The concept of "world music" is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the 1970s, long before cross-cultural fusions became somewhat commonplace, albums of music from other countries and cultures were filed under "ethnic music" in the select record stores that carried more than Top 40 offerings. One of the albums that set these changes in motion was Drums of Passion by Nigerian-born, then NYC-based Olatunji. Originally released in 1960, Drums was the first album of traditional West African percussion-and-chant music recorded in the United States (for a major label, no less). With this album to herald his music, Olatunji went on to influence and befriend such iconic types as Carlos Santana, the Dead's Mickey Hart, John Coltrane, and Joan Baez.
Almost all the sounds on Drums of Passion were brought forth by a quartet of percussionists and nine (mostly female) singers. The rhythmic patterns here are mesmerizing — minimalist composer Steve Reich was in fact partially inspired by West African drumming — but with dimensions of urgency and physicality. You need not be hep to trad African dancing to get swept up by the interlocking cadences of the title track (which Santana adapted into one or more of his songs) and the spare, shimmering "Oyin Momo Ado." Be amazed by the riotous "Menu Diyeh" (one of eight bonus tracks,many with horns!), which presages the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and Hugh Masekela. Also included is a bonus disc, a "sequel" of sorts, More Drums of Passion (1966), Olatunji's last for the Columbia label. It's a fine pairing, as More is conceptually similar to its forerunner but features a wider palette (more percussionists) and lush, denser production (dig the judicious but quasi-psychedelic echo applied to "Bethlelehumu" and "Mbira").
If you're a percussion devotee or seriously or casually interested in African roots sounds, put this package on your short list. Seriously. (Columbia/Legacy)
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