Babatunde Olatunji, 76, the Nigerian drummer whose 1959 Columbia Records album, "Drums of Passion," helped introduce African music into the American mainstream, died of complications of diabetes April 6 in Salinas, Calif. He taughtat the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., where he was artist in residence.
Mr. Olatunji, who was well known as a teacher of traditional African drumming, was raised in a fishing and trading village, Ajido. The village's Yorba traditions of musical communication and storytelling were later reflected in the work of Mr. Olatunji's touring group of drummers, singers and dancers.
He came to the United States in 1950 as a scholarship student at Morehouse College in Atlanta and later studied public administration at New York University.
The ensemble he formed in New York performed initially at civil rights rallies led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and with an orchestra at Radio City Music Hall. It also toured schools.
"Drums of Passion," which was a top-selling record in its time, is regarded as one of the first world music albums recorded in the United States. It influenced musicians and helped spark African-jazz fusions in the early 1960s.
Mr. Olatunji headed his own jazz group for a while and then went on to play with artists such as Mickey Hart, Airto Moreira and Carlos Santana.
In 1967, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane helped him establish the Olatunji Center for African Culture in Harlem, which trained many of this country's teachers of African performing arts.
Mr. Olatunji also taught at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and at other schools and colleges.
He recorded and toured with Mickey Hart and the group Planet Drum and lived for a while in Washington. His own group, Drums of Passion, included students and family members.
In the 1980s and '90s, Mr. Olatunji also gained status as a New Age cultural figure as his workshops on the powers of drumming drew new admirers.
Survivors include his wife, four children and a brother, Dr. Akinsola Akiwowo of Alexandria.