Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Beat of My Drum: An Autobiography

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Beat of My Drum: An Autobiography

Article excerpt

LITERATURE & THE ARTS Babatunde Olatunji, with Robert Atkinson. The Beat of My Drum: An Autobiography. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005. vii + 247 pp. Photographs. Index. $68.50. Cloth. $23.95. Paper.

The Beat of My Drum is not focused primarily on Africa, nor is it, strictly speaking, an autobiography. These are two big problems with this book. But it is a nice memoir of aspects of the development of the world music genre. It is also an interesting, though skeletal and spotty, account of panAfricanism and the American civil rights movement, as Babatunde Olatunji inserts himself, Gump-like, into every major happening in the twentieth century. I can't decide whether this last aspect is a weakness or a strength.

Of little use to the student of Africa are the three sketchy and unspecific chapters on Babatunde Olatunji's beginnings in Nigeria. It is wonderful, though, to have an African voice in print; African studies suffers from this lack. And this voice is quite intriguing, although I wished that he had fleshed out the brief glimpses of a young African man in multiple situations: during the beginnings of pan-Africanism in West Africa, in the corrupt Nigerian civil service, in the Jim Crow American South, and in the context of the sticky relations between Africans and African Americans in the middle of the twentieth century. He lived most of his life outside of Africa and seems to have had an impact on the consciousness-raising of Americans about Africa. He appears in print and photographs to be easygoing and smiling, but also sharply critical of Western exploitation of the material and human resources of Africa, and of African acquiescence in that exploitation.

Most of the book concerns his sojourn in the United States promoting the healing powers of the drum and the importance of African culture. We witness Olatunji's encounters with major figures of the century: Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah, Bill Lee (Spike's father), Alvin Alley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, Tito Puente, Tom Mboya, Max Roach, Alex Haley, Pete seeger, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Count Basic, Lionel Hampton, Randy Weston, Richard Nixon, Quincy Jones, James Brown, Bob Marley, Larry Bird, Mickey Hart, The Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and Maya Angelou. …

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