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Babatunde Lea
Birth nameMichael Lea[1]
Bornc. 1948
Danville, Virginia[2]
OriginSan Francisco, California
GenresJazz, Afrobeat, world music
Years active1968–present[3]
Associated actsLeon Thomas, Pharoah Sanders, Jana Herzen, Bujo Kevin Jones, DJ Jackie Christie

Babatunde Lea (IPA: Liː) is an American percussionist who plays Afro-Cuban jazz and worldbeat.[4][5] He took his name from Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji.


Michael Lea was raised in Englewood, New Jersey, while regularly commuting to 116th and Amsterdam in New York, where the rest of his family lived after moving from his birthplace, Danville, Virginia.[3] His aunt was one of the first women to play in a marching band.[6] He began drumming at the age of 11, when he, without drumming experience helped a drumline get a rhythm right.[3] That same year, his cousin took him to see Babatunde Olatunji and his "Drums of Passion", and Olatunji's influence was so great that Michael took on his first name.[7] At 16, he first participated in a professional recording session with Ed Townsend.[8] In 1968, he moved to San Francisco, where he joined Bata Koto, led by Bill Summers. He joined a band called Juju, which relocated to Richmond, Virginia in the early 1970s.

In 1977, he moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area. Among the artists with whom he played were Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston, Van Morrison, Oscar Brown, Jr. and Mark Murphy. In 1993, Virginia and Babatunde Lea founded the Educultural Foundation, a California 501(c)3 educational non-profit organization based in Vallejo, California.[9]

Returning east, he met up with Leon Thomas (who used to sing at the church Lea attended as a youngster, the First Baptist Church of Englewood[3]) and became drummer in his band. This led to working with Pharoah Sanders. Lea would ultimately pay tribute to Thomas on his 2009 album, Umbo Weti, which appeared on the Motéma Music label that he founded with Jana Herzen in 2003. His first album as leader, Levels of Consciousness was released in 1979. He recorded with a band called Phenomena, which grew out of the Loft Jazz Association. He did not release another, Level of Intent, until 1996, putting it on his own label, Diaspora Records. He mortgaged his home to get the album released, but it was not widely distributed until Motéma reissued it in 2003.[3]

In 2010, Babatunde and Virginia moved to Pennsylvania to teach at Gettysburg College.[10]

Says Lea of his work, "I strive to make my compositions functional, which is an African take on the arts. The purpose I try to imbue my music with is that our growth as human beings should strive toward an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, egalitarian, democratic universal society and I don't care how many lifetimes it takes to get there! I consider myself an activist as well as a musician and consider myself an 'agent of change.'"[11]

His work has been noted for its mixture of styles and influences.[12]



Album Year Label
Levels of Consciousness 1979 Theresa
Level of Intent 1996 Diaspora
March of the Jazz Guerillas 2000 Ubiquity
Soul Pools 2002 Motéma
Suite Unseen: Summoner of the Ghost 2005 Motéma


Elaine Lucia Album Year Label
Sings Jazz and Other Things 2001 Raw
David Leshare Watson Album Year Label
Live at Lo Spuntino 2002 Music in the Lines
Loves Swinging Soft & Ballads 2003 Music in the Lines
DJ Jackie Christie Album Year Label
Made 4 U 2004 Motéma
Valerie Joi Album Year Label
Rise Above 2004 TruJoi Music
Singing the Sacred Yes 2006 Gemini Sun
Bujo Kevin Jones Album Year Label
Tenth World 2005 Motéma
Wayne Wallace Album Year Label
Dedication 2006 Patois Records
Idris Ackamoor Album Year Label
Music of Idris Ackamoor 1971–2004 2005—2000 EM Records
Eric Swinderman Album Year Label
In Pursuit of the Sound 2006 Self-released
Panos Kappos Album Year Label
Harmony 2007 Voyager Records
Mark Murphy Album Year Label
Wild and Free 2017 Highnote


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 27, 2012. Retrieved September 14, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Babatunde Lea". Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Yanow, Scott (2000). Afro-Cuban Jazz: Great Musicians, Influential Groups. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. pp. 200. ISBN 0-87930-619-X.
  5. ^ "Babatunde Lea". Allmusic. Retrieved November 7, 2008.
  6. ^ "Sacramento – Talent Magazines". Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  7. ^ Cazares, David (October 5, 2012). "In his hands: Babatunde Lea channels African drumming traditions". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 12, 2011. Retrieved September 14, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 1, 2011. Retrieved September 14, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ [2][dead link]
  11. ^ "Babatunde Lea's Soul Pools article". Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 3, 2009. Retrieved September 14, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
This page was last edited on 16 May 2021, at 11:22
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