The Cool Modernity of Tony Allen

Nigerian drummer Tony Allen founded the so-called Acrobat and was also one of the most sought-after and best drummers in the world. His drum sound was unique andimprovisational emphasis on the hi-hat cymbals was immediately noticeable. Allen took the harmonic principles of jazz and the dramaturgy of funk and led both into the 21st century. Music theorists once described its unique sound as bends. In 2020, the great artist of drums died at the age of 79.

A Life For The Beat

His life as a trendsetting artist spanned several decades. Tony Allen’s musical career began in Africa around the70s. He drummed in the ensemble of Fela Anikulapo Kuti for 15 years. In the early years, he has developed what ow is known as the Afrobeat. The music scene in the metropolis of Lagos, the home of everyone, came under competitive pressure after Nigeria’s independence. He left Africa and produced his first solo album in 1976.

One Sounds Like Four

At this time his furious style emerged andput odd double strokes on bass and snare drums whirled over all the drums and thus generated energy that simmered quietly. It has sounded like four drummers were playing at the same time. He called it the method of cool energy. To a certain extent, Tony Allen fed his drums with power until they burst. This style of playing became his trademark. For him, the drums stood for fusion. He let all forms of music flow into his way of playing; after all, he had grown up with a rhythmic variety. His musical role models were all African drummers such as Elvin Jones Max Roach and Art Blakey.

Drum kit
Drum kit

In 1983, he finally left his home country Nigeria and went to Paris. But there he had to fight against temporary residence permits for years until he eventually obtained French citizenship after marrying his wife Silvie. The house DJs discovered his pioneering work on drums and made him popular. They embedded his songs in their DJ sets, thus ensuring that he had access to a broader audience. A record company re-releases his albums in the 1990s. The singer of the English band Blur, Damon Albarn, became aware of him. He bowed musically to the song Tony Allen’s Got Me Dancing and invited him to a new project.

Allen Becomes a Supergroup Drummer

The Good, the Bad & the Queen has united several worlds. The supergroup consists of Damon Albarn, the frontman of Blur and inventor of the Gorillaz, Paul Simonon the bass player of the legendary punk band The Clash, the guitarist of the Britpop band The Verve and the Afrobeat legend Tony Allen. Damon Albarn brought Danger Mouse on board as a producer. The result of the collaboration was groundbreaking. Criticism and fans rolled over with enthusiasm. But it should take eleven years for the band’s second and last record to be released. Merrie Land thematized Brexit and was also the penultimate published work by Tony Allen.