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Drums of Passion/More Drums of Passion – Olatunji!

While listening to Akiwowo (Chant to the Trainman,) the opening track of Drums of Passion, I felt an overwhelming sense of shame that I dont already have a copy of this album. Yes, the power of Olatunji!s rhythms and chants hit me that hard. The only defense that Ill allow myself is that, while I have a number of Babatunde Olantunjis albums, I have not seen this release nor the sequel, More Drums of Passion—which makes up disc two of this Legacy edition and includes nine bonus tracks—during my many years of scouring through record store shelves.
In other words, what Im pointing out to all those who have made it this far through my thoughts, this release should be in everyones collection. If you follow the Grateful Dead or Phish or Widespread Panic or moe. or fill in name of just about any jamming act out there, you should own this. Why? Because at each bands core is the heartbeat of rhythm. You might find some involuntary movement come over you arms zigzagging through the air as if youre Zorro doling out imaginary Zs with a sword — when Trey Anastasio travels down some new pathway during a solo but youve been shaking those bones all night long due to the fluid rhythms and the pulse provided by Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman. Same thing here, except Drums, recorded in 1959, brings everything down to its primal elements. Hell, other than the discipline shown by the players, Oya (Primitive Fire) and Baba Jinde (Flirtation Dance) have the pace and party atmosphere of a parking lot drum circle that just keeps adding members.

While modern ears are trained to some degree on the elements and flavors of world music, Im left with imagining the minds being blown when exposed to this music upon its original release in 1966. In Santanas case, Jin-Go-Lo-Ba (Drums of Passion) morphed into his bands powerhouse tune Jingo. Besides working with Olatunji in Planet Drum, you can hear the lasting impact of the Nigerian rhythmatist on the Dead’s Mickey Hart through his other forays constructing new meditations on rhythm, those that bear an international imprint or others that seamlessly blend western influences. That provides the segue to disc two. More Drums Of Passion finds legendary Columbia A&R man John Hammond — responsible for signing not only Olatunji but Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen among others — producing a hybrid of the Nigerian ensembles rhythms with a group of jazz musicians that included Yusef Lateef and Clark Terry. Essentially, this trans-continental meeting of the minds and styles achieves a common ground that hints at endless possibilities. That is realized through the many recordings, performances and additional east-meets-west excursions that have blossomed in the past 43 years. Olatunji! lives on. Long live Olatunji!

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