Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section(last revision 02/11/99)
TITLE: DRUMS OF PASSION: THE BEAT ARTIST: BABA OLATUNJI FORMAT: CD COMPANY: RYKODISC NUMBER: RCD 10102
TITLE: DRUMS OF PASSION: THE INVOCATION ARTIST: BABA OLATUNJI FORMAT: CD COMPANY: RYKODISC NUMBER: RCD 10107
These two albums capture the two sides of the "modern" Olatunji. He performs both with an electric band and just with drummers and dancers. The Beat captures the joyous cross-cultural feel of the former, while The Invocation wonderfully captures the deeper spiritual nature of the latter.
Culled from sessions recorded by Mickey Hart at Fantasy Studios from January 3-14, 1986, (just after opening for the Grateful Dead at the Oakland Coliseum on New Years Eve of 1985 - my first introduction to Baba, and, in fact, to African percussion), these albums were released on Rykodisc three years later. Each feature 15 percussionists, including Sikiru Adepoju, Sanga of the Valley, and Gordy Ryan, the three musicians who have been Baba's main collaborators over the past 10 years.
The Beat adds the electric guitar of Suru Ekeh and Carlos Santana, to create a unique and joyous sound. The Invocation is all percussion, each song being an invocation to a different spirit. Powerful stuff.
DRUMS OF PASSION: THE BEAT
The Beat opens with the anthemic "Beat of my Drum." "When the world hears the beat of my drum, then the spirit of the gods will descend." The song evokes a powerful sense of universality: "The world is the same, everywhere you go, the sun and the rain, the moon and the stars, the ocean and the wave, the beasts and the birds" As it does throughout both of these albums, the talking drum of Sikiru Adepoju weaves in and out of the rhythm on this song.
"Loyin Loyin (Honey, Honey)" is a prayer. "Friends let's join together so that our world can be better for ever. That it will be like honey." This song is marked by its distinctive opening and closing break, and the flutelike midi guitar played by Carlos Santana.
"Ife L'oju L'aiye (Love is the Greatest Thing in the World)" The title says it all. Played to the rhythm that Baba teaches in his workshops as "the rock rhythm" it is the basic groove most familiar to us who grew up with the backbeat.
The a capella version of the classic "Akiwowo (Chant to the Train Man") is beautiful. The instruments then come in one by one, beginning with Gordy on the djun-djun and featuring some sweet melodic touches added by Carlos and Suru Ekeh on the guitar (many of the licks that you would swear is Carlos are being played by the late, great multi-instrumentalist Suru (Frank) Ekeh). All along the drums keep percolating along. These albums are full of musicians who can play blistering solos, yet instead the music is crafted so that the whole is more important than any of the parts.
"Se Eni A Fe L'amo -- Kere Kere". "Kere Kere" is another song about love. "Kere" has a slinky 6/8 feel. The words say "You are the only one who knows the one you love. You don't always know the one who loves you. When arguments or disagreements occur between two friends, songs become proverbs. Herald the news. What the world needs now is love. How to love indiscriminately. Love is a lifetime process." The music says even more. A simply gorgeous song.
DRUMS OF PASSION: THE INVOCATION
These songs are all invocations of different Orisha. Orisha means "one whom Ori has picked out to to create in a manner different from their fellow beings." The Orisha were once human beings who did things of such magnitude and importance that they cannot be forgotten. The Yoruba sing and dance these songs and dances to become possessed by the spirit of the particular Orisha and transformed to a higher spiritual level.
"Ajaja" is the "I am spirit." This is the calling of the ancestral
spirits. Baba usually uses this song and dance to open his drum and dance concerts.
"Kori" is the goddess of fertility. The song says "Kori give me a child to dance with, please give me a child to play with."
"Sango" (pronounced "Shango") was first recorded on the original Drums of Passion. Sango is one of the most important Orisha, and many songs are song to him throughout the diaspora.
"Oba Igbo" is another song to Sango.
There are two songs to Ogun, the Orisha of iron and war. "Orere" continues the flowing circular feel of the rest of the CD. "Ogun is in Every Household." The musicians then switch gears four the beautiful song "Ogun La Ka Aiye." ("Ilere", another song to Ogun that Baba usually uses to close all of his shows, both electric and acoustic, originally appeared along with different arrangements of all the songs that ended up on The Beat, on an out of print album called "Dance to the Beat of My Drum", on I believe, the Blue Heron label. Another version was included in the later release Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice, and Peace.)
I can't say that I have any deep understanding of the traditional role that the Orisha play in Yoruban life. I just know that when am in need of inspiration, I put on The Invocation. I never fail to find it.