On Friday, January 29, 2021, MFM presented “’Music Is Essential’ ZOOM Webinar #2 with Baba Donn Eaton Babatunde Speaking About Caribbean Drumming in America.”
Baba Donn Eaton Babatunde is a master percussionist. He performed and / or recorded with The Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, Maurice Hines, Gregory Hines, Andy Williams, Chuck Davis Dance theatre, Pattie Labelle, Philycia Rashad, Choreographers Frank Hatchet, Geoffrey Holder, Louis Johnson, Donald Brown, Joe Henderson, Jason Linder, Tyrone Jefferson, James Spaulding, Ron Carter, Gorge Clinton, Pharaoh Sanders, Metropolitan Orchestra, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, Maurice Hines, and The Last Poets.
He’s also a member of the MFM UNITY ENSEMBLE and SoSaLa.
His theatrical credits include Macbeth, Caligula, and Dream on Monkey Mountain, and has performed at the Opera House, Carnegie Hall, The State Theater, Avery Fisher’s Hall , City Center, The Apollo Theatre and The House Of Blues. He appeared on Sesame Street and on Julie Andrew’s Green Room on HBO.
Babs Donn Eaton Babatunde has received proclamations from the City of New Orleans, The City of New York Public Advocate’s Office as well a plaque of recognition from the Mid Manhattan branch of the NAACP for his contribution to the Arts.
Has also Conducted Workshops throughout the Metropolitan, Tri-state Area, with many institutions such as The Harlem School of The Arts, John Jay College, Arts Connections, African Horizon, Pyramid Dance Company, Arts Horizon, Yaffa Productions, North Hampden High School and Jack and Jill Arts Center to name a few.
Baba Donn Eaton Babatunde’s webinar focused briefly, yet intently upon the history of African diaspora percussion, and how they developed in America. One part of the discussion centered on how the conga (once the most popular percussion instrument in the world, before being replaced by the djembe) came to America,
There is no way the history of African percussion in America can be discussed without discussing its place in the slave trade in the US. Drums were not allowed in the US until after Louisiana purchase. This is because drumming was associated with specific African cultures and languages. African drums were used for communication; and this posed a threat to the slave owners. The Geechee / Gullah people (in the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands) succeeded in maintaining and preserving African music and rhythms, despite the ban.
New Orleans was a little lax in the ban and allowed European percussions / drums at small gatherings and in brothels. This was instrumental to the birth of jazz. In the 1930s jazz musicians introduced Afro-Caribbean & Cuban percussion / drums into jazz. Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo took this to a new level.
In the 1960s, the influence of African diaspora rhythms and their instruments grew during the civil rights movement. The Last Poets (whom Baba Donn Eaton Babatunde plays with) influenced James Brown, Sly Stone, Miles Davis, etc. There was also the development of Boogaloo music (tragically, Boogaloo was recently co-opted as a right wing message).
In addition to this indispensable history lesson, Baba Donn Eaton Babatunde also spoke about the origins of several African instruments and how they developed in the Americas, such as the talking drum, which mimicked human speech, and the Brazilian berimbau which came out of Angola.
Baba Donn Eaton Babatunde spoke about how he was influenced by his uncle (an amateur drummer) and was inspired by the older masters. His experience with this multicultural drumming was an identification with liberation.
We invite you to learn more about Bab Donn’s music, and his immense depth of knowledge and music. We also invite you to participate in our future webinars. MFM pledges to continue to bring knowledge and inspiration to professional musicians, those aspiring to be professionals, and all audiences.