Tony Allen (musician)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Tony Oladipo Allen (born August 12, 1940 in Lagos, Nigeria) is a Nigerian drummer, composer, and songwriter.

As drummer and musical director of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s band Africa 70 from 1968-1979, Tony Allen was a co-founder of the genre of Afrobeat music. As Fela stated, “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”.

Contents

Early career

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, & the growing highlife scene in Nigeria and Ghana. Allen worked hard to develop a unique voice on the drums- feverishly studying LP’s & magazine articles by Max Roach & 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, Thelonius Monk, and Max Roach).

Tony was hired by ‘Sir’ Victor Olayia to play claves (sticks) with his highlife band the, “Cool Cats”. Tony was able to fill the drum-set chair when 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

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 USA, Fela and the newly renamed Africa ’70 band developed a new militant African sound- mixing the heavy groove and universal appeal of James Brown’s soul with jazz, highlife, and the polyrhythmic template of Yoruba conventions. Allen developed a novel style to compliment 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.”(Graeme Ewens, “Africa O-Ye!”, 1991)

Allen recorded over 30 albums with Fela and Africa ’70, arguably Fela’s best works. But by the late 1970’s, dissention 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

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 Ade, Ray Lema, & Manu Dibango. Allen recorded “N.E.P.A.” in 1985.

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

Tony Allen returns 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), signifies Allen's return to roots Afrobeat after forays into avant-garde electronica hybrids. "Lagos No Shaking" was released on June 13, 2006.

Described by Brian Eno as 'perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived'.

Current Work

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

He makes an appearence playing the drums in the Video for Once Upon a Time by French duo Air

Miscellanea

The lyrics to the single Music Is My Radar (2000) by Blur pay homage to Tony Allen, and according to Damon Albarn the song ends by repeating the phrase “Tony Allen got me dancing.”

Discography

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 Gentlemen 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 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
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




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