Monday, July 25, 2016

2/15/87: Drums of Petaluma

This show had been languishing on my harddrive forever, and I finally gave it a close listen and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The occasion for the show and tape was a benefit performance by Babatunde Olatunji and his group Drums of Passion, with guest stars Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, and Mickey Hart.  Honestly, I can't say much about the music itself, but I've never seen much comment about this and most setlist information out there seems to be incorrect, so I figured I'd post a little something about it.
ticket pic courtesy Thomas Patrick
I won’t go much into Olatunji’s career here: the short version is that he was a pivotal figure in bringing African rhythm and culture to western awareness in the 1950’s, peaking with his landmark and extremely popular album Drums of Passion, released in 1960.  By the 1970’s, though, his career was in serious decline and was effectively on the skids until Mickey Hart approached him after a San Francisco club performance in 1985 with an offer to produce new recordings and, later, an invitation for him to open for the Dead on New Year’s Eve.  Those recordings, made in January 1986, yielded two albums: Dance to the Beat of My Drum (on the local San Francisco label Blue Heron, later reissued by Rykodisc as Drums of Passion: The Beat) was squarely aimed at a crossover comeback and prominently featured Santana’s guitar; the other, belatedly released in 1989 as Drums of Passion: The Invocation (also on Rykodisc), featured only his core drum ensemble.  Olatunji, who had prefigured the demand for “world music” by 25 years, was back in the public eye and had Mickey Hart and the Dead to thank for it.

On Feb 15, 1987, Olatunji’s group of percussionists and dancers played a benefit in Petaluma, CA for the local World Music in Schools foundation, augmented by Garcia, Santana, Hart, and bassist Bobby Vega.  Hart appears to have orchestrated the whole thing, and the 90 minute PBS special about the show (at youtube) credits the Dead’s crew with holding down most of the technical aspects.  Hamza el-Din opened the night with a beautiful 20 minute solo performance, then Olatunji’s group played for nearly two hours.  I presume Garcia must have rehearsed some for this, especially since he was the only one of the guests not involved with the 1986 recordings.  Although he and Santana clearly aren’t central to the music, they both fit in well and Garcia sounds comfortable and quite good when the spotlight falls on him.  Presumably in deference to him or (more likely) to the fans who were there because of him, the group plays "Fire On the Mountain," which comes off well enough — but for my money, Garcia’s best moment of the night is the solo he rips on “The Beat of My Drum” (d1t08).  Not bad, Jer!  He looks plenty happy in the video but, hey, playing on a stage packed full of master African drummers is probably harder than it looks.  The night belongs to Olatunji, of course, and the bulk of the show is heavy African percussion, which suits me just fine.

Santana, Garcia, and (I think) Sikiru Adepoju.  pic by Jay Blakesberg
From a Garcia-centric perspective, this appearance marks a start to his post-coma period of increased health and a much greater level of engagement with the musical world around him.  He returned to making appearances on friends’ studio projects (starting, probably around the time of this show, with the Neville Brothers), returned to his bluegrass roots with the JGAB, and showed more of a willingness to put himself in unfamiliar contexts, not least being his guest appearance with Ornette Coleman in 1988.  It was the start of the final golden phase of his career, and it’s neat that this one-off appearance with one of the most famous African musicians of the 20th century helped kick it off.  Maybe there are some comments to be made about Garcia's position in relation to the African musical diaspora, but right now it feels like a stretch and I'm tired.

Here’s the video.  Head to 47:50 for some heat:

Charlie Miller’s transfer of Dan Healy’s sbd sounds excellent, but the tracklist (and some of the tracking) is off.  They play all of the 1986 album material and I was able to get some other titles by googling, so here is the best I'm able to come up with:

d1t01 introductions
d1t02 ??? (Hamza el Din: oud + vocal)
d1t03 ??? (Hamza el Din: oud instrumental)
d1t04 ??? (Hamza el Din: oud + vocal)
d1t05 ??? (Hamza el Din: tar + vocal)
d1t06 intro parade/??? ; Akiwowo (acapella intro) ->
d1t07 Akiwowo *
d1t08 The Beat of My Drum *
d1t09 Loyin Loyin *
d1t10 Odun De
d2t01 Ife L'Oju L'Aiye * ->
d2t02 Ife L'Oju L'Aiye * (continued from d2t01)
d2t03 band intros, speaking
d2t04 Yambela
d2t05 Fire on the Mountain *
d2t06 ??? **
d2t07 Se Eni A Fe L'Amo - Kere Kere *
d2t08 Ilere *

Hamza el Din tracks are unaccompanied.
* with Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana, Bobby Vega (bass), Mickey Hart (drum kit)
** d2t06 Olatunji introduces percussionist Kwaku Dadi (sp?), who sounds like a special guest.

Jay Blakesberg
PS.  During the introduction to the show, the foundation director mentions Garcia's recent appearance in Doonesbury.  If you're curious:


  1. "this appearance marks a start to his post-coma period of increased health and a much greater level of engagement with the musical world around him"

    I would note the 11/21/86 Los Lobos sit-in, maybe also the 11/1/86 Ritual and Rapture thing, but, yeah, the most exciting aspect about the post-coma period, to me, is to see Garcia being in the broader musical world again after 8 years or whatever.

    Thanks for the setlist notes!

  2. That's true, I forgot about the Los Lobos thing. Still, it's a big step from getting out of the house to see Los Lobos and being pulled onstage for a quick La Bamba, to playing (and presumably preparing for) a full set with Baba Olatunji's troupe of drummers. No matter: both indicated better things to come (for a little while, at least).