Tony Allen (musician)

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Tony Allen at the Eurockéennes of 2007

Tony Oladipo Allen (born 1940 in Lagos, Nigeria) is a Nigerian drummer, composer and songwriter who currently lives and works in Paris. His career and life story have been documented in his 2013 autobiography Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat, co-written with author/musician Michael E. Veal who previously wrote a comprehensive biography of Fela Kuti.[1]

As drummer and musical director of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's band Africa 70 from 1968 to 1979, Allen was one of the primary co-founders of the genre of Afrobeat music. Fela once stated that, "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat."[2] He has also been described by Brian Eno as "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived."[3]

Early career[edit]

A self-taught musician, Allen began to play drum-kit at the age of eighteen, while working as an engineer for a Nigerian radio station. Allen was influenced by music his father listened to (Juju, traditional Yoruba ceremonial music), but also American jazz, and the growing highlife scene in Nigeria and Ghana. Allen worked hard to develop a unique voice on the drums – feverishly studying LPs and magazine articles by Max Roach and Art Blakey, but also revolutionary Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren (now Kofi Ghanaba – who developed a highly sought sound that mixed tribal Ghanaian drumming with bop – working with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach).

Allen was hired by 'Sir' Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, "the Cool Cats". Tony was able to fill the drum-set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. Allen later played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers and the Melody Makers.

Fela and Africa '70[edit]

In 1964, Fela Ransome Kuti invited Allen to audition for a jazz-highlife band he was forming. Kuti and Allen had played together as sidemen in the Lagos circuit. Fela complimented Allen's unique sound: "How come you are the only guy in Nigeria who plays like this – jazz and highlife?" Thus Allen became an original member of Kuti's "Koola Lobitos" highlife-jazz band.

In 1969, following a turbulent and educational trip to the United States, Fela and the newly renamed Africa '70 band developed a new militant African sound- mixing the heavy groove and universal appeal of soul with jazz, highlife, and the polyrhythmic template of Yoruba conventions. Allen developed a novel style to complement Fela's new African groove that blended these disparate genres.

Allen recounts how Fela and he wrote in 1970: "Fela used to write out the parts for all the musicians in the band (Africa '70). I was the only one who originated the music I played. Fela would ask what type of rhythm I wanted to play… You can tell a good drummer because we… have four limbs… and they are… playing different things… the patterns don't just come from Yoruba… [but] other parts of Nigeria and Africa."[4]

Allen recorded over 30 albums with Fela and Africa '70, arguably Fela's best works. But by the late 1970s, dissension was growing in the ranks of the Africa '70. Arguments over royalties/pay, and recognition grew in intensity. As inventor of the rhythms that underpinned Afrobeat and musical director, Allen felt especially slighted. Fela stood his ground, stating, that he would get the royalties for his songs. Fela did support Allen's three solo recordings: Jealousy ('75), Progress ('77), No Accommodation For Lagos ('79), but by 1979, Allen chose to leave Africa '70, taking many members with him. 'What makes me decide it's time to go? It's … everything...and (his) carelessness....like he doesn't care, like he doesn't know ...he doesn't feel he's done anything (wrong). And with all the parasites around too.... there were 71 people on tour by now and only 30 working in the band....you got to ask why. Those guys were sapping Fela of his Force, of his Music.' So Tony moved on, once again in search of his own sound.'

Afrobeat to Afrofunk[edit]

Allen formed his own group, recording No Discrimination in 1980, and performing in Lagos until emigrating to London in 1984. Later moving to Paris, Allen recorded with King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema and Manu Dibango. Allen recorded N.E.P.A. in 1985.

Post-Fela, Allen developed a hybrid sound, deconstructing and fusing Afrobeat with electronica, dub, R&B, and rap. Allen refers to this synthesis as afrofunk.

Allen returned with a much anticipated new project for his thirteenth release. Recorded live in Lagos, with a full-sized Afrobeat band, Lagos No Shaking (Lagos is OK), signified Allen's return to roots Afrobeat after forays into avant-garde electronica hybrids. Lagos No Shaking was released on 13 June 2006.

Current work[edit]

In 2002, Allen appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot and Riot in tribute to Fela Kuti. Allen appeared alongside Res, Ray Lema, Baaba Maal, Positive Black Soul and Archie Shepp on a track entitled "No Agreement."

Allen played drums throughout the 2003 album Love Trap by Susheela Raman and has also performed with her live.

In 2004 he recorded with Parisian artist Sébastien Tellier on the Frenchman's album Politics including the popular song "La Ritournelle".

In 2006, Allen joined with Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, and Simon Tong as drummer for The Good, the Bad & the Queen.

Allen plays drums on two tracks on the 2007 album 5:55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg: "5:55" and "Night-Time Intermission", backed by French duo Air and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.

He also made an appearance playing the drums in the video for "Once Upon a Time" by French duo Air in late 2007.

He has been a featured artist on Zap Mama's albums Supermoon (2007) and ReCreation (2009), adding his voice to the tracks "1000 Ways" and "African Diamond."

His album entitled Secret Agent was released in June 2009 by World Circuit.[5]

Allen has influenced a range of artists across a number of genres. In the single Music Is My Radar (2000) Blur pay homage to Tony Allen, and the song ends with Damon Albarn repeating the phrase "Tony Allen got me dancing."[6]

He has collaborated with Albarn and Flea in a project called Rocketjuice and The Moon with an album released in 2012. Albarn collaborated with him again for the single Go Back in 2014, that is part of the album Film of Life, released in October.

Discography[edit]

Year Title Artist Label
1969 Koola Lobitos (64–68) / The '69 Los Angeles Sessions Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1970 Fela's London Scene Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1971 Live! Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1971 Open & Close Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1972 Roforofo Fight Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1972 Shakara Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1973 Afrodisiac Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1973 Gentleman Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1974 Confusion Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1974 He Miss Road Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Jealousy Tony Allen Soundworkshop
1975 Alagbon Close Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Everything Scatter Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Excuse O Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Expensive Shit Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Monkey Banana Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1975 Noise For Vendor Mouth Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1976 Ikoyi Blindness Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Kalakuta Show Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Na Poi Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Unnecessary Begging Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Upside Down Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1976 Yellow Fever Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Progress Tony Allen Phonogram
1977 Fear Not For Man Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 J.J.D – Live at Kalakuta Republik Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 No Agreement Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Opposite People Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Sorrow Tears and Blood Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Shuffering and Shmiling Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Stalemate Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1977 Zombie' Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1979 No Accommodation for Lagos Tony Allen Phonogram
1979 Unknown Soldier Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1979 V.I.P. Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1979 No Discrimination Tony Allen and the Afro Messengers Shanu Olu Records
1980 Music of Many Colours Fela Anikulapo Kuti / Roy Ayers Barclay
1985 Never Expect Power Always (aka N.E.P.A.) Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 Moving Target
1986 I Go Shout Plenty Fela Anikulapo Kuti Afrodisia
1987 Too Many Prisoners Tony Allen with Zebra Crossing Barclay
1998 Ariya Tony Allen Comet
1999 Black Voices Tony Allen Comet
1999 Ariya (remixes) Tony Allen Comet
1999 The Two Sides of Fela – Jazz & Dance Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
1999 Racubah! – A Collection of Modern Afro Rhythms Various Artists Comet
2000 Black Voices Alternate take Featuring Mike "clip" Payne Tony Allen Comet
2000 Black Voices Remixed Tony Allen Comet
2000 Mountains Will Never Surrender Doctor L Jive
2000 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 1 Various Artists Comet
2000 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 2 Various Artists Comet
2000 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 3 Various Artists Comet
2000 Modern Answers To Old Problems Ernest Ranglin
2000 Afrobeat...No Go Die! Various Artists Shanachie
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Various Artists Comet
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 4 Various Artists Comet
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 5 Various Artists Comet
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 6 Various Artists Comet
2002 Homecooking Tony Allen Wrasse Records
2002 Every Season Tony Allen Comet
2002 Eager Hands & Restless Feet Tony Allen Wrasse Records
2004 Awa Band Bababatteur Ekosound
2004 Live Tony Allen Comet
2006 Lagos No Shaking Tony Allen Astralwerks
2007 The Good, The Bad & The Queen The Good, The Bad & The Queen EMI
2007 5:55 Charlotte Gainsbourg Because/Vice
2009 Secret Agent Tony Allen World Circuit Records
2009 Inspiration Information 4 Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Strut Records
2012 Rocket Juice & the Moon Rocket Juice & the Moon Honest Jon's
2013 The Rough Guide to African Disco Various Artists World Music Network
2014 Film Of Life Tony Allen JazzVillage

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat". Duke University Press. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  2. ^ Williamson, Nigel (18 January 2008). "Tony Allen: The veteran Afrobeat drummer is shaking his sticks as hard and as brilliantly as ever". The Independent. Retrieved 22 April 2008. 
  3. ^ Patterson, Ian (24 December 2007). "Steve Reid: Staying in the Rhythms". www.allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved 22 April 2008. 
  4. ^ Graeme Ewens, Africa O-Ye!, 1991.
  5. ^ Tony Allen – Feature – Musicfeeds.com.au. Retrieved on 15 March 2009.
  6. ^ Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon – Features – Music, Time Out London

External links[edit]

Two Tony Allen radio shows on Red Bull Music Academy Radio (RBMA Radio)

Downloadable podcast of a lecture Tony Allen delivered to Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) attendees