After seeing President Barack Obama as senator, deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I knew something special was in store for the future of American politics, the world and most of all people of the African Diaspora.
On the Oprah Winfrey show in 2007, Barack Obama promised her that he would announce his decision to run for the Presidency on her show if he so decided. Given her viewership base of millions, it was then that I knew that he would win. I became a volunteer during the primary and performed African drumming at a campaign fund raiser in the West Village of New York City.
The event was hosted by President Barack Obama's law class of 1991 at Harvard University and featured Lisa Lang as the keynote guess speaker.
I played for a view minutes and then explained my mission and why I was a committed African Drummer within our community. The essense of what I shared with them can be heard towards the end of the video.
It was back in 1959, when Babatunde Olatunji releashed his world renowned, Grammy-winning recording , "Drums of Passion".
That was the beginning of an awakening to millions of us throughout the African diaspora, that we had a rich African culture and are indeed Africans.
At that time,I lived in a boardng school/group home named Woodycrest which was then located in Bronx, New York. One of my home brothers was a young man named Charles Davis, who is known by many as the world renowned poet , Baba Dr. Abiodun Oyewole of the original Last poets. Our older home brother, Councilman Professor James Blake, of Queens, New York, shared with us "Drums of Passion" while we where in camp for the summer.
The setting could not have been better, it made us feel as if we where in Africa as we listened to the recording over and over again.
I will never forget the feeling of being waken to the essence of my African spirit and realization that "Ourstory" was for the most part missing from "History".
Abiodun "Dun" , would sometimes visit me at my dormitory just to listen to my collection and sometimes hear me practice on piano in the home recreation room or clarinet and later on trumpet in the pool area as I was a member of my high school band.
Back then he and others thought of me and fellow young musicians to be somewhat eccentric, since we always had at least two albums with us along with our school books when we went to school and many times on the grounds of the group home. Needless to say, our fashion and style of dress which was influenced by the musicians who came back from gigging in country's like France and England left no dought of our oddity. Others would show off and trade baseball cards, comic books and other collectables, but we shared the liner notes, photography , graphic design,art work and pictures of the featured artist that sometimes took hours to discuss and admire.
"Dun" told me years later, at one of his annual New Years Eve Parties, that along with his parents, I sparked an interest in him to become a poet as a result of my love for the African American classical music form, known as Jazz. And as the great living music legend, Randy Weston said, who I recently visited , has insisted the this music should simply be called "African rythms".
Having met and played with Baba Olatunji on two occasions at funerals, one of the most profound lessons I have learned from Baba was how to celebrate death as one celebrates birth, for as that cycle is eternal and never ends.
This is one of the reasons why I performed at the Million Man March, participated with fellow drummers for the New York City African Burial Ground Reinterment Ceremony on October 3,2003, and most recently, joined millions of men,women, children and supporters from various communities who gathered in Washington DC to witness and celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
Thank you Baba for your wisdom,unconditional healing love,service and inspiration for me to become a African drummer and servant .
Baba Wesley Gray