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The story of how Drums of Passion introduced Americans to West African music

The Beat of My Drum

An Autobiography

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Babatunde Olatunji with Robert Atkinson and Akinsola Akiwowo, foreword by Joan Baez, introduction by Eric Charry

"Olatunji taught this country—white and black—the glories of West African music and dance. His message is now being carried on by thousands of younger people in different parts of the U.S.A. It is good to have this book, with his words, to tell his story more completely."
Pete Seeger

Babatunde Olatunji's record album Drums of Passion proclaimed that the time had come for America to recognize Africa's cultural contributions to the music world. Through his many albums and live performances, the Nigerian drummer popularized West African traditional music and spread his message of racial harmony. In this long-awaited autobiography, Olatunji presents his life story and the philosophy that guided him.

Olatunji influenced and inspired musicians for more than forty years—from luminaries to music students and the many ordinary people who participated in his drum circles. He writes about rhythm being "the soul of life," and about the healing power of the drum. Ultimately, The Beat of My Drum shows why at the time of his death in 2003, Olatunji had become, according to The New York Times, "the most visible African musician in the United States."

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"Baba has spread his rhythm seeds far and wide and now we have many new crops in our garden of rhythm thanks to his vision and passion."
Mickey Hart

"Few involved with hand drumming in the United States have not been touched in some way by Baba, as he was called by those who knew him. He instilled pride in generations of African Americans; he stimulated a popular renaissance in African drumming and dance in the United States; he provided cultural education for black youth across the country; he introduced mainstream America to African drumming; and he spread worldwide messages of peace and love through drumming. These are just some of the more resounding aspects of Olatunji's legacy, which has touched so many of us."
Eric Charry, from the Introduction

"Featuring an excellent introduction that places Olatunji in the context of music history...this accessible book is highly recommended for all African and world music collections."
Library Journal

"This book is unmistakably a portrait of a committed, accomplished man, a great man, in some respects a role model for us all.... [a] fascinating explanation of what it was that influenced him and drove him to greatness."
The Beat

"[A]n absorbing read that highlights [Olatunji's] sometimes-forgotten role in the Civil Rights movement, as well as his groundbreaking musical career."
Global Rhythm

"The book is intertwined with vivid descriptions of Olatunji growing up in the Yoruba traditions of Nigeria, his early introduction to Jim Crow in Atlanta during the 1950s, his student leadership in the early Civil Rights Movement, his move to Harlem, and his fascinating career as a musician."
Black Issues Book Review

"The text is a fascinating memoir of Olatunji's intriguing career."
Sing Out

"In this beguiling autobiography, Olatunji traces his life... [he] writes with humor, passion and occasional bitterness as he delineates both his successes and disappointments over the years... The Beat Of My Drum is an inspiring book that makes a convincing case for a prominent place for Olatunji among the social and artistic leaders of the last half of the 20th century."
Dirty Linen

"If you would like to be motivated and enriched by a true life's accounting of an African drummer with the mission of cultural understanding, human rights, civil rights, and social justice, you won't be able to put this book down."
Percussion Notes

"...remarkable... This excellent autobiography, among other things, tells what it was like being black in America in [Olatunji's] lifetime, a life that included numerous successes, gaining respect and admiration from his colleagues and friends."
Multicultural Review

"[A] nice memoir of aspects of the development of the world music genre. It is also an interesting...account of pan-Africanism and the American civil rights movement, as Babatunde Olatunji inserts himself, Gump-like, into every major happening in the twentieth century.... [T]he book is delightful when Olatunji expresses wonder at the world and its possibilities."
African Studies Review

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Contents

Foreword – Joan Baez
Introduction – Eric Charry
Bibliography
Discography, Videography, Webography

Part I: Learning the Rhythm
1. The Spirit of Drumming
2. Yorubaland
3. From Lagos to Atlanta

Part II: Adapting to a New Rhythm
4. Jim Crow and College Life
5. Harlem on my Mind
6. Drums of Passion

Part III: Passing the Rhythm On
7. Social Change and Civil Rights
8. World Music Comes of Age
9. Voices of Africa

Afterword – Robert Atkinson
Index
Photograph gallery follows page 122

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About the Author(s)

Babatunde Olatunji (1927-2003) internationally renowned musician, teacher, and humanitarian, was "teacher in residence" at the Esalen Institute at the time of his death.

Robert Atkinson is Director, Center for the Study of Lives at the University of Southern Maine.

Subject Categories

Biography/Memoir/Autobiography
Music and Dance
African American Studies

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