Babtunde Olatunji was born in 1927. He grew up a member of the Yoruba people, in a small village in Nigeria. Through Reader’s Digest, he learned of a scholarship offered by Rotary International. He and his brother applied, they were both awarded one, and came to the US in 1950. He graduated from Morehouse College, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s alma mater, and continued his education at NYU, intending to become a diplomat.
Akiwowo Babatunde Olatunji
In New York, he started a group to make some money to support his studies. Coltrane became a fan and supporter. In 1959, he released his first album, Drums of Passion, which was a big hit. He was the real deal. He was a player and a teacher. Over many years, he played with Cannonball Adderley, Charles Lloyd, Quincy Jones, Airto, Mickey Hart, and Carlos Santana, to name just a few.
He joined Martin Luther King, Jr. in the march on Washington. He played at the UN for Khrushchev, who took his shoes off and started dancing, and he played in Prague for Václav Havel. Olatunji, in an interview, once said, “We use our instruments to bring people together. We know that they will always do that. The instruments that we use in Africa are sources of communication. The other aspect of it is that we use them for healing. We know that rhythm is the soul of life. Every cell in your body and mine is in constant frequency, in rhythm. Everything that we do is in rhythm. So that music, it attracts, it energizes every cell in our body.”
This track is from his album, Drums of Passion: The Beat. It’s about a train conductor and you can feel the train as it takes you away. He sings the story, the chorus is there behind him, and the groove gets hypnotic and full of passion (of course). At 4:56, Carlos Santana joins in and burns for what seems like forever, merging the drums of Africa with the guitar of the Fillmore and making my hair stand on end. Borders be gone.