Two virtuoso bands of musicians inspired by Nigerian music master Babatunde Olatunji come together with celebrated guest players in this unique Birthday Celebration that also salutes Olatunji’s influence on African music in America. It’s basically an African music festival condensed into one night, and two bands with an array of guests: Rhythm Village featuring Sankofa Africa, Rhythm Addicts, and Koroube Koroube Dance Company; and Sikiru Adepoju with African Showboyz, plus special guests Giovanni Hidalgo and Val Serrant and very special surprise guests!
Babatunde Olatunji was born April 7, 1927, a member of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. He came to the U.S. on a college scholarship and formed a percussion group while studying business administration at New York University. He drew the notice of such jazz greats as John Coltrane and was signed to major label Columbia Records by John Hammond (who also discovered everyone from Billie Holiday to later stars Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen). Olatunji’s 1959 debut LP “Drums of Passion” helped introduce world music to the U.S. on a major label. It remains in print, and features his “Jin-go-lo-ba,” which Santana recorded on its 1969 debut album. Olatunji’s Drums of Passion band featured many jazz and African musicians including Sikiru Adepoju. And he played on Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln’s seminal Civil Rights album “Freedom Now: We Insist!” Later he was a founding member of Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum ensemble, and led his own group until his death in 2003. A list of musicians he inspired, performed, and recorded with would take the rest of this month’s calendar space.
A drummer who apprenticed with Olatunji, Gabriel Harris leads Rhythm Village, the musical group that tonight incorporates a cultural cornucopia of other performers: Sankofa Africa, Rhythm Addicts, and Kouroube Kouroube Dance Company. The son of Joan Baez, Harris has performed at Ashkenaz in recent years with French singer Marianne Aya Omac. He also toured the world with Olatunji and has worked with many other musicians as well as running the organization he founded in Fairfax, Rhythm Village.
Tonight’s other band is also an expanded group, featuring a former member of Olatunji’s Drums of Passion, Sikiru Adepoju, joining with the brother group Olatunji discovered, the African Showboyz: A longtime collaborator with Mickey Hart since the Planet Drum Project, Adepoju is a current member of the Mickey Hart Band, which just completed a tour with African Showboyz, including kicking off the Ashkenaz 40th Anniversary Celebration in March. Adepoju and the Showboyz team up, mixing percussion and unique vocal stylings, all rooted in Western and Southern African traditions. The man whom Mickey Hart calls “the Mozart of the talking drum,” Adepoju is a master of the talking drum and various indigenous percussion instruments (dundun, gudugudu, gome, omele, shekere, etc.).
The African Showboyz have performed at Ashkenaz in recent years and shared other stages with Stevie Wonder, Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti, Arrested Development, the Mickey Hart Band, and many more. The tribal ensemble combines drumming, dance, magic, and adrenaline in spectacular performances that have taken them around the world. The Showboyz’ five Sabbah brothers – Napoleon, Joseph, Isaac, Moses, and JJ – grew up in Binaba, a tiny village in the bush country of northeast Ghana, where there may have been no electricity or schools, but the young men found a bond in music that communicated their messages of peace and unity in universal terms.
Puerto Rico-born percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo has worked with everyone from Eddie Palmieri to Paul Simon and Sammy Hagar. He is a founding member of Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum and the more recent Global Drum Project, for whose CDs he won Grammy Awards.
Trinidad master musician Val Serrant was another longtime friend and collaborator with Olatunji and is a favorite of Ashkenaz audiences. He uses music – Caribbean and calypso especially, playing steel pans – as a force for positive change, and is a member of Adepoju’s Afrika Heartbeat.
When & Where
Ashkenaz is the East Bay's home to world music & dance... established 1973; nonprofit since 1997. We are always all ages! Kids 12 & under are admitted free unless otherwise noted.
All of our online ticket sales are will call. We will have a list of ticket buyers at the door; you do not need to bring a printout of your ticket/order confirmation.
Doors open 30 minutes before showtime, or 30 minutes before the dance lesson if there is one, unless otherwise noted.
Ashkenaz's Café opens when doors open and offers beer (draft and bottled), wine, kombucha, juices, sodas, coffee and tea, and snacks and light meals (all vegetarian, mostly organic).