Babtunde Olatunji | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Babtunde Olatunji 

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Learning to hear the drum as a lead instrument is crucial to understanding most traditional African music and can be hard for Americans who habitually consider the drummer a mere timekeeper. Drummer-singer Babatunde Olatunji was among the first to introduce the complex subtleties of west African drumming to an American audience. Born and raised in Nigeria, he later came to the U.S. and in 1959 released a landmark LP of Yoruba folk music entitled Drums of Passion: a rich tapestry in which choral singing existed primarily to tell a story and to serve as a backdrop for a soupy mix of percussive sound. More recently--with tradition having met electricity in the pop sounds of King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, and others--Olatunji has recorded in the modern vein, bringing electric guitars and bass into his ensemble. His 1986 Dance to the Beat of My Drum is, for example, an extremely listenable document of the continuing evolution of African music (with Airto Moreira and Carlos Santana sitting in, no less). In this weekend's Chicago performance, however, Olatunji and his 12-member ensemble of drummer-singers will cleave to a more traditional-style repertoire. Saturday, 2 PM, Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams; 443-3600.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Werner.

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