Here's a message I sent to the Osho group telling them how much I enjoyed this past weekend with Olatunji.
I just spent a 3-day weekend celebrating African drum, dance and song with a truly remarkable man, 68 year-old Babatunde Olatunji, a Nigerian who came to America in 1949 to attend college and decided to stay, taking up residence in New York City. He came to Los Angeles this weekend to hold a workshop and to perform here for the first time in 10 years.
Talk about meditation! Talk about letting go! I could feel the spirit of Osho in the room with us. Sunday, for example, we had drum (most everyone played djembe) and dance instruction in the morning and afternoon. That night his ensemble gave back-to-back performances at the Ash Grove on the Santa Monica Pier, where most of the chairs were removed to provide room for 350 people to dance, spin, jump, twirl and sing.
Imagine the rhythm and joy created by his ensemble: Olatunji sang and played ashikos and a djembe. Other musicians played 2 additional djembes, 2 talking drums, a jun-jun, a bell, a shakere, a kora, keyboard, electric guitar, electric bass, trap drums. In addition, there were 4 singers.
His performance was 4 hours of celebration and ecstasy. People were turned away, unfortunately, because the venue is relatively small and the concert sold out. But those of us who did get in couldn't stop dancing the entire time, and left dripping and exhausted.
My favorite song or piece of the entire evening was a slow, beautiful healing song off his new healing rhythms CD which I'm listening to as I write this message. It is called Dakun, Dakun, a meditative appeal to Olodumare, the Father, to drive away all negativity from awareness and life. The melodic chorus is simply "Dide were, were; Dide kia-kia." When Olatunji wrote the song, he added an important part for classical guitar. In his performance and on the CD, however, the guitar part is played by a kora, a Senegalize multi-stringed, gorg shaped intrument that is gripped in both hands, facing you, and plucked with the finger tips, and occassionally as done in performance, with the teeth!
Yesterday morning and afternoon was spent in more drum and dance workshops, and the concert was strickly percussion and dancing--and song.
What an inspiring weekend, chatting with and gaining insight from a master of the drum. Fully aware of the healing power of the drum, he urges everyone in the world to learn how to play in order to move above all the strife and conflict. Manufacturers have approached him to introduce a line of synthetic drums, especially if he hopes everyone in the world starts drumming. After all, if there were that many drums, wouldn't we run out of natural materials?
But Olatunji refuses to endorse synthetic materials in drum making. He says that drumming unites the spiritual power of three living sources: the spirit of the tree in the shell, the spirit of the goat in the drum head, and the spirit of you, the drummer. This spiritual fusion during drumming is sacred and powerful. Anyone who drums knows that drumming is a direct path to the soul. So removing the spirit of the tree and goat from the process is moving in the wrong direction, robbing something sacred of its power and mystery. Even drummers lose sight of the spiritual nature of the drum, failing to show proper respect for their sacred instrument and for what they do. Even they get caught up in modern thought, which emphasizes convenience, complexity, and synthetics, ignoring that which is natural, simple and full of life. For example, people carry their flutes in elegant cases lined with velvet, whereas they often just haul their drums around carelessly, dropping them, banging them against tables and walls.
As Rumi says,
"We should ask God
to help us toward manners. Inner gifts
do not find their way
to creatures without just respect."
I need to keep hearing messages like those I heard from Olatunji this weekend.