All over the world many consider him the greatest drummer alive: the Nigerian living legend, Tony Allen. The revered drummers high-powered unofficial fan club also includes Brian Eno, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blur’s Damon Albarn (who recruited Allen to drum on multiple side projects).
For twenty years the fluid, multidirectional weight of Tony Allen’s drumming helped define the sound and seriousness of African superstar Fela Kuti and his “Afrika 70” band, which pioneered the Afrobeat style in the 1960s and ’70s. Tony Allen doubled as the group’s de facto musical director for over a decade, and even recorded albums with the band under his own name.
Working out of Lagos, their hometown in Nigeria, Kuti and Allen defied the government and denounced corruption in their songs, which lead to Kuti being repeatedly arrested, beaten and jailed – and a symbol of counterculture on the African continent. He once stated that "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat". In a complex fusion the two of them created the style out of jazz, funk (heavily inspired by James Brown), Ghanaian/Nigerian highlife, psychedelic rock and traditional West African chants and rhythms. Their songs take their time, vamping along at adamant medium tempos and taking turns among vocals, solos and strong funky horn riffs. Afrobeat smolders and boils, determined and danceable.
Tony Allen’s career has lasted for 55 years and since Kuti’s death in 1997 (only 58 years old) he has continued to shape the genre by recording and touring.