Thursday, March 30, 2017

Babatunde Olatunji - 1962 - Flaming Drums!

Babatunde Olatunji
Flaming Drums!

01. Abana
02. African Spiritual
03. Uhuru
04. Mystery Of Love
05. Adofo
06. Hail The King

Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Hosea Taylor
Bass – Calvin Ridley, George Duvivier
Guitar – Al Shackman
Oboe, Flute – Hosea Taylor
Percussion – Archie Lee, Babatunde Olatunji, Bobby Hamilton, Scobby Stroman, Gavin Masseaux, George Young, Montego Joe, Robert Crowder, Stacy Edwards
Trumpet – Clark Terry
Vocals – Akwasiba Derby, Christine Chapman, Delzora Pearson, Dorothy Sheperd, Hugh Hurd, Joyce Young, Marlo Timmons, Zebede Collins

This LP is occasionally argued as the moment that "world music" became an ongoing concern to the American music business. That does mean that Babatunde Olantunji is indirectly responsible for that blandly "exotic" music at your coffee shop, but anyone who listens to this album will find themselves delighted with a cornucopia of rhythm.

Babatunde Olantunji came to America to study medicine, but his homesickness led him to record this set of traditional Nigerian songs. The crew isn't composed of anything more than three percussionists and a phalanx of vocalists, but that's more than enough for a dense and multi-faceted array of sounds.

Drums of Passion certainly lives up to its name. Its success resulted in many albums that were "more authentic", but few matched the vivacity and fire contained in these tracks. It's no surprise that everyone from James Brown to Art Blakey tried to pull a page or two from this dynamic effort.

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. Along with a cadre of backup singers and two other percussionists, Olatunji works through eight traditional drum and chorus cuts originally used to celebrate a variety of things in Nigeria: "Akiwowo" and "Shango" are chants to a train conductor and the God of Thunder, respectively, while "Baba Jinde" is a celebration of the dance of flirtation and "Odun De! Odun De!" serves as a New Year's greeting. The choruses do sound a bit overwrought and even too slick at times (partly due to the fact that most of the singers are not African), but thankfully the drumming is never less than engaging. The many curious world music fans who are likely to check this album out should also be sure to look into even better African drumming by native groups like the Drummers of Burundi and the percussion outfits featured on various field recordings. [The 2002 CD reissue on Columbia/Legacy adds the track "Menu Di Ye Jewe (Who Is This?)", which was recorded at one of the 1959 sessions for the album, but was previously unissued in the US.]