Saturday, 2 May 2020

Tony Allen has finally left his drum stool! R.I.P. Tony!

Tony Allen, the legendary drummer and Afrobeat co-founder, died unexpected aged 79 on 30 April 2020 in his Paris home.
Most widely known as the drummer and musical director in Fela Kuti's band, Africa '70, the pair created Afrobeat together by fusing west African sounds like highlife, and the drum patterns of Yoruba music, with jazz and funk. Kuti, who died in 1997, once commented that "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat".
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Allen didn't learn to play the drums until he was 18, and he would join Africa '70 in 1968. Allen and Kuti  recorded over 30 albums before he left the collective in 1979 over . He went on to collaborate with artists including Jeff Mills and Sébastien Tellier, as well as Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, and Simon Tong, as The Good, the Bad & the Queen.

Fela in performance 1971

Fela Ransome Kuti & The Africa 70 - Open & Close (1971)

Tony Allen & The Africa 70 - Progress

No Agreement (from 1977) is easily one of the most danceable songs Allen ever made with Kuti — no small feat, considering their floor-filling prowess. The drummer spars with needling guitar and a darting keyboard during the graceful, kinetic opening. The sparse setting, with no horns and no other percussion, allows dancers to hone in on Allen’s hiccuping bass-drum pattern. His playing here is gleeful and a little reckless — he zooms forward and then pulls up sharply, like a driver speeding toward a red light. 

Tony Allen & The Africa 70 - Jealousy

By the mid 70s, Kuti’s politics of resistance was reaching its peak. Zombie was its most forceful expression, Kuti’s lyrics characterising the violent Nigerian army as mindless zombies. You can feel the force of his frustration through his blistering saxophone as it meanders over the highlife guitar line, while Allen’s snappy, shaker-heavy rhythm is the ever-reliable foundation for Kuti’s social message. The song’s success in Nigeria was not without consequences, leading to a severe beating for Kuti, the torching of his studio and his elderly mother being thrown from a window and killed.

After leaving Africa 70, because of payment dispute with Fela, Allen had what was probably his biggest hit with this beat:

Nine years after Fela’s death in 1997, Allen, then Paris-based, returned to Nigeria to revive the classic Africa ’70 sound. The resulting Lagos No Shaking instantly recalls the humid, perpetual-motion groove-scapes the drummer helped to pioneer with Fela. 
As heard on “Ise Nila,” Allen’s inimitable time sense, at once urgent and consummately laid-back, is fully intact, providing a velvety cushion for a rich melange of horns, guitars, and auxiliary percussion. The track lasts just over five minutes but could easily sprawl out to the jumbo running times favored by Africa ’70 without losing the slightest bit of intrigue.

The Same Blood (From Black Voices 1999)

Crazy Afrobeat (from Home Cooking 2002)

Allen is a cheerfully destabilizing presence on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 5:55, an often somber album that’s heavy on stately ballads and light on rhythmic oomph. On the title track, Allen shows he can stick to the script, keeping his parts conservative and understated. But “Night-Time Intermission” is a welcome digression, full of spry, nimble playing — a parade-like pattern and the occasionally jarring cymbal splat. In Allen’s presence, even the keyboards become more energetic, and more percussive.

In 2001 Tony collaborated with Tweak on this excellent, but rare album:

Tweak - Leroy 

“Tony Allen … really got me dancing,” Damon Albarn sang on Blur’s 2000 single “Music Is My Radar,” which dedicated its entire third verse to the Afrobeat legend. Seven years later, Albarn would recruit Allen for the Good, the Bad and the Queen, a dub-influenced supergroup featuring the Clash’s Paul Simonon and the Verve’s Simon Tong. For their 2007 self-titled album, Allen plays the role of timekeeper and pacesetter while adding subtle polyrhythmic flourishes. However, on the band’s seven-minute eponymous song and album-closing track, Allen is finally unleashed for a percussive freakout reminiscent of the side-long aural adventures he embarked on with Africa ’70. 

From the 2009 album Information Inspiration

Five years after the Good, the Bad and the Queen, Albarn reconnected with Allen and recruited Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea to form the one-off trio Rocket Juice and the Moon, a collaboration borne out of Albarn’s Africa Express voyages. Their self-titled 2012 LP serves as a vessel for the groovy interplay between Allen and Flea, like on the album highlight “Benko.” “I’m a huge Fela Kuti fan and Tony Allen is one of my favorite drummers, so to get to talk and play with him was just phenomenal,” Flea said of the collaboration. “The way I approach rhythm and groove is very similar to the way he does, and I feel with him a special something that is difficult to put into words but it’s a beautiful thing.” Following Allen’s death, Flea penned a touching tribute to “my hero.”

In 2013 he collaborated with Brazilian group Metá Metá - Alakorô 

In 2014 he collborated with the Chicago Afrobeat Collective

They went on tour and recorded an excellent album together:
Cut the Infection (from What goes Up 2014)

Also in 2014 Tony produced (he played also drums and was the Musical Director) the excellent album "African Woman" by Sierra Leone born singer Sia Tolno.

The year 2014 Allen was particularly busy
as he created his own fantastic album "Film Of Life"
Tony Allen - Go Back (feat. Damon Albarn) 

Tony Allen - Asiko

Around 2015, Allen booked a studio in his adopted hometown of Paris and invited musicians to come jam with him. There was no defined expectation, just a veteran drummer looking for inspiration. Among those who showed up was German minimal Techno record producer and percussionist  Moritz von Oswald and Detroit techno OG Jeff Mills, replete with a Roland TR-909 drum machine and a small synth.

Perhaps the strangest and least well-known of Allen’s collaborations is that with the techno producer Moritz von Oswald, who replaced his longtime drummer Vladislav Delay with Allen for his 2015 album Sounding Line. Allen produces a truly remarkable sound: a warped and manipulated series of electronics. The opening track sees Allen superimpose an Afrobeat shuffle on to a wobbly dub that builds over 10 minutes to create a simmering, electro dancefloor odyssey.

Moritz von Oswald Trio feat. Tony Allen

Since 2016 he was appearing live with  techno wizard Jeff Mills

 Their sessions, which would lead to the mind-expanding Afrofuturist EP Tomorrow Comes the Harvest, were illuminating for both artists. Mills recounted how their conversations over lunch and on break would correlate with how they played together afterwards, and he marveled at Allen’s philosophy behind the function of each drum. Largely formulated for modular live performances, the record has a wonderfully loose, improvisatory feel. 

Wolf Eats Wolf (The Source, 2017)

Allen’s musical inspiration were American jazz drummers like Max Roach and Art Blakey — whose hard-driving pulse powered his storied Jazz Messengers from the Fifties through to his death in 1990. “The first jazz events that I really followed were Blue Note, and that was how I discovered my idol Art Blakey,” Allen said in 2017, the same year he joined up with Blue Note to release A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. This glorious EP features Allen adding his own inimitable sense of groove to the Messengers’ famously soulful tunes. The drummer and his band’s take on pianist Bobby Timmons’ 1958 landmark “Moanin'” shows that the stylistic union — spanning decades and continents — was as natural as hand in glove.

We've Landed (from Rejoice 2020)

Just released on 2 May by Damon Albarn a track from the upcoming Goriallz album as tribute to Tony. Let's give the last words to Tony:

and his drums:

Bye Tony Allen and thanks for the Afrobeat!


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