Man playing on hand drums

30 years of Olatunji drumming and dancing celebrated on Cortes Island

By Greg Osoba, CKTZ News, through an LJI grant from

Since 1990, members of Babatunde Olatunji’s Drums of Passion ensemble have been teaching West African drumming and dancing at Hollyhock Leadership Learning Centre on Cortes Island.

“Baba”, as he’s known, was based in New York City after immigrating from Nigeria in the 1950s, but it was in British Columbia in the late 1980s where the drumming master began his public teaching.

In the summer of 1990, he brought a stripped down version of the Drums of Passion troupe to Hollyhock, including Gordy and Zoe Ryan.

Babatunde Olatunji. Image courtesy of

Baba passed away in 2003, but the Ryans have kept his legacy alive by continuing to teach through the decades. They had hoped to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Baba’s programs at Hollyhock in 2020, but the pandemic thwarted that effort. With restrictions eased, and live programs once again underway at Hollyhock, the Ryans have returned. Their much anticipated anniversary program gets underway on the evening of Wednesday, July 27.

Cortes Island hand drumming teacher Claudia Raaen. Photo by Greg Osoba.

For the past 30 years, many Cortes Islanders and those who’ve taken programs at Hollyhock have learned about Yoruba culture, especially drumming and dancing. Some have gone on to have professional musical careers.

Image credit: Gordy Ryan and ensemble perform at the Seattle World Rhythm Festival. Image courtesy of Seattle World Percussion Society.