Tony Allen: the Afrobeat maverick who blazed a trail across the globe

Damon Albarn

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The Nigerian musician was a stressed creator who embraced the physicality of drumming and innovated till the top

Few musicians can declare to have invented a revolutionary rhythm, however then few are quite like the late Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen. Brian Eno referred to as him “the greatest drummer that ever lived”, citing his fashion alongside James Brown’s funk breakbeat and the constant pulse of German band Neu! as the “three nice beats of the 1970s”. Allen’s swirl of jazz, Yoruba and highlife was in contrast to anything the world had ever heard: a full-body polyrhythmic exercise that might give most drummers sore wrists simply considering of it.

Allen came to prominence in Lagos alongside Fela Kuti. He began drumming within the late 50s whereas working at a radio station, trying to jazz icons reminiscent of Art Blakey and Max Roach for inspiration as he taught himself to play. In 1964 he met Kuti they usually spent the subsequent half-decade fine-tuning their fusion of west African social gathering music and American funk and jazz, in the bands Koola Lobitos and, by 1969, Africa ’70. Whereas Kuti, who died in 1997, is extra well-known than his musical soulmate, he stated that “with out Tony Allen there can be no Afrobeat”.

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