Monday, November 9, 2009

Tony Allen: Master Drummer

I recently discovered a music sensation on RFI's "musique du monde" show. His name, Tony Allen; his genre, afrobeat. With a sound similar to Fela's but with more "Afro-American" influence, Tony Allen's music will take you across continents and fill your ears with the sweet, painful and jazzy sounds of Africa and her diaspora.

Born in Nigeria in 1940 of mixed Nigerian and Ghanaian parentage, Tony Allen is perhaps the most highly-regarded African drum set player to emerge since World War II. Drummers and other musicians of all backgrounds marvel at his uniquely polyrhythmic style. Allen belongs on one hand to a tradition of African drum set playing associated with the Ghanaian drummer Kofi Ghanaba (Guy Warren), and historically rooted in British military drumming, European ballroom dance music, big-band jazz drumming, and indigenous percussion traditions. However, he is also an African exponent of the African-American tradition of modern jazz drumming typified by musicians such as Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach.

Tony Allen's formative years were spent digesting these influences while apprenticing in various Nigerian bands during the late 1950s, performing the pan-Anglophone West African popular music style then known as highlife. But he came to international prominence in the 1960s as a member of the band of the late Nigerian bandleader Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, with whom he played for 15 years. Fela Kuti is himself recognized as one of the most important and influential African popular musicians/composers of the post-colonial era, and it is widely accepted that Tony Allen was his crucial collaborator in the synthesis of jazz, funk and highlife which resulted in the style known as Afrobeat. Tony Allen’s work with Fela is documented on over 30 recordings and today, he remains the primary exponent of Afrobeat.

Tony Allen's own recordings, made since leaving Fela’s band in 1978, are diverse in style and fascinating fusions of Afrobeat with other styles of world popular music. These works find him in the collaborative company of Nigerian juju musicians such as Fatayi Rolling Dollar, electronica musicians such as Doctor L, American funk musicians such as Michael "Clip" Payne and Gary "Bone" Cooper, and musicians from around Africa and the Caribbean. After playing for years in the shadows of better-known musicians, Tony Allen is now starting to receive the worldwide credit he deserves as one of the most dynamic players of the drum set. His recordings are widely available in Africa, Europe, Japan and America and he also tours regularly throughout these same areas.

So whether you want to unwind with a glass of wine after a long day or you want to shake your behind and wave a handkerchief, Allen's music will enable you capture and express a range of emotions. Please find samples here, enjoy and support an African brother's industry:

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