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World Music CD Reviews Africa

BABATUNDE OLATUNJI

By Tom Orr
Published September 27, 2005

Circle Of Drums
Chesky

Though a track from it appeared on a CD included with a 1998 special edition of the very magazine you are now reading, Circle Of Drums is the album that never was. Until now. Chesky Records has remastered this previously unreleased 1993 Olatunji collaboration with fellow percussionists Muruga and Sikiru Adepoju and made it available to all the drumheads out there still mourning the great Nigerian drum master’s passing in 2003. And the disc is a mighty one, as primally sophisticated and trance-inducing as anything bearing the late master’s name. Throughout the six lengthy selections a phalanx of drums and percussion converse in tones celebratory and foreboding, at times embedded in synthesizer drones, the tangy melodic embellishments of hammered dulcimer and single-stringed ektar or vocal chants. But whatever the flavoring, it’s the drums that dig ever deeper throughout this disc’s 63 minutes, from patchwork intros to tightly sealed grooves that seem to move both heaven and Earth. Listen closely or, better yet, do what Olatunji himself is no doubt doing from somewhere in the Great Beyond: play along.