Tony Allen is among the greatest drummers of the past century. His sudden death at 79 in April, 2020, was a shock felt around the world. In addition to his seminal work with the king of Afrobeat Fela Kuti, Allen had a prolific solo career and performed and recorded with artists from Angelique Kidjo, Ray Lema, Ernest Ranglin and Oumou Sangare to Damon Albarn, Brian Eno and Jeff Mills. In this program we salute a towering career in global music, with insights from Michael Veal, co-author of Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat. Produced by Banning Eyre.
Originally aired June 25, 2020.
WINDOW: M01_Obama Shuffle Strut Blues.m4a, Tony Allen + Hugh Masekela, Rejoice (World Circuit, 4 050538 557503) [start at 0:15; time to next emerge]
GEORGES: RECOGNIZE THAT DRUMMER? I BET YOU DO. THAT’S THE INIMITABLE NIGERIAN MAESTRO TONY ALLEN FROM HIS 2010 SESSION WITH HUGH MASEKELA, RELEASED IN 2020 ON THE ALBUM REJOICE.
WINDOW: M01_Obama Shuffle Strut Blues.m4a (emerge on trumpet at 0:35-1:00)
GEORGES: UNFORTUNATELY, THIS WAS THE LAST OF OVER 20 ALBUMS TONY ALLEN RELEASED UNDER HIS OWN NAME OVER HIS SIX DECADE CAREER. AND OF COURSE, THERE WERE ALSO DOZENS OF COLLABORATIONS WITH FELA KUTI, THE KING OF AFROBEAT, AND MANY, MANY OTHERS. WE LOST TONY ON APRIL 30, 2020, VERY SUDDENLY, AT AGE 79. IT WAS A SHOCK FELT AROUND THE WORLD.
WINDOW/BED: M02 What's Your Fashion.m4a, Tony Allen, Home Cooking (Narada World, 72435-82257-2-3) (10 seconds, then to bed)
GEORGES: HELLO, GEORGES COLLINET WITH YOU ON AFROPOP WORLDWIDE FROM PRX. TODAY WE REMEMBER THE LIFE AND CAREER OF TONY ALLEN, ONE OF THE GREATEST DRUMMERS OF THE PAST CENTURY.
ACTY: 01_YA_Tony1.wav: The world has definitely lost an icon. But we have gained a forever legend. There's no going through the history of music without mentioning Tony Allen. Even though he's not with us anymore, we will continue to treasure every stroke of the drumstick he ever gave this world of ours.
ACTY: 02_JM_highlight.wav: I think in my life, there have really only been a few times where I was in a situation where I could really learn a lot. And working with him as a musician and learning about rhythm was definitely one of the highlights.
ACTY: 03_AK_Tony.wav: This guy ain’t playing no drums. He’s just having fun. He’s so relaxed. I look at him and I’m like, “I wish all the drummers could play like that!”
ACTY: 03.5_DA_Tony.wav: He was one of my favorite people on earth. He gave so much of his time and love and wisdom. I wouldn't be where I am today, honestly, if I hadn’t met Tony. Simple as that. He’s one of the greatest musical influences in my life because of the simple depth of what he was teaching. Beloved, beloved, truly a beloved man.
ACTY: 04_OS_TonyAllen.wav: (French) It's a big loss. Because Tony Allen is unique. The moment he touches those drums, you forget his age. He played like a devil. It's a huge loss. It was incredible. Age could not diminish his savoir-faire.
GEORGES: OUMOU SANGARE SAYS “TONY ALLEN WAS UNIQUE. HE PLAYED LIKE A DEMON. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. HIS AGE COULD NOT DIMINISH HIS SAVOIR-FAIRE.” BEFORE THAT WE HEARD FROM DAMON ALBARN, ANGELIQUE KIDJO, JEFF MILLS AND YEMI ALADE, JUST A FEW OF TONY’S GRATEFUL COLLABORATORS AND ADMIRERS. OUR GUIDE TO THE LIFE OF TONY ALLEN IS A MAN WHO KNEW HIM IN A VERY SPECIAL WAY.
ACTY: 05_MV_intro.wav: My name is Michael Veal. I am a professor of ethnomusicology at Yale University, a musician, a bassist, a soprano saxophonist, and leader of the Afrobeat jazz band Michael Veal and Aqua Ife. A lot of people know me because of the biography I wrote of Fela Kuti, with whom Tony played for 15 years. Around 2000, Tony contacted B to a friend. He wanted to know if I was interested in co-writing his autobiography. And I said yes, because I think Tony Allen is one of the great drummers of our time. Tony was living in Paris, where he lived since the mid-1980s. So, I basically lived off and on in Paris for about five or six years, going over for two months here, three months there, two weeks year, six weeks there, between 04 and let's say 08.
GEORGES: TONY ALLEN, AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE MASTER DRUMMER OF AFROBEAT CAME OUT IN 2013, AND IT’S A FANTASTIC READ, A JOURNEY THROUGH A LIFE LIKE NO OTHER.
WINDOW: M03_Awa Na Re.m4a, Tony Allen, Lagos No Shaking (Honest Jon, 0 94635 13222 9) (first 5 seconds, and then to bed)
ACTY: 06_MV_culture.wav: One interesting thing in Tony's biography is that his mother was Ghanaian and she was a Ga and Ewe speaker. And Tony's father was a Yoruba speaker from Abeokuta in Nigeria. And so he grew up in this dual heritage, culturally speaking. And of course the Yorubas and the Ewes and the Gas, those are three very prominent drumming cultures in West Africa. And so Tony grew up in the midst of all this, and it really shaped him musically. And, he's speaking all three of those languages.
ACTY: 07_TA_beginnings.wav: I was born in Lagos, and I wasn't intending to play music at first, you know. I had to go do something my parents wanted me to do. I was a radio technician for about four years, at a company. And while I was doing this, I used to crawl the nightclubs, [club crawling in the night] in the 50s, the late 50s. This job, you know, I was fed up with it. Because I got a teacher who taught me how to play drums. He just taught me for about one month and then he left. I took up with a band called Olaiya’s Band, and I found out that it's not working. I play in the night. I have to wake up in the morning to go to work. I stopped the band and faced my job. And about four years later, I developed more interest in music. Anyway, I just stopped the job and said I want to play music now. Then I played my first band. I was playing the clefs in the band, playing the sticks, for about nine months. We were playing highlife.
WINDOW: M04_Bonsue.wav, Victor Olaiya and his Cool Cats, Afro Rhythm Parade – Vol 2 (Phillips 420 001 PE) [Scratchy vinyl! See if you can denoise, first 7 seconds, then to bed]
ACTY: 08_MV_highlife.wav: Highlife. That was the big popular dance music in Nigeria and Ghana at that time. Nigerian musicians like Victor Olaiya, and Eddie Okonta, Cardinal Rex Jim Lawson, and of course Bobby Benson. And so there was a lot of dialogue and interchange between Lagos in Nigeria and our Accra in Ghana, the two hubs of the highlife scene.
WINDOW M04_Bonsue.wav [emerge on vocal 0:34-1:04, then to bed]
GEORGES: TONY ALLEN PLAYED CLAVE STICKS IN THE BAND WE’RE HEARING NOW, VICTOR OLAIYA’S COOL CATS. BY THE WAY, FELA HIMSELF STARTED OUT AS A BACKUP SINGER IN OLAIYA’S BAND—BUT THAT’S ANOTHER STORY… HERE’S TONY.
ACTY: 09_TA_drums.wav: After the drummer of the group left, because I used to play drums when he was singing sometimes, they just put me on the drums. They said, "No, we don't have to employ any other drummer, because you play good drums anyway." That's how I started playing my drums, 1960.
WINDOW: M05_Odofo.m4a, E. T. Mensah & The Tempos, King of Highlife Anthology, (RetroAfric 5017742 302977) [first 15 seconds then to bed]
ACTY: 10_MV_highlife-drums.wav: I can't tell you who brought the first drum set into Nigeria, but if I had to guess, I would guess that it was the highlife bands. ET Mensah in Ghana toured Nigeria many times in the 40s and 50s and 60s, and that is generally considered to have laid the foundations for Nigerian highlife. ET Mensah had a very important drummer, known at that time as Guy Warren, subsequently known as Kofi Ganaba. Now Kofi Ganaba have spent a lot of time in the US playing jazz and learning jazz. He was socially friendly with Duke Ellington and Max roach and Charlie Parker and people like that. So he really brought that jazz concept of drumming into highlife. And if you listen to the old ET Mensa records from the 50s and 60s, you can really hear that the drums are back there doing something.
WINDOW: Odofo [Emerge on sax solo 1:06—1:30, then to bed]
GEORGES: COMMERCIAL DRUM KITS HAD ONLY EXISTED SINCE 1909, SO >span class="MsoPageNumber"> WAS STILL QUITE A NEW THING IN AFRICAN MUSIC.
ACTY: 11_MV_drumkit.wav: Typically in ensembles, you would have a battery of percussionists all playing different instruments: bells, drums, shakers, scrapers. It was a new thing that you could centralize all these parts under the control of an individual musician. And so the drum set begins to acquire its own identity in African music at that time. Tony, coming up in the highlife era, fell under the sway of great drummers like Guy Warren, as well as the local Nigerian drummers. It's a long list of people.
WINDOW: M06_Gene Krupa- Sing, Sing, Sing.mp3, Gene Krupa, Gene Krupa’s Sing Sing Sing (Karusell, KEP 285) [10 seconds, then to bed]
ACTY: 12_TA_idols.wav: I was listing to Gene Krupa. I liked his solos. Then later Blue Note started coming to Nigeria. Art Blakey. Elvin Jones. Max Roach—the use of the hi-hat. Those are my idols. I love their drumming, a lot, a lot, a lot.
WINDOW: M07_Max Roach Triptych 1964.mp3, Max Roach, (YouTube) [emerge 2:19—2:32]
ACTY: 13_TA_Blakey.wav: I discovered the Jazz Messengers, led by Art Blakey. This one is different, completely different from Gene Krupa. You know? He talks. He’s a talker. The way he solos, his solos are African, like telling a story. That’s what I love of him. And I said, “Oh, I want to play like this guy.”
WINDOW: M08_ART BLAKEY DRUM SOLO - 1959.mp3, Art Blakey (YouTube) [emerge 00:05—0:30, then to bed]
ACTY: 14_MV_virtuoso.wav: So now you've got virtuoso drummers emerging. They are not just keeping the beat anymore, but that got a lot of chops and they’re playing all those technical stuff and all this very creative, imaginative, interactive stuff. Max roach and Kenny Clarke and Philly Joe Jones. And all the drummers of that generation, and then the ones that came after them in the 60s. Elvin Jones, Art Blakey and Tony Williams. So Tony was hearing all that. And of course, they were also importing those Blue Note records. And there was a time period in his adolescence when Tony was working as a DJ, and people wanted to hear highlife, and wanted to hear jazz.
WINDOW: M09_Ceora.mp3, Lee Morgan Quintet, Cornbread (Blue Note, BLP 4222)
[emerge 2:03-2:32, could be shorter]
ACTY: 15_MV_curve.wav: His learning curve was remarkably rapid. He sits down at the drums to relieve the other drummer. When the other drummer leaves, they say instead of finding a new drummer, they just let Tony stay on the drums full time. And from that point on, his drumming develops really rapidly. There were many times in the early years what people do things like paying him more than they pay the other members, or make special accommodations, because they recognize his outstanding talent.
WINDOW: M10_Highlife Re-incarnation.wav, Victor Olaiya, Highlife Re-Incarnation (YouTube) [10 seconds, then to bed]
GEORGES: TONY PLAYED IN A LOT OF BANDS IN THOSE DAYS, BUT HE HATED THE BUSINESS: STINGY RIP-OFF BANDLEADERS, FICKLE NIGHTCLUB OWNERS... THERE WERE TIMES WHEN HE WANTED TO GIVE UP MUSIC ALTOGETHER. BUT THERE WAS ALWAYS SOMEONE TRYING TO BRING HIM BACK.
ACTY: 16_TA_neverstopped.wav: “Oh yeah. I'm forming a band, a new band. Blah blah blah blah blah. You want to come and play?” I said, “Me? No. I ain’t playing nothing anymore. I don't want to hear any type of music. Because this job is a crazy job, you know. You just find yourself jobless somehow, somewhere, sometime, without you committing any offense." I let him go that day. Then three days later, he came back again. I said, “Okay, let's go give it a try again. And then from then on, I never stopped.”
GEORGES: AND IT WAS AROUND THAT TIME, IN 1964, THAT TONY MET FELA.
ACTY: 17_TA_Fela1.wav: Him, he arrived and he wanted to play jazz, you know. And he met other drummers before me. And these are good drummers in the country at that time. He met the first one, he said is not good. He met the second one, it's not happening. He met the third one. He said, "Ahh, it's a pity that no good drummers in Nigeria." So when he was saying this, the bass player was playing in the same group with me. He said, "No, no, no. There is a good drummer you don't know." He said “Who is this man?” So he said, “His name is Tony Allen.” Fela, you know he was working at the radio. He was a presenter of jazz programs. So we went to the radio, I set up my drums and everything, he took his trumpet, and he asked, "Can you play 12 bar blues?" I said, "Yes." "And can you play solos?" And I said, "Yes.” And he just put me on a trial first, and immediately said, "Ah yes! It's true. Have you been to the States before?" And I said, "No." "Have you been to London?" I said, "No." “You mean all what you are playing is from here?" "Yes." “Ahh.” So that was it. So that was jazz. Jazz. We were playing jazz for about one year you know?
GEORGES: BUT THE AUDIENCE WAS NOT THERE FOR FELA’S JAZZ QUARTET. SO THE BAND WENT BACK TO HIGHLIFE, BUT NOW WITH A BIG BAND JAZZ TWIST. THEY CALLED THEMSELVES KOOLA LOBITOS—LOBITOS BEING SPANISH FOR “LITTLE WOLVES.”
WINDOW: M11_Highlife Time.m4a, Fela Ransome Kuti, Koola Lobitos/The ’69 L.A. Sessions (MCA, 312 4 549 461-2) [top to 0:24, then to bed]
GEORGES: IN 1969, FELA TOOK THE BAND TO LOS ANGELES, AND THEY ENDED UP SPENDING MONTHS THERE. THAT’S WHERE FELA FAMOUSLY TUNED INTO BLACK POWER POLITICS AND BEGAN TO SEE HIS MUSIC AS “THE WEAPON OF THE FUTURE.” FOR TONY, L.A. WAS ALSO IMPORTANT, BUT MORE FOR MUSICAL REASONS.
ACTY: 18_MV_Butler.wav: Frank Butler was a very known jazz drummer in LA, and he befriended Tony. They used to practice together, and he showed Tony a lot of tricks, how to loosen up his wrists, and how to develop his independent coordination and how to develop his dexterity. And so basically, LA is when Tony Allen’s drumming style takes off like a rocket. Now he was already great. But once he got that last infusion, he just went beyond.
WINDOW: M12_Ako.m4a, Fela Ransome Kuti, Koola Lobitos/The ’69 L.A. Sessions (MCA, 312 4 549 461-2) [top to 1:38, then to bed]
GEORGES: SO NOW THE BAND RETURNS TO NIGERIA, RENAMED AS THE AFRICA 70, AND THEY START TO RELEASE THE MOST MUSICALY POWERFUL RECORDINGS OF FELA’S CAREER, LIKE THIS ONE, “FEFE NAA EFE.”
WINDOW: M13_Fefe Naa Efe.m4a, Fela Kuti, Confusion/Gentleman (MCA, 314 547 378-2) [0:35—0:45, then to bed]
ACTY: 19_MV_greatness.wav: Tony has just exploded into greatness. He and Fela were linked at the brain, despite whatever else may have be going on with the business. They were really totally in sync with each other. That is some of the greatest drumming in my opinion that's been recorded since World War II. It's jazzy. It's funky. It swings. It's got the overtones of traditional African music. It sounds totally hip and slick, but at the same time, totally rootsy, and even a little bit traditional. So that was when Tony just achieved his glory. The way he's playing the high hat cymbals is very loose like a jazz drummer, and the bombs and the accents like a jazz drummer. But it's very funky like one of like one of James Brown's drummers. It sounds like something Clyde Stubblefield would play. And the line that Fela wrote on top of it, the horn line, and the way Tony interacts with the horn line. SINGS. That kind of line, you know. SINGS It's got that swing.
WINDOW: Fefe Naa Efe, [up to 2:31, then back to bed]
ACTY: 20_TAllen_orch.wav: That’s how I was from Day 1. I worked for that. I always say I want my drums to sound like an orchestra. I want my drums to sound like piano, you understand? Piano has many notes and chords. So that’s how I want my drums to sound.
WINDOW: Fefe Naa Efe, [up to 3:11, then back to bed]
ACTY: 21_MV_bed .wav: That's the highlife feeling it. The key to understanding that is the drummer is just a partner in the percussion section. You've got the congas, you've got the rhythm congas, you got the lead congas that are playing interjections. You got the shekere. You got the clavés. They are all playing this matrix of parts, and the drummer is riding on top of it. Pushing the music when it's time to push it, pulling it back when it's time to restrain it. Simmering. Push it again! Break it back down! Simmer. Tony was a master of that. And he's got this bed of percussion that he can just kind of ride on top of and interact with and interject with.
WINDOW/BED: crossfade to M14_AlagbonClose_edit.wav, Fela Ransome Kuti & Africa 70, Alagbon Close/Why Black Man Dey Suffer (Wrasse Records, 8 75232 00712 3) [Time to next emerge]
ACTY: 22_MV_Alagbon.wav: Later, in Africa 70, the music tightened up. Basically, as Fela became more in conflict with the authorities, the music started to really tense up. And it reflected all of that. And so then you get stuff like “Alagbon Close.” SINGS.
WINDOW: Alagbon-edit, [emerge 0:35-4:23, then to bed]
GEORGES: “ALAGBON CLOSE.” FELA KUTI AND AFRICA 70 WITH TONY ALLEN ON DRUMS. NOW, HARDCORE AFICIONADOS STILL DEBATE EXACTLY WHO CONTRIBUTED WHAT TO AFROBEAT IN ITS PRIME, BUT ONE THING IS SURE. THE MUSICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN THE FELA THE COMPOSER AND TONY THE RHYTHM MACHINE WAS AS DEEP AS IT GETS. BUT, AS SO OFTEN HAPPENS IN BANDS, BUSINESS EVENTUALLY GOT IN THE WAY OF ART. AS FELA’S POLITICAL AMBITIONS GREW, THERE WAS LESS AND LESS MONEY FOR THE MUSICIANS. AND IN 1978, TONY ALLEN HAD HAD ENOUGH.
WINDOW/BED: M15_Confusion_edit.wav, Fela Kuti, Confusion/Gentleman (MCA, 314 547 378-2) [about 5 seconds, then to bed]
ACTY: 23_TA_Fela2.wav: I was fed up, tired because of many things happening around that I couldn't handle anymore. Fela is my friend, you know. For the friendship to continue, I prefer to leave. Because if I stay, it's going to be too much hypocrisy. Business—you know, like I don't like it, but I'm there with it. You know? It's not good. So I prefer to leave, and then we are friends just like that.
ACTY: 24_MV_friends.wav: You know how it is when you're young you're a kid, you have a best friend. You do everything with your best friend. You guys are inseparable. And then something bad happens. Maybe he takes your girlfriend, or you take his girlfriend, something that just puts an irreparable split between you guys. So now you can't hate the guy but at the same time you've got all this background the stuff you get together, fun you did together, and adventures you had together, and all this amazing music you made together. So you can't really destroy that bond. It's just that the bond has become more complicated. So they kind of intertwine in and out of each other's lives for the next 20 years, until Fela passes away in 1997.
GEORGES: COMING UP— THE KALEIDOSCOPIC SOLO CAREER OF TONY ALLEN. AND BE SURE TO VISIT AFROPOP.ORG FOR TRANSCRIPTS OF INTERVIEWS IN THIS PROGRAM AND SO MUCH MORE. I’M GEORGES COLLINET, AND YOU’RE LISTENING TO AFROPOP WORLDWIDE, FROM PRX.
WINDOW: 20-second break M16_NoAccomodation_edit.wav, Tony Allen, No Accommodation for Lagos (Polydor, POLP 035)
WINDOW: M17_Progress.wav, Tony Allen, Progress (Coconut, PMLP 1004) (5 seconds and then to bed)
GEORGES: TONY ALLEN RECORDED FOUR ALBUMS WITH AFRICA 70 UNDER HIS OWN NAME. THEY WERE VERY MUCH IN THE CLASSIC AFROBEAT MOLD, BUT AT LEAST ONE OF THEM SIGNALED TONY’S AMBITION TO MOVE ON. THE TITLE IS PROGRESS.
MUSIC: M27_Progress.wav, Tony Allen, Progress (Coconut, PMLP 1004) [could go as long as 6:40, but we can easily cut from the middle to get to the singing if time is short]
GEORGES: TONY ALLEN AND AFRICA 70 WITH “PROGRESS.” NOT LONG AFTER TONY PARTED WAYS WITH FELA, HE MOVED TO LONDON WHERE HE BEFRIENDED FRENCH PRODUCER MARTIN MESSIONIER. MARTIN WAS DEEPLY INVOLVED WITH JUJU MAESTRO KING SUNNY ADE AT THE TIME, AND TONY PLAYED ON A TRACK ON KING SUNNY’S MOST HEAVILY PRODUCED ALBUM EVER, AURA. MICHAEL VEAL SAYS THAT AFROBEAT HAD BECOME AN IMPORTANT INFLUENCE ON INTERNATIONAL JUJU MUSIC.
ACTY: 25_MV_KSA.wav: Oh yeah. The whole equation they did was to take Afro beat and mix it in with those juju songs. SINGS RIFF. That's nothing but Fela and Tony. That’s straight Africa 70. They even played some of Fela’s melodies in there.
WINDOW: M18_TheMessage.wav, (365 Is My Number-The Message) King Sunny Ade, Juju Music (Mango, 162-539 712-2) (We need to line up MV singing with the riff at 0:07 in this excerpt. Listen to M18_DEMO.wav to hear how they fit. Then crossfade into M19)
GEORGES: IN 1984, TONY COMPLETED HIS FIRST POST-AFRICA 70 ALBUM, NEPA.
WINDOW: M19_Nepa.wav, Tony Allen and Afrobeat 2000, Never Expect Power Always (NEPA) (Earthworks, MWKS 3001) (top to 0:15, then to bed)
ACTY: 26_TA_NEPA.wav: NEPA. Never Expect Power Always. You know that NEPA is the Nigerian Electricity and Power Authority, but because the electricity doesn’t happen, we call it NEPA. Never Expect Power Always.
WINDOW: Nepa, (up to 2:15, then to bed)
GEORGES: WITH NEPA, WE START TO HEAR CHANGES IN THE MUSIC, MORE ELECTRONICS, UNISON GUITAR LINES NOT UNLIKE THOSE IN KING SUNNY’S BAND, AND MELODIOUS VOCALS.
WINDOW: Nepa (up to 2:45, then back to bed)
GEORGES: IN 1985, ENCOURAGED BY MARTIN MESSIONIER, TONY MOVED TO PARIS. BEFORE LONG, HE MARRIED, HAD THREE SONS, AND BEGAN A NEW CAREER FOR HIMSELF. OVER THE NEXT 15 YEARS TONY WORKED WITH ALL SORTS OF GROUPS, LARGE AND SMALL, AND EXPERIMENTED WITH TRENDING STYLES: TECHNO, DUB, AND ELECTRONICA, INCLUDING THIS ALBUM MADE WITH LIAM FARELL, AKA DR. L, PSYCHO ON DA BUS.
WINDOW: M20_Push Your Mind.m4a, Psycho On Da Bus, Psycho On Da Bus, (Platform Recordings, PLT-1125-2) [top to 2:06 then to bed]
GEORGES: “PUSH YOUR MIND” FROM PSYCHO ON DA BUS. TONY ALLEN ARRIVED IN PARIS AT A TIME WHEN LIFE FOR AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS WAS TAKING A TURN FOR THE WORSE. AND IT WAS A PIVOTAL MOMENT FOR POPULAR MUSIC AS WELL.
ACTY: 27_MV_vogue.wav: He went through a few years of struggling pretty heavily in France because the vogue at that time was to use drum machines. This was the period of the mechanization of popular music, and that affected African music too. So Tony would record these great tracks, and then the producers would either wipe the tracks, use the tracks to trigger some electronic drums, and for someone who was a great drummer, it was a very demoralizing time for him. In fact it was a very demoralizing time for drummers around the world. That went on several years until the mid-to-late 90s, when finally his second career begins to pick up with recordings like Home Cooking, and Black Voices. Those are two early recordings that he made with members of Parliament Funkadelic like Gary Mudbone Cooper and Michael Clip Payne. I believe the genius keyboardist Bernie Worell might turn up on a couple of those recordings. So these were all Tony sort of using his Afro beat drumming style as a kind of canvas on top of which there would be very atmospheric, dubby production.
WINDOW: M21_Ariya.wav, Tony Allen, Black Voices (Comet Records, COMET CD 005) (2 minutes)
GEORGES: TONY ALLEN WITH “ARIYA” FROM BLACK VOICES.
ACTY: 28_MV_touring.wav: By the time I met him, he was touring incessantly, all over Europe, touring the United States pretty regularly. Touring Asia. He played on Reunion Island, in Japan. He played in Israel, Istanbul. And this was when he was approaching his 70s, or was in his 70s. I don't know how he kept up the pace.
GEORGES: DURING HIS PARIS YEARS, TONY COLLABORATED WITH A WHO’S WHO OF AFRICAN ARTISTS, INCLUDING RAY LEMA, HUGH MASEKELA, ANGELIQUE KIDJO, OUMOU SANGARE AND, ON ONE OF HIS FINAL RECORDINGS, AFEL BOCOUM OF MALI.
WINDOW: M22_Afel Bocoum - Djougal.wav, Afel Bocoum, Lindé (World Circuit, not released) (emerge 0:56—3:25, then to bed)
GEORGES: MAN, THAT’S WONDERFUL. SONRAI MUSIC FROM AFEL BOCOUM WITH A TONY ALLEN SWING! ONE OF TONY’S MOST INTERESTING LATE-LIFE COLLABORATIONS WAS WITH BRITISH ROCK MAVERICK DAMON ALBARN, WHO, BY THE WAY, CO-PRODUCED THIS AFEL BOCOUM ALBUM, LINDÉ. DAMON’S ROCK BAND, BLUR, WAS FORMED IN 1988. AS THEIR POPULARITY GREW, DAMON WAS SPENDING A LOT OF TIME AT HONEST JON RECORDS, AN ECLECTIC SHOP WHERE HE ACQUIRED AN EDUCATION AND A DEEP PASSION FOR POPULAR AFRICAN MUSIC. THEN IN 2000….
WINDOW: M24_Music is My Radar.mp3, Blur, single (Food, Food, Food, 7243 8 89529 2 7) [crossfade this one in, timed to next emerge NOTE:
ACTY: 29_DA_radar.wav: I wrote this song called "Music is My Radar" by Blur and—little did I know how prophetic the words were, but I said in the song “Tony Allen got me dancing.” That literally appeared on his radar, and he got in contact with me and said, "Would you like to collaborate." So I met him in the studio on Tottencourt, Road, one drunk night. And that was the beginning. He was a completely different kind of musician I had ever met. Immediately I could sense that he had a sort of magic about him.
WINDOW: Music is My Radar [emerge 2:25-2:42]
GEORGES: DAMON TOLD US THAT IN THAT STUDIO, HE JOINED TONY IN A LITTLE BIT TOO MUCH INDULGENCE, AND RAN INTO A PROBLEM COMMON TO MANY TONY ALLEN COLLABORATORS.
ACTY: 30_DA_downbeat.wav: I couldn't on the night come up with something concrete on the night, because I couldn't find the downbeat. So I took it away and then I worked on it, and he really liked it. And that was the beginning of our relationship.
GEORGES: IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, TONY SAYS THAT SONG WAS THE BEST TRACK ON THE ALBUM. SO THE FEELING WAS MUTUAL, AND MANY MANY COLLABORATIONS FOLLOWED OVER THE NEXT 18 YEARS. LET’S HEAR THE SONG THAT STARTED IT ALL, “EVERY SEASON.”
WINDOW: M25_Every Season.m4a, Tony Allen, Home Cooking (Narada World, 72435-82257-2-3) (up to 1:25, then to bed, might need to edit out Ty’s rap and cut ahead to 2:30)
GEORGES: SO COOL! FROM TONY ALLEN’S 2003 ALBUM HOME COOKING, THE SONG “EVERY SEASON,” FEATURING DAMON ALBARN. DAMON, COMING FROM A ROCK BACKGROUND, MAKES NO BONES ABOUT THE CHALLENGES HE FACED PLAYING WITH TONY THE RHYTHM MASTER, THE MAN WHO COULD LITERALLY BEND THE TIME CONTINUUM.
ACTY: 31_DA_lost.wav: Believe me, sometimes you got suspended between his high hat and his downbeat. Or anywhere in those three, the high hat the snare and the bass drum. If you got caught somewhere in there, you could get lost, and literally lose your mind, cast out into a parallel universe, waiting for Tony to call you back.
WINDOW: short bit more of Every Season
GEORGES: LATER ON, DAMON AND TONY COLLABORATED IN A BAND CALLED “THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE QUEEN.” NOW THE MUSIC CAME MORE FROM DAMON’S SIDE, AND TONY WAS FITTING HIS STYLE INTO MUSIC VERY FAR FROM JAZZ OR AFROBEAT.
ACTY: 32_DA_both.wav: I think that’s why we both loved working together, because we both forced each other to look at things differently.
GEORGES: LET’S HEAR SOME OF THE SONG “THREE CHANGES” FROM THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE QUEEN…
WINDOW: M26_Three Changes.m4a, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, (Parlophone, 0 9463 81950-2 3) [top to 2:49, if time. 1:45 could also work]
GEORGES: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE QUEEN, FEATURING DAMON ALBARN AND TONY ALLEN. THE LAST TIME WE MET TONY WAS AT THE APOLLO THEATRE IN NEW YORK IN 2018 WHEN HE PERFORMED WITH THE DETROIT ELECTRONIC MUSICIAN JEFF MILLS.
WINDOW: M27_Locked And Loaded (Edit).mp3, Tony Allen and Jeff Mills, Tomorrow Comes the Harvest (Blue Note, B07F54P3L6) (this piece runs through ACTY #37. In between each ACTY, have a little emerge, no more than 20 seconds, as you hear it.)
ACTY: 33_JM_Fela.wav: I first became of Tony’s work with Fela Kuti probably in my teen years. I started off as a musician but I kind of moved into Djing in the late 70s, so at a time when music was not broken into categories and special styles. It was pretty much a broad ocean of music that you just had to kind of swim and find your way to what you really needed to have. And so as a deejay then, finding something that was more beat oriented was one of the things deejays most looked out for, works where percussion and drums were the primary element that everything else was based around.
GEORGES: JEFF MET TONY IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE DRUMMER’S LIFE. TONY HAD HIRED A STUDIO AND WAS INVITING MUSICIANS IN TO JAM AND SEE WHAT HAPPENED. A WEEK LATER THEY RECORDED THE ALBUM WE’RE HEARING NOW, “TOMORROW COMES THE HARVEST.”
ACTY: 34_JM_album.wav: It was all done in real time. It was a very unique way to record music. We would be in the control booth. And you know, nobody was in a rush, except me maybe. And then one of us would slip away. I think I went first and I just worked on some drum patterns and some things in the machines. And then once I was done, I called Tony in to listen to it. And then, you know, if he liked it he would sit behind the drums and he would play, and then the keyboard player would come. So the whole album was pretty much made in that way.
GEORGES: JEFF SAID THEY SPENT A LOT MORE TIME TALKING ABOUT MUSIC THAN ACTUALLY PLAYING MUSIC.
ACTY: 35_JM_one.wav: For instance he would explain that he was often asked by journalists, where’s the beginning of the pattern that he’s playing? Like where’s the one? And he would tell them that the one is everywhere. It’s where you imagine it would be.
ACTY: 36_JM_resonate.wav: He doesn’t beat the drums. He allows the skins on the drums to work. He allows the rebound of the beat on the drumstick to roll against the skin to generate a sound. You know, to hit a drum, you can do that in so many different ways. So it was really fascinating to watch him.
ACTY: 37_JM_encyclopedia.wav: There was the act of striking the drum, but then there’s also the motion in which you’re going to strike the drum, and there is where you get certain rhythms where they are very swung, or very late, or just slightly ahead of the tempo. He had a whole encyclopedia of how that could be done. He could drum roll in so many ways that it would never sound the same.
WINDOW: M28_The Seed (Edit).mp3, Tony Allen and Jeff Mills, Tomorrow Comes the Harvest (Blue Note, B07F54P3L6) (emerge 1:40-2:08, then to bed)
GEORGES: AFTER THAT CONCERT WITH TONY AND JEFF MILLS, WE TOLD TONY HOW AMAZING IT WAS THAT HE COLLABORATED WITH SO MANY ARTISTS IN SO MANY STYLES.
ACTY: 38_TA_bored.wav: The point is that’s what I am. I just hate boredom. I get bored very easily. Not about anybody, but about myself. [In that case, the only way is to get myself involved in other things that I don’t even know who they are or where ever they’re coming from. It’s just…] I like to collaborate with people. Makes me improve on my own side.
WINDOW/BED: M29_A Night in Tunisia.wav, Tony Allen, A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, 6 02557 44394 3) (short)
GEORGES: IN THE END, TONY ALLEN CAME BACK TO JAZZ, RECORDING TWO ALBUMS FOR BLUE NOTE, THE SOURCE AND ALSO A TRIBUTE TO ONE OF HIS IDOLS, ART BLAKEY.
ACTY: 39_MV_BlueNote.wav: This goes back to the days when he and Fela were trying to play jazz on Lagos Island, playing for little parties and social events, playing small band jazz, in the style of Miles’s Kind of Blue, or Horace Silver, or Lee Morgan. So it was very beautiful to see him come full circle like that, and it brought out the jazzy overtones of his playing we hadn't heard since the years with Fela.
GEORGES: FUNDING FOR AFROPOP WORLDWIDE COMES FROM THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, WHICH BELIEVES A GREAT NATION DESERVES GREAT ART, AND FROM PRX AFFILIATE STATIONS AROUND THE U.S. AND NOW MORE THAN EVER, THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING YOUR PUBLIC RADIO STATION.
THANKS TO MICHAEL VEAL, JEFF MILLS AND DAMON ALBARN FOR THEIR HELP WITH THIS PROGRAM. VISIT AFROPOP.ORG FOR TRANSCRIPTS OF INTERVIEWS WE HEARD. YOU CAN ALSO FIND US ON FACEBOOK AND FOLLOW US ON TWITTER AT “AFROPOPWW.” MY AFROPOP PARTNER IS SEAN BARLOW. SEAN PRODUCES OUR PROGRAM FOR WORLD MUSIC PRODUCTIONS. RESEARCH AND PRODUCTION FOR THIS PROGRAM BY BANNING EYRE. AND, BE SURE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR PODCAST, INCLUDING RADIO PROGRAMS AND OUR AFROPOP CLOSEUP PODCAST SERIES. SEASON FIVE BEGINS SOON!
JOIN US NEXT WEEK FOR ANOTHER EDITION OF AFROPOP WORLDWIDE. OUR CHIEF AUDIO ENGINEER IS MICHAEL JONES. THIS PROGRAM WAS MIXED AT STUDIO 44 IN BROOKLYN BY ZUBIN HENSLER. AND RECORDED AT THE SYNCOPATED LAIR BY G.C. BANNING EYRE AND CC SMITH EDIT OUR WEBSITE, AFROPOP.ORG. OUR DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA IS BEN RICHMOND. AND I’M GEORGES COLLINET.