Tribute to Babatunde Olatunji
April 7,1928 - April 6,2003
Babatunde Olatunji, passed away,went into transition and became an ancestor,
Sunday, April 6, 2003, 7:30 am, age of 76, one day before his 77th birthday.
"I am that I am, I am beauty, I am peace, I am joy, I am
one with Mother Earth. I am one with everyone within the reach of my voice. In this togetherness, we ask the divine intelligence to eradicate all negatives from our hearts, from our minds and from our actions. And so be it....ashe."
It was 1959, when Baba releashed his world renowned recording of "Drums of Passion". That was the beginning of an awakening for millions of us throughout the African diaspora, that we had a rich African culture and indeed where Africans.
I lived in a boardng school /group home with 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". I will never forget the feeling of being waken to the essence of my African spirit and realization that ourstory was beyond "History".
Having met and played with Babatunde on two occasions at funerals, one of the lessons I have learned from Babatunde was how celebrate death as one celebrates birth, for as that cycle is eternal and never ends.
This is one of the reasons why I had to be part of the New York City African burial ground reinterment ceremony on October 3,2003
Thank you Baba for your unconditional healing love and service. Ashe
Wesley Gray/Baba Jehuti
There are just a few brothers I know personally, who have been consistent and devoted to the integrity of African rhythm and ritual. I must first begin with Master African drummer Brad Simmons, whom I have known for some forty plus years. I met him through his cousin, the late Ola Barbara Smith Boyd in Brooklyn, NY . Brad is one of the veiw brothers who I know that has a wealth of information about the African drums and how it all started in New York City in 1929 with the first African dance company lead by Denizulu. More information will be added in the next few days ( 3/10/10) about Brad and his story. Then there is pianist, Randy Weston and percussionist, Neal Clarke. Who along with Bassist Alex Blake, are considered masters of their instruments and known world wide as Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Trio. As stated by Yaa-Lengi M. Ngemi, in one of their latest recording Zep Tepi in 2006,
" For over half a century Randy Weston has served as a musical Anthropologist-connecting the notes,chords, ideas and spiritual essence of Jazz, blues, R&B, Caribbean, Western and Eastern music back to their source-Africa." I must note that I live not too far from both Randy and Neal in Brooklyn, NY and have had the pleasure of visiting Randy at his home with him giving me a copy of Zep Tepi. Neal Clarke and I use the same barber whose name is brother Bey and as Neal told me recently, he is very particular about who he allows to touch his head. There are few African drummers like Neal who are alive today who can touch the head of a drum and get the sound and spiritual essence of the Africa. Today Neal Clarke is worthy of receiving the same respect and appreciation as a master percussionist like Babatunde Olatunji.