Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Gainsbourg and Olatunji

In 1964, the French singer/scamp issued his sixth studio album, Gainsbourg Percussions, a beat-driven project that included three remade (and uncredited) songs from Olatunji’s watershed recording, Drums of Passion. Olatunji’s work sold over five million copies in 1960 and introduced African percussive stylings to pop audiences around the world, its release synchronistically coinciding with the decolonization of Africa and the launch of the civil rights era in the USA. Gainsbourg’s ambitious concept album didn’t exactly take the world, nor the Bastille, by storm; largely it’s been forgotten, though it may well have been one of the earliest attempts on record of an Afro-pop fusion. Gainsbourg Percussions also marks a transitional time in the anti-authoritarian/artist’s timeline—a period in which he moved from the dying breed of chanson, into the more highly-charged yé-yé records he wrote/recorded in the mid-late ’60s with singers like France Gall, Françoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin (they married and had a daughter, Charlotte). Gainsbourg connoisseurs are largely divided on the merits of Percussions, though the album featured a hit, “Couleur Café,” as well as the tense but hypnotic rewrites of Olatunji’s songs, like “Akiwowo” as  ”New York—USA.”

Gainsbourg’s  47-year-old piece of work is once again available on vinyl; Drums of Passion was also reissued in a deluxe CD package on the occasion of its 50th anniversary last year.

Filed under: cross cultural musical experimentation, France, Nigerian music, , , ,

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