Drums of Passion: The Beat of Babatunde Olatunji

With a passion for music and activism, Babatunde Olatunji has drummed his way all around the world.

Before traveling and changing people’s lives with his unique rhythms and vision, Babatunde Olatunji was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. Claiming a Rotary scholarship, he made his way over to attend college in the USA in 1950.

But it’s not just music or drumming that he is talented at; he was also an advocate of social issues. He used drums to express himself, making the world a better place one beat at a time.

If you want to know more about him, keep following this article.

Who is Babatunde Olatunji?

Babatunde Olatunji, or Michael Babatunde Olatunji, was born on April 7, 1927, in the village Ajido near Badagry, Lagos State, in southwestern Nigeria.

He was born into a family with a strong cultural background, and he was groomed to take the position of chieftain when he grew up. However, music had always been close to him since he was young, as traditional African music was his first true love.

At age 12, he realized that this wasn’t something that he wanted and instead decided to study outside his home country.

In 1950, he applied for a Rotary scholarship and was accepted, enabling him to travel to America to study.

This decision made him become a renowned Nigerian drummer who is also an educator, social activist, and recording artist. He not only uses music as a vessel of entertainment but also to campaign for social issues.

Babatunde Olatunji’s music career

Michael Babatunde Olatunji started to pursue his interest in music when he studied at New York University, where he also established a percussion group. He gained some money with them after performing on several stages.

His talent was soon noticed by Columbia Records, and in 1957, he was signed to the Columbia label. With them, he released six records, among which his first one called Drums of Passion (1959). It became a major hit and is considered the most memorable world music album by Americans.

Besides producing his music projects, Olatunji also collaborated with many jazz musicians, such as John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, or artists like Mickey Hart and Stevie Wonder.

Olatunji’s “Jin-go-lo-ba” from his first album was also famously covered by Carlos Santana for his debut album Santana as Jingo. It shows how influential his music is.

In recognition of African culture, Olatunji founded the Olatunji Center of African Culture in Harlem, NY, in 1973.

Through his work, he has developed an appreciation for African music throughout the world while preserving its cultural basis in traditional African rhythms and stories.


Michael Babatunde Olatunji was recognized for his numerous achievements in the field of percussion and music in general.

He participated in Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum, which included the 1991 Grammy Award-winning album for Best World Music Album. In 2001, he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame, officially recognizing his work as a master drummer.

The Beat Of My Drum: An Autobiography

Michael Babatunde Olatunji was not only known for his musical talent but also for being an active social activist. His political beliefs were expressed in The Beat of My Drum: An Autobiography (2005).

In his book, he describes his fight to preserve African culture through music and to inspire love and understanding between all races by celebrating diversity.


Babatunde Olatunj’s Stage in 1985

Michael Babatunde Olatunji’s discography is characterized by its variety and excellence. His most well-known work is the series Drums of Passion (1959-1994). Some of his best also include High Life! (1963), Love Drum Talk (1997), and Healing session (2005).

These works helped to popularize African drums in American music, making them accessible to diverse audiences.


Babatunde Olatunji was an incredible force in the world of music.

His contribution to spreading African culture around the world is undeniable. He died on April 6, 2003, but his legacy lives on through the work of some of the best drummers that also support justice in society.

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Written by Andrea

Andrea is a music lover and an experienced drummer with more than 15 years of drumming with different bands and music projects, such as Seditius and Hermano & the Marines.

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