“…..without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.” Fela Kuti
Today’s post is in memory of the complete awe-inspiring drummer, composer, and songwriter Tony Allen who died yesterday in Paris at the age of 79.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1940, of mixed Nigerian and Ghanaian parentage, Tony Allen taught himself to play drums at the age of 18 while he was also working as an engineer for a Nigerian radio station. Greatly influenced by a style of Nigerian popular music derived from traditional Yoruba percussion called Jùjú (a type of music his father listened to), he was also heavily inspired by American jazz and the growing highlife scene in Nigeria and Ghana. Listening to this music and studying magazine articles by jazz drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach, he began working as a professional musician in 1960, gigging around Lagos and playing a mixture of highlife and jazz. Allen dedicated many hours listening and studying the music of these artists and in doing so acquired a broad spectrum of teaching sources. He also followed Ghanaian drummer, Guy Warren who developed a highly sought-after sound that mixed tribal Ghanaian drumming with bop!
Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ’70 from 1968 to 1979 and 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” and was described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.“
For a self-taught musician it never ceases to impress me just how far Allen’s career went and, indeed, how long is lasted for. He was playing right up until his passing and dedicated his life to a passion that fuelled his very being…It’s real nice to think that (maybe) somewhere now, Tony, Fella and Hugh are all reunited and making music wherever they are!
Today’s song – Agbada Bougou – (listen above) is taken from one of the last albums Tony Allen was working on. Teaming up with “the father of South African Jazz”, Hugh Masekela in 2010 after their UK tour schedules coincided, the pair began to work on Rejoice. The unfinished sessions, consisting of all original compositions by the pair, lay in archive until after Masekela passed away in 2018. With renewed resolution, Tony Allen and Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh Masekela’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album in summer 2019..this was then released in March this year on UK’s, World Circuit Records. To accompany the release, the label had this to say of the record:
“The story of Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela’s very special collaborative album ‘Rejoice’, out March 20th on World Circuit. Featuring interviews with Tony Allen & producer Nick Gold. “Purchase the album: http://worldcircuit.lnk.to/Rejoice)
‘Rejoice’ is a very special collaboration between Tony Allen, the legendary drummer and co-founder of Afrobeat, and Hugh Masekela, the master trumpet player of South African jazz. Having first met in the 70s thanks to their respective close associations with Fela Kuti, the two world-renowned musicians talked for decades about making an album together. When, in 2010, their touring schedules coincided in the UK, the moment presented itself and producer Nick Gold took the opportunity to record their encounter. The unfinished sessions, consisting of all original compositions by the pair, lay in archive until after Masekela passed away in 2018. With renewed resolution, Tony Allen and Nick Gold, with the blessing and participation of Hugh Masekela’s estate, unearthed the original tapes and finished recording the album in summer 2019 at the same London studio where the original sessions had taken place. ‘Rejoice’ can be seen as the long overdue confluence of two mighty African musical rivers – a union of two free-flowing souls for whom borders, whether physical or stylistic, are things to pass through or ignore completely. According to Allen, the album deals in “a kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew”, with its roots firmly in Afrobeat. Allen and Masekela are accompanied on the record by a new generation of well-respected jazz musicians including Tom Herbert (Acoustic Ladyland / The Invisible), Joe Armon-Jones (Ezra Collective), Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko) and Steve Williamson.”
“Wolf Eat Wolf ” was taken from The Source, Allen’s 2017 record which was released on the Blue Note label.
Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – Pansa Pansa 1/2 (Berlin 1978)
The story of Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela’s very special collaborative album ‘Rejoice‘, which was released on March 20th via World Circuit…Featuring interviews with Tony Allen & producer Nick Gold.