I must apologize for delaying so long reviewing the SACD version of Chesky’s 1997 recording – the tenth in a series of Drums of Passion releases from the Nigerian drummer who was the first to restore the ancient rhythms of Africa to the country that had once banned them. Now in search of some background on the great drummer I learn sadly that he passed away last week.
In 1991 Olatunji won a Grammy for the Planet Drum album he did in collaboration with the Grateful Dead’s drummer Mickey Hart. He was a founder of the Voices of Africa Foundation, did workshops at Esalen in Big Sur, California and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, performed in the One World, One Music Celebration at Madison Square Garden for the U.N.’s 50th Year, and with his ensemble performed all over North and South America and Europe for over 35 years.
Olatunji explored such human experiences as liberty and healing in his past Drums of Passion series albums. For this one he deal with the subject of love; each track portrays a different face of love, often with stories from his own life. They are told and sung in his native language of Yoruba, along with all the differently-voiced drums – the mother drum, ashiko, the talking drum, the cylindrical djembe, the ngoma and djun-djun. His band also includes two acoustic guitarists, an electric bass and three backup vocalists.
The opening track, sare tete wa, has a lover pleading to his estranged beloved to come back, using the theme of the 50s song Lover Come Back. The title tune Love Drum Talk is a conversation between Olatunji the main drummer and the other drums about the nature of a certain love. The deep-voiced drums are cleanly captured in the Manhattan church where Chesky recorded the album, and the multichannel recording gives them exciting spatial separation. Olatunji has a quite amazing vocal range, especially for someone around age 70. The emotions of the songs come thru even though few will be familiar with Yoruba and there is not word-for-word translation in the note booklet. Olatunji’s musical world was formed by the drums that surrounded him daily in the little fishing village 40 miles from Lagos, Nigeria, where he was born. Now listeners to this powerful and danceable disc can have the drums surround them.
Selections: Sara tete wa, What’s Your Number Mama?, Love drum talk, Bebi alolo, Spell Monisola, Don’t know why my love, Mother give me love, Long distance lover.
– John Henry