Africans in Boston have rapped up plan to honor legendary Nigerian-born drummer and cultural icon, Babatunde Olatunji. The award is in recognition of his contribution to the promotion of African culture through music.
The award ceremony will hold in the city of Boston next month during the premier edition of the ‘Babatunde Olatunji Prize for Arts and Culture’. The award named for the legendary African drummer, educator, social activist, and cultural ambassador, will be bestowed annually upon artists whose works exemplify the best of African, African American and Afro-Caribbean arts and culture.
The ceremony comes up on August 26, 2017 at Snowden Auditorium, University of Massachusetts Boston campus. The president of the Nigerian American Multi-Service Association (NAMSA), Godwin Nnanna said the prize will be given annually to artists working in any art form including performance, literary and visual arts.
“We are happy to be launching this award on this special anniversary. We are excited to be launching this award on the 90th anniversary of this legendary musician.”
“Many of his proteges like Chuck Davis, Kofi Wonderman have gone on to become superbly accomplished artists in their own rights. Baba was the best at what he did, and we are delighted to be instituting this award in his honor,” Nnanna added.
In the 1950s, Olatunji led an African ensemble that performed at concerts and civil rights rallies including the 1963 March in Washington. The march, which became a key moment in the struggle for civil rights in the United States, culminated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a spirited call for racial justice and equality.
Nigerian international music star Ade Bantu said, “99% of Nigerians don’t know Olatunji or how influential he was in the Jazz scene. He played with and mentored the greats like Miles Davis and John Coltrane and also gave Santana one of his biggest hits ever ‘Jingo’.”
Olatunji’s 1959 album, ”Drums of Passion,” was the first album of African drumming recorded in stereo in an American studio, and it introduced a generation to the power and intricacy of African music. Drums of Passion sold millions of copies and it has never lost its appeal even today.
Olatunji graduated from Morehouse College in 1954 with Bachelors in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He received Masters of Public Administration and International Relations at the New York University. His initial career goal was to be a diplomat, but his passion for music got the better part of him. He established the Olatunji Center for African Culture in Harlem, New York in 1965.
In his 2011 autobiography ‘A Reason to Believe’, former Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick recalled going to watch his father perform with Olatunji’s band at several events in New York. Patrick’s father performed extensively with Olatunji at different events, a partnership which brought young Patrick to close relationship with Baba’s family.
Olatunji has been hailed as the father of African drumming in the United States. For nearly fifty years he has spread a message of love with his drum. Legions of friends and students count him as a great influence in their lives — musically as well as spiritually. He is disarmingly friendly and open, always making time to talk with fans and admirers.