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Olatunji, Babatunde

I Shall Be Free / The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan / 1963

What I want to know, Mr. Football Man, is 
What do you do about Willy Mays, Martin Luther King, Olatunji?

Died at the age of 75, April 6, 2003.

Sister Ray (
What Bob Dylan song references the African musician who sold the most records ever in America in 1962? What is the African musicians name?

Actually, it turns out that it is Babatunde Olatunji. He's mentioned in "I Shall Be Free" on Freewheelin'. He's an old, old African drummer. Probably his most famous record is called Drums Of Passion or Drums of Freedom or something like that. (Nate Smith):
...Olatunji was a current African musician back then, along with Odetta and others.

Baba is in his late 60s, and is still recording, performing, and teaching at an enviable pace. He often opens for the Grateful Dead, and Mickey Hart and Joan Baez are good friends of his.

My wife and I study with him at least once a year, and due directly to his teaching of drumming, Yoruba songs, and dance, we have helped to create a large community of drumming and dancing in the SF Bay Area. His 1959 album was called Drums of Passion, not Drums of Freedom or something like that.

Interesting that Dylan mentioned him in the same breath as Martin Luther King. Olatunji marched with King to Washington. I don't think the Say-Hey kid was there, though.

If you ever get the chance to see one of Olatunji's shows, don't miss it.

Some people would also know Olatunji by Santana's booming cover of his song "Jingo."

Jingo lo ba
Jingo lo ba
Jingo lo ba
Jingo lo ba
Go ba ba
Go ba ba
Go ba ba
Go ba ...
Oh, yes. Odetta was born in Birmingham, Alabama, not Africa.
Glenn Worthman (
Date:    Thu, 31 Aug 1995 14:17:41 EDT
From:    Paul Schnee (Paul.Schnee@DARTMOUTH.EDU)
Subject: Babatunde Olatunji

--- Alan Robock  wrote:

Yes, Olatunji is an African drummer,
--- end of quoted material ---

For those interested in world/Afrobeat music, the work of Babatunde Olatunji
are an absolute must. The Nigerian drummer recorded a set called "Drums of
Passion" for Columbia in 1959 (!), which actually charted (unheared of, I
believe, at the time for a record of traditional chanting and drumming) and
supposedly piqued Coltrane's interest in African culture. "Drums of Passion"
_is_ available on CD only on the magnificent Bear Family label from Germany--4
CDs, pricey pricey pricey, but astoundingly remastered and with Bear Family's
usual incredible liner notes booklet (all orignial session info, photos, etc.)
There are also two more recent discs on Ryko, also called "Drums of Passion,"
one titled "Drums of Passion: The Beat" and another "Drums of Passion:
Invocation."   I have all three titles, but recommend the Bear Family set if
your pockets are deep. (You can get it from CDNow! online). In fact, I'm a Bear
Family freak and have skipped a utility payment here and there to buy one of
their sets. They are definitely the most complete, best remastered and packaged
sets around. Mostly _old_ ("real") country. Amazing stuff, and good material
for those interested in Bob and/or roots music  influences: Jimmie Rodgers,
Flatt and Scruggs, Johnny Cash (back when), Faron Young, and the almighty
Louvin Brothers and more. All worth every penny. Let's hope they do a "Bootleg
Series" box the _right_ way at some point...

Date: Thu, 31 Aug 1995 15:22:54 GMT From: "Sorabh Saxena; Masters" (ssaxena@COE1.ENGR.UMBC.EDU) Subject: Re: Olatunge? I was at a performance by, amongst many others, Babatunje (sp?) Olatunge at the Madison Square Garden, NYC last friday, the 25th of August. The concert was organized by the Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan (literal translation would mean something like, " Indian Knowledge Home") to pay homage to the United Nations on the occasion of their 50th anniversary. Since the crystal ball didn't inform me about the upcoming thread on Olatunge before I went for the show, information provided on him will be mostly sketchy. Babatunje Olatunge was the 4th or 5th act on an evening which was, to say the least, star studded. There were in all, 15 acts scheduled, with artists like Zakir Hussain, L. Shankar, Peter Gabriel's bass player (forget his it Tony Levin?), Kathak performers, a Spanish band, a soul/blues band, to mention a few. Babatunje Olatunge came along with a band of drummers and percussionists -- I am sorry but I am not knowledgeable enough to give you the exact names of all the instruments. He started of by stressing on the importance of peace, love and care -- a common theme for the evening -- but his voice was full of sincerity, and passion. He narrated about his troubled experiences when he was growing up in Nigeria (I am not 100% sure if it was Nigeria), how life was so very difficult for him and his family. He talked about his music school which he established in the 60's in Harlem to promote peace through music, and then he and his band went on to play a haunting and reverberating rythm, while African women adorned the stage with a rustic and raw dance performance. By hte end of it all, the crowd was singing/humming along the barebone snarls that Olatunge was emanating. Quite a moving performance which lasted for 15-20 minutes. He was also presented with one of the three awards that were presented that night by the former Indian Presdent, Mr. R. Venkataraman. Incidentally, another one of the awards was given to Mike Love of the Beach Boys! My apologies to the uninterested.
Subject: Re: Olatunji in California From: catherine yronwode ( Date: Sat, 28 Jun 1997 10:43:08 -0800 Ben Taylor wrote: > > "I Shall Be Free": > > Oh, I set me down on a television floor, > I flipped the channel to number four. > Out of the shower comes a football man > With a bottle of oil in his hand. > (Greasy kid stuff. > What I want to know, Mr Football Man, is > What do you do about Willy Mays, > Martin Luther King, > Olatunji?) [...] > > Why did Dylan mention Olatunji in "I Shall Be Free"? I presume this was a serious question (one never knows) -- but the answer is because he is black, like Willie Mays and Martin Luther king, also mentioned in the song. The most popular American hair grease of the 1950s and early 1960s was Brilcream, and "a little dab'll do ya" was their major slogan. Black people cannot create the slick hair look that was cpopular at the time if they use a preparation like Brilcream because it is not stiff enough to affect the texture of their kinky hair. Brilcream ads of the era contrasted the product's very lightly greasy qualities with the heavier-bodied hair greases that were then popular with juvenile deliquents and their role models ("greasy kids stuff" they called it in their ads) -- overlooking the fact that such similar heavy-bodied hair greases were also favoured by blacks, who needed the "holding power" of very stiff hair-greases such as Murray's to keep their hair slicked down. Ultimately, the rise of the "afro" hair style for blacks and the long-haired hippie styles for whites ended for a time the uncomfortable efforts of blacks to accomodate white hair styles, but in the context of song's era, the message Dylan is seeking to convey is that white culture ignores the needs of black people in minor matters such as cosmetics and that this is part of a larger system of endemic racial predjudice. The song title "I Shall Be Free" is an ironic reference to a black gospel song of the same name ("I Shall Be Free When the Good Lord Sets Me Free") which expresses a lassez faire attitude toward civil rights. . catherine yronwode The Lucky W Amulet Archive Hoodoo Catalogue
Subject: Re: Olatunji in California From: ( Date: Mon, 30 Jun 1997 11:39:18 -0600 Why did Dylan mention Olatunji in "I Shall Be Free"? I've always assumed that the reference was to black men of substance in contrast to the superficiality of the advertisement's portrayal. As to why Dylan included Olatunji - he was a fan of Olatunji. Dylan was a regular at his shows at that time, as were Jack Kerouac (detailed on the liner notes of 1960's "Zungo!"), Joan Baez, and many others. Dylan and Olatunji also shared the same producer, John Hammond. Some stock bio info on Olatunji: In 1963, Bob Dylan's lyrics introduced many to Babatunde Olatunji, but Olatunji's first Columbia album, the legendary "Drums of Passion" had already charted unusually well in 1959. Produced by, John Hammond, millions of copies of "Drums of Passion" were sold throughout the world in an era when Perry Como and Fabian were far more typical on the charts. Some of Olatunji's early milestones include seminal performances at Radio City Music Hall and the 1964 New York World's Fair. He also made many network television appearances on the Tonight Show, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Bell Telephone Hour. Babatunde has been a true cultural ambassador, introducing the West to African music. Long before the terms "world music", "world beat", and "multi-culturism" had become part of our language, Olatunji was bringing his love and music to the Americas. Olatunji was born to the Yoruba people of Nigeria in 1927 in the fishing village of Ajido. He came to the United States by merchant ship via the port of New Orleans in 1950 on a Rotary Club scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta. He later attended New York University Graduate School. In 1996 he received a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Medgar Evers College, CCNY. Inspiring and educating with a message of love and personal power, "Baba" has always sought to transcend simple entertainment. He has shared the bill at the Apollo with James Brown, and toured the American south with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When he performed before the United Nations General Assembly, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took off his shoes and danced. Later, he was one of the first "western" performers to perform in Prague at Vaclav Havel's request. In recognition of his efforts towards positive cultural exchange, Olatunji received the Liberty Award from the Mayor of New York in 1986. Olatunji's impact on New York's jazz scene of the 1950s and '60s was profound, both musically and culturally. Many African-American musicians wishing to explore their African heritage looked to Olatunji as a source. This group of musicians included saxophone giant John Coltrane, who many say looked to Olatunji as a personal mentor. With Coltrane's help, Olatunji established the Olatunji Center for African Culture in the heart of Harlem. This center was the site of Coltrane's last public performance. Max Roache included Olatunji on his "Freedom Now Suite", and Cannonball Adderley asked him to contribute to his "African Waltz" album. Olatunji's influence was felt in the rock era as well. Carlos Santana scored a hit with his adaptation of Olatunji's "Jingo Lo Ba" on the first Santana album in 1969. Olatunji made memorable appearances with his entire entourage opening for the Grateful Dead on New Years Eves of 1985 and 1991. Musicians who have recorded on Olatunji's own records include Yusef Lateef, Clark Terry, Bill Lee (fellow Morehouse alum and director Spike Lee's father), Mickey Hart, Airto Moreira, and Carlos Santana. Some of the other musicians who have performed with him include, John Coltrane, Horace Silver, Herbie Mann, Coleman Hawkins, Charles Lloyd, and Jerry Garcia. In 1991, Mickey Hart and Olatunji formed the Grammy winning Planet Drum ensemble. "World Music Album of the Year."--DOWNBEAT (Reader's Poll 1992) Films are another medium familiar to Olatunji. He composed music for the Broadway and Hollywood productions of "Raisin in the Sun". He assisted Bill Lee with the music for his son Spike's hit film "She's Gotta Have It". In 1997, at 70 years of age, 'Baba' Olatunji continues to teach, travel, and perform. He teaches regularly at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and the Hollyhock center on Cortez Island, British Columbia. He works towards the goal of reopening the Olatunji Center for African Culture in New York and in his hometown of Ajido. In the words of the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart: "He is the godfather of two generations of drummers in the West. In 1950 he came to the United States bringing with him the powerful rhythms of Nigeria. His are the rhythms of the Saints, of the Orisas: Ogun and Santo. He blended them with the exotic sounds of New York City to form a new kind of music." "Master drummer Babatunde Olatunji champions his instrument, the timekeeper and heartbeat of music, as a religious salve. When he speaks of the drum's sound as not only a universal language but one that is capable of articulating prayers and offering, he speaks, without boast, of his own deftness and virtuosity."- The Chicago Tribune

Baba Olantunji fans might like to e-mail

New York Times obituary by Jon Pareles (archived)

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