Unsurpassed after 50 years.
Paul Skiff | NYC | 06/22/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What Olatunji did fifty years ago is unsurpassed today. There are plenty of recordings of traditional African music available now. But no African musician had as their mission to work in the U.S., form a group of musicians that included Africans from the diaspora, go right for the domestic American listeners by working directly with a major U.S. label, and not just provide the pleasure of the musical experience but also educate those listeners. And then Olatunji went on from there to work contemporary jazz in to the music which was completely unprecedented. These digitally remastered recordings are very good in sound quality and improve on the dense texture of sound on some of the tracks. Even though the original vinyls (and cassettes issued later) have the warm analog volume these digital remasterings make instruments that were difficult to isolate in the mix, like the mbira, stand out quite cleanly. All the songs on the 1966 release More Drums of Passion are made available here in digital format for the first time domestically. What really gets revealed by this 50th anniversary release is the ability Olatunji had to make traditional music POPULAR. In large part this popularity was achieved not so much by just the recordings themselves but through the live performances of Olatunji and the Drums of Passion. It is the exhilarating and inspiring charisma of the whole group that comes through the recordings which were essentially performed live in the studio, that accounts for how well the music connected with the listening public. This music equalled and surpassed the energy of the early rock'n'roll artists of the day so on that level it is easy to account for how Drums of Passion found its popularity among the younger record buying public of the time. The fact is this traditional African music was performed by 'the people' back in Africa, it is rooted in and as a popular community practice. Today in the U.S. the popularity of African drumming, song and dance is now widespread in communities across the country. And a growing number of club DJ's have begun to pay attention to the traditional complex beats and rhythms Olatunji disseminated. The djembe drum itself has become ubiquitous, ardently studied and prized. The only production that collects Olatunji's recordings more comprehensively than this 50th anniversary release is the box set done in the 1990's by Bear Family Records of Germany which is now out of print. That makes this release the only other source for an authoritative compilation. Now someone just needs to put together a DVD anthology of video clips from the thousands of performances Olatunji did."
Sea Otter | Millbrae, CA United States | 09/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The very first record (you know, those flat 12" vinyl discs you play with a needle) that my father gave me when I was only nine years old back in the 60's was Olatunji's "More Drums of Passion". I listened to it all the time and although the lyrics are in one of the ethnic Nigerian languages, I memorized much of it phonetically just from singing along to it. I still have that original album but it is pretty well worn now. I've been searching for it on CD and I finally found it as a part of Olatunji's expanded edition of his first album "Drums of Passion" which I already had but had to buy again in order to get his second album. Of course "Drums of Passion" is a great album which anyone with any interest in African music should own but this Legacy Edition with the "More Drums of Passion" bonus disc would be the definitive version to get. It's been remastered and additional songs not on the original albums are included.
I was very fortunate to have met Babatunde Olatunji in 1996 backstage in Hollywood after his performance there. I told him about his record being the first one given to me by my father when I was a child. He turned around and raised his arm in the air and told the room full of people to quiet down. He then asked me to repeat to everyone what I had just told him. Afterwards members of his group came to talk to me and I suprised everyone by singing some of the lyrics from that second album. It is a memory I will always cherish."