Calling to African spirits through the drum

The Babatunde Lea Quartet performs tonight and tomorrow at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul.


Jazz percussionist Babatunde Lea was photographed Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, after an interview at Minnesota Public Radio.

MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

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Jazz drummer Babatunde Lea told MPR's David Cazares that, though he has been hailed as a stellar performer of jazz and world music, what's more important is the fountain from which his music springs.

"I call it jazz steeped in the rhythms of the African diaspora because I've learned a great many drumming traditions, you know, from Afro-Cuban to Afro-Brazilian to Senegalese to Nigerian," he said. "And I bring all those elements to my music, as well as straight ahead. It all depends on what composition and where your head is when you hear us."

...[Lea] has no doubt that the spirit of African ancestors drives the music of much of the Americas, from Afro-Cuban Santeria and Haitian voodoo to Brazilian candomble and even the music of the black church. The call to Africa that emerges from the drum, Lea said, is about one unifying spirit.

"These are all the same people that were brought over here during the slave trade," Lea said. "That's what people don't know. They separate African-Americans, Afro-Cubans, Afro-Brazilians and ... Haiti and Dominican Republic. It's like we're different people. No, we're the same people that was brought over here. We're just separated by different languages.

"We're calling the ghost constantly. Our music is our music."

You can read the rest of Cazares' story, and listen to Babatunde Lea's music, here.