Babatunde Olatunji | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Babatunde Olatunji


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Babatunde olatunji

Living history. In 1959, when the Nigerian-born percussionist Babatunde Olatunji first performed in New York, he not only introduced himself to American audiences but also introduced most of his listeners to African music in general. One of the first African drummers to gain recognition in the New World--and indisputably the first to make his name in the jazz world--Olatunji followed his initial album, Drums of Passion, by working with John Coltrane and Randy Weston, and later employed reedman Yusef Lateef and the well-established trumpeter Clark Terry on his recordings. Using such instruments as the now-familiar conga drums--as well as the ngoma (a carved ancestral drum used in traditional dances) and the djembe (a Senegambian drum shaped like a wineglass)--Olatunji branched out from presenting concerts to offering lecture-demonstrations, and in 1991 he became a founding member of the dynamic and educational Planet Drum ensemble conceived by Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. In other words, he's the real deal: a gifted musician, borne by ancient musical eddies, and a historically important player. Olatunji is no longer a kid, and in African cultures those reaching his age and stature get to call the shots. In his case this means he can indulge a preference for working in the daylight. He'll present a solo percussion show called "Babatunde Olatunji and the Drums of Passion" Saturday, 11 AM and 1 and 3:30 PM, Rubloff Auditorium, Art Institute of Chicago, 230 S. Columbus; 443-3600. NEIL TESSER

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

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