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Drums of Passion

America's first African pop star gets a deluxe reissue

In the early 1960s, Babatunde Olatunji was the face of African music in America. Though the real Afropop of the time was longer on melodies of wisdom than drums of passion, the Nigerian political-science student quickly found that to teach Americans anything at all about Africa, he'd best keep it simple. So his six albums for Columbia, the first and last of which resurface here with unnecessarily jazzy bonus tracks, stick to theatrical percussion compositions overlaid with catchy choral singing. Less authentic than he pretended, they're plenty musical on their own terms, which 50 years later is what counts.

Rolling Stone, July 9-23, 2009