From a Yoruba family in Lagos State, Nigeria, Babatunde Olatunji, while living in the U.S. after winning a scholarship to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta, wanted to become a diplomat. Thus, after graduating from Morehouse in 1954, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Public Administration and International Relations at New York University.
But two things later moved him towards a career in music. The first was his visit to Ghana as a delegate to the All African People’s Conference organized by Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, who told him he thinks he should be a cultural ambassador. The second was his meeting with Columbia Records producer John Hammond after a concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Hammond would help Olatunji produce his 1959 debut Drums of Passion album which some say may have been the first African music release recorded in a modern U.S. studio.
That album became a major hit, selling millions of copies globally and helping introduce Americans to world music. Olatunji would go on to promote African music, earning a Grammy nomination, being behind compositions for Broadway and Hollywood, as well as appearing on programs including the Tonight Show, the Mike Douglas Show and the Bell Telephone Hour.
In 1964, after performing at the New York World Fair’s African Pavilion, he used the proceeds to open his own Olatunji Center for African Culture in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, where he offered classes in African dance, music, language, folklore, and history. Soon, Olatunji became highly recognized as a pioneer in the fusion of African music and jazz. “…We were playing ‘Afro-jazz’ before anybody called it that,” the recording artiste, who grew up in a fishing village in Nigeria where drumming accompanied every celebration, recalled in an interview.
But while his contribution to music is well known, his commitment to social activism is rarely talked about. “He really deserves to be remembered more for his role as a political activist in the US civil rights movement – before it was even a movement,” Robert Atkinson, who collaborated with Olatunji on his autobiography The Beat of My Drum, was quoted by the BBC in a report.
Indeed, Olatunji’s social activism work started right from his days at Morehouse, where he debunked common myths about Africa.
“They [classmates] had no concept of Africa,” he recalled. “They asked all kinds of questions: ‘Do lions really roam the streets? Do people sleep in trees?’ They even asked me if Africans had tails! They thought Africa was like the Tarzan movies. Ignorance is bliss, but it is a dangerous bliss.
“Africa had given so much to world culture, but they didn’t know it.”
Thus, Olatunji started educating his colleagues about Africa, including its cultural traditions and music. He then went ahead to play African music at university social gatherings while organizing and performing at concerts featuring African and African-American students. These activities were during the height of Jim Crow, and soon, Olatunji was organizing students to challenge the status quo in the south.
Even before Rosa Parks would spark the Montgomery bus boycott, Olatunji was already staging protests on public buses with some of his fellow students.
As president of the Morehouse student body in the 1950s, he was able to meet scores of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. As a matter of fact, when King delivered his historic I Have a Dream speech in August 1963 during the March on Washington, Olatunji was among the over 200,000 people at the event. The percussionist, social activist and educator performed many times for the NAACP and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
And at many civil rights rallies, Malcolm X would request him to drum. The man, who is to date described as “the father of African drumming in the U.S.”, was also on the civil rights jazz album We Insist! with playwright Oscar Brown Jr and Max Roach. Back home in Africa, Olatunji was also a part of the anti-colonial resistance movements that had risen across the continent, attending the All African People’s Conference organized by Nkrumah.
The conference, attended by delegates from African countries, prominent African Americans and liberation movements, held discussions on how to achieve continental freedom. Nkrumah had argued that Ghana’s independence would be meaningless if other African states are still colonized by the European powers, and Olatunji couldn’t agree more.
As stated in a report, his involvement in the civil rights movement in the U.S. was largely inspired by the several forms of resistance to colonialism that was occurring in Africa. “He saw himself as a pan-Africanist who always reached out to unify Africans and African Americans,” his wife, Iyafin Ammiebelle Olatunji, told BBC in an interview.
Olatunji in his last years continued to perform while teaching others about African culture and drumming. Before he passed away in 2003 aged 76, he had become known for recordings such as “Celebrate Freedom, Justice and Peace”, “Healing Rhythms, Songs and Chants”, as well as the 1998 Grammy-nominated release, on Chesky Records of “Love Drum Talk”.
Davido, a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and record producer dropped his vibrant new music video for his track #1Milli. He is giving us major Yoruba and Afro-Caribbean moreover Brazilian vibes. Also, with the show off of Afro-descendant Religion, which was taken to the New World by Yoruba slaves from Africa.
One year after the release of “Assurance” visuals, where Davido proudly showed us his girlfriend and current fiancée in a music video that had 53 million views, he returns with “1 milli” visual, the second track of his album A Good Time. This one also features his soon-to-be bride Chioma Rowland. This is a song where he expresses his love for her and talks about the bride price he is willing to pay for his beloved.
This clip is a vibrant tribute to the Afro-Caribbean community descending from Africa. Most of all, in this carnival period, the release of this clip is not insignificant. The traditional getup, the landscapes, the atmosphere delivers homage to the Afro-Brazilian community which is instantly recognizable. Indeed, this community is renowned for having the second-largest black community where African influences are still very present through. For example, the candomblé religion which is one of the Afro-Brazilian religions practiced in Brazil, but also in neighboring countries such as Uruguay, Cuba, Paraguay, Argentina, and Venezuela.
A mixture of catholicism, indigenous rites, and African beliefs, this religion consists of a cult of orixás (pronounced “oricha”), the candomblé gods of totemic and family origin, each associated with a natural element (water, forest, fire, lightning, etc.)
In Brazil, especially in Salvador de Bahia, Osun is an orisha goddess who is truly praised. She is a goddess found in Yoruba mythology.
Davido who is of Yoruba heritage, commemorate the end of Black History Month by promoting black unity but also by celebrating the Afro-Caribbean culture, knowing that the carnival culture was initiated by Afro-descendants.
As with all great migrations, the Africans that arrived in the carribean not only brought over their strength and beauty but also their music and cultural traditions.
Wizkid surprised us last night with the release of a 7 tracks EP, without promotions, without announcement, he made us an epic “Beyoncé’s way“.
Starboy Entertainment, Wizkid‘s premiers “SoundMan vol 1“, a solid EP with contributions from Chronixx, Blaq Jerzee, London and Kel P.
We let ourselves be easily rocked and carried away by the sound of the trumpets, all the sound of this long musical journey. We are in the presence of a Wizkid who proposes us well-constructed lyrics, knowing that we reproached him for being a little lazy lately with his level of songwriting.
African music today has grown to become an important part of the global music industry. It is being exported to Western markets. We are witnessing in all four corners of the world the resumption of our dances in choreographies for international stars, challenges in Asia, children dancing in the streets of African capitals.
But for African music, the most obvious success is none other than that of Afrobeats, which by its meteoric rise has allowed Africa to have a place in the sun and has highlighted the whole continent.