  • Jungle Drums: He is perhaps the most famous African drummer in the world and well known for the characteristic sounds these drums make.
  • Shout-Out: Bob Dylan mentions him in "I Shall Be Free" on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963).
    Oh, I set me down on a television floor,
    I flipped the channel to number four.
    Out of the shower comes a football man
    With a bottle of oil in his hand.
    Greasy kid stuff.
    What I want to know, Mr Football Man, is
    What do you do about Willy Mays,
    Martin Luther King,
    Olatunji?
  • Special Guest: He performed along on Stevie Wonder's album "Jungle Fever" (1991) and Carlos Santana's "Dance Of The Rainbow Serpent".

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