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Tony Allen - The Father Of Afrobeat

Author: Cyclone
Monday, March 9, 2009

Legendary Afrobeat pioneer, and percussionist, Tony Allen is heading to Australia for the first time this week so 3D’s Cyclone did the honours in getting to know the man a little better.

When Damon Albarn sought a drummer for The Good, The Bad & The Queen, he reached out to the most unlikely candidate – Nigeria’s Tony Allen. Or at least it seemed unlikely... In fact, the Britpop hero is hugely into Allen’s Afrobeat. He even paid tribute to him on Blur’s hit Music Is My Radar.

In 2009 Allen, finally touring Australia, has a new generation of listeners thanks to projects like Albarn’s. Is Allen ever surprised to see diverse crowds at his shows- “No, not really,” he says. “I am open to playing for different generations, so I’m not particular – mixed audiences are what I look forward to.”

Though now based in France, the “master drummer” originates from Lagos, Nigeria. Allen was drummer for the legendary Fela Kuti from the late ’60s onwards. Together with Kuti, Allen, whose early style was influenced as much by American jazz as African music, pioneered Afrobeat. They revolutionised what would otherwise be marginalised as ‘world music’.

Allen first joined Kuti’s jazz highlife band, Koola Lobitos, but the pair achieved international recognition with its successor, Africa ’70. After a decade, and countless recordings, Allen, who’d already ventured out solo, quit Africa ’70. There was disquiet over business matters. The drummer accused Kuti of being “careless” with his band members, but today he’s gracious, and even sentimental, giving the late star props and acknowledging his son, Femi.

Following the LP No Discrimination, Allen left for London, subsequently moving to Paris. He loves the vibrancy of Europe’s music scene. Here, Allen continues to air radically hybridised music.

Allen has been working on his autobiography – his co-writer is looking for a publisher. The musician admits that it’s taken longer than expected. “I just hope it will be finished for the end of this year.”

Allen has a strong reason for wanting to publish a book. “I am kind of fed up with talking about my past every time, you know- If I just release a book, everybody can read it. I’m somebody who gets bored fast.”

It transpires that boredom, or rather the avoiding of it, provides important motivation for Allen. He constantly challenges himself. Still, in contrast to some artists, Allen has no issue with his music being categorised – he’s proud to be an Afrobeat creator. The music is now global.

Allen last presented the album Lagos No Shaking in 2006. He’s readying another, but it’s too soon for him to perform any material on his Australian trek. Allen recently covered Where the Streets Have No Name for In The Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2.

Allen has many a fan in the electronic arena. The compilation Lagos Shake: A Tony Allen Chop Up saw Carl Craig, Maurizio and Diplo remix his music.

Allen played on Sebastien Tellier’s Politics, including the seminal La Ritournelle. And he teamed with Air on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 5:55. He’s always up for a guest spot. “As long as they know how to play, there is no problem.”

WHO: Tony Allen
WHAT: Plays The Forum
WHEN: Friday 13 March