Fela Kuti put it unequivocably: “Without Tony Allen, there is no Afrobeat.” His drumming is as foundational as salt is to cooking, and like salt, his presence elevated everything around him.
To honor the recently departed percussionist, we're revisiting a concert that has become one of Allen's last: the 2019 Internet Festival in Pisa Italy from fall of last year.
Allen was exactly what you'd want out of a collaborator—someone who distinctively contributed to the music and made all of the other players sound even better. Allen spent the last few decades recording in a whole spectrum of styles—from post-modern chanson with Charlotte Gainsbourg, to downbeat indie with The Good the Bad and the Queen, to cultural music giants like the Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho or Mali's Oumou Sangaré, and of course, adaptations on his famous Afrobeat rhythm with groups like Africa Express.
Allen also finally got a chance to pay homage to the jazz music that was so foundational for him as a young man. He released a tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on the legendary jazz imprint Blue Note Records, but it's the follow-up to that album that Allen and his group was drawing from when they performed in Pisa.
Released in 2017, The Source was sort of a long-missing link, the sweet spot between Afrobeat and jazz, a niche that Allen carved for himself. A man whose decades-long career was spent mostly at the back of the stage proves himself to be perfectly at home in the spotlight, his drumming sliding from stuttering to shaking but always compelling.
You really have your choice of Tony Allen performances on the internet, dating back to Fela and Africa 70, up to 2020. We'll definitely be going back to old interviews and performances from Allen in Afropop archives over the coming weeks. He's a man who gave us so very much.