World Music Wednesday: Tony Allen
Learn more about one of the progenitors of Afrobeat
World Music Wednesday is a weekly segment on The North 103.3 FM. Every Wednesday at 4pm on Northland Afternoon, we will feature a brand-new release or a significantly important past work from our vast library of music from around the world.
Support for World Music Wednesday comes from Simply Ballroom in Duluth's Craft District.
Today's World Music Wednesday spotlights the music of drummer Tony Allen. a Nigerian drummer, bandleader, composer, and songwriter. From the late 1960s throughout the 1970's he was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70 and is one of the founders of the Afrobeat genre. Fela Kuti said, "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat."
Tony Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1940. Given his mastery of the drums, it is notable that he did not begin playing drums until he was 18. Allen was influenced by music his father listened to: Jùjú, a Yoruba music genre from the 1940s, but also American jazz (including the drumming of Max Roach and Art Blakey), and Nigerian and Ghanaian highlife music (including Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren).
He auditioned for Fela Kuti in 1964. Kuti was excited to hear a musician who was drumming like no one else in Nigeria at that time. The drummer and unofficial music director of the late Fela Kuti's band Africa 70 from 1968 until 1979, Tony Allen was a co-creator of Afrobeat and the progenitor of Afro-funk. With that group he was a musician on more than 30 albums.
During and after he departed from Africa '70 in 1979, as a solo artist, Allen incorporated highlife, pop, jazz, soul, hip-hop, R&B, and dub into his own music, working with and influencing musicians around the globe. Outside of Africa 70, he released nearly 30 albums as a solo artist, bandleader and collaborator.
Brian Eno described Tony Allen as "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived." Allen passed away in April 2020, at the age of 79. Just prior to his passing he worked with Adrian Younge, recordings that became the album JID018 released this year.