shytone  books  music  essays  home  exploratories  new this month

music reviews

Olatunji: Drums of Passion (Columbia)

Now, if I was to tell you that the one album served as Maureen Tucker’s main influence on the more radical drumming in the Velvet Underground, as well as John Coltrane’s key source in his initial explorations outside of American musics; that it was cut in 1959 by a bunch of African college students in America, and that it stayed on the US album charts for the next four years, you probably wouldn’t believe me - right?

Well, it's all true, folks - I wouldn’t lie to you….

Strangely, though, while late 50s exotica is now earnestly collected, this one’s now seen as too “popular” for most of the “world music” purists - and far too ethnographic-sounding for the café set. Maybe that’s why I love it so much…

Because, if I’m looking for some African music to put on after a solid bout of Bo Diddley, or some other great Afro-American polyrhythmic action, this one definitely hits the spot.

And, it even opens w/a train piece - “Akiwowo (Chant to the Trainman)” - that cooks like some great lost Bo Diddley track. Actually, to be blunt about it, the whole album cooks like that. Which is why it’s not surprising that Moe Tucker loves it so. Or, perhaps, why it enjoyed such huge success on first release. And, yet again, why the modern-day purists consider it less than fully “authentic”.

As if young Michael Olatunji & his friends weren’t allowed to shape their music for themselves, without risking the snide carpings of a bunch of elitist pricks that’ve never made any worthwhile music themselves in their entire worthless lives…

Because, you’d have to put the carping down to a knee-jerk rejection of success. Unlike modern “world music” crossovers, there's no high-tech production tricks, no Tin Pan Alley borrowings, no Western musicians - or instruments - just a brilliantly accessible brew of traditional Nigerian drums & voices, and one that's had immeasurable influence on all kinds of music over the last 40 years. And not only that, but it’s pure pleasure from beginning to end... they say in the classics, enjoy!

John Henry Calvinist