TONY ALLEN / “Don’t Fight Your Wars”
Say Africa to someone, anyone, and soon come they will think "drum." The drum is just one of the enduring images of our motherland, home of the human heartbeat. The Afrobeat.
What Clyde “Funky Drummer” Stubblefield is to James Brown, Tony Allen is to Fela—and even more, because after Fela’s transition, Tony kept the pulse pumping. With Fela almost from the beginnings of Fela’s legendary recordings (70 albums beginning in the sixties), Tony’s eager hands and unerring feet re-shuffled the industrial drumkit to fit within the African drumming tradition.
Like all funk, it sounds relatively simple, perhaps because the beat is so steady and so easy to step to, but try it. Try beating on your leg along with Tony. On a table. Even get a snare or some other drum. Try to keep up with Tony Allen. Just try it and you will quickly resign yourself and back away from the drum. Why? Because syncopating a beat while staying locked in the pocket is not an easy one drop.
Moreover, keeping time like Tony does is about more than just drum technique. The man brings positive Black personality to every lick he hits. Tony brings over half a century of experience. What Tony is sounding with his drums is a lifetime of engagement with the power of music, and in this case we are listening to a music that was always political, always conscious, always putting forward things most entertainers only mutter under their breath far, far away from a microphone.
I saw Tony Allen in London playing with a whole passel of brethren and sistren. It was incredible how easily he lit up the stage. One great thing about this man is that, like time, he no stand still. Like the world, he goes around and checks out everything that exists. He is not afraid to engage other cultures, even as his drumming seems never to change in its fundamental orientation.
After the Fela years, Tony experimented with electronica, got into worldbeat fusion, but also in the nineties re-assembled some of Fela’s crew. Tony issued new recordings and re-issued old recordings. He currently has a new album out called Lagos No Shaking. We will feature one cut from it, a deep traditional duet called “Gbedu” that features percussion and flute. The other three cuts are from Home Cooking, an album which some critics were disappointed with because it wasn’t African enough (i.e. it didn’t sound like whatever they think Africa is suppose to sound like). But, you know, this is the 21st century, why do some of us keep expecting 1914 to be the sound of the continent or pine for a retro-retread of Fela's music?
“Africa Calling” is the least traditional cut, but is very interesting in that the lyrics tell us that the whole world is hearing Africa and responding to Africa regardless of where they come from, we all got to get to Africa. Of course, the anti-war message of “Don’t Fight Your Wars” absolutely needs to be heard. “Woman To Man” is another grappling with an age-old relationship.
From rappers to strings, Home Cooking roams far and wide but never once mis-steps in terms of keeping the beat. It is instructive and inspirational that one of the older drummers on the planet is also one of the hippest, eyes and ears wide open, suggesting that Africa is more than a tribal pounding. Give thanks and praise for brother Tony Allen, the hardest of the hard, the heartbeat of Afrobeat.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Tony's trademark sound—doubling-up and tripling-up on the snare licks while keeping time with metronomic precision—is unduplicatable. It's the sort of thing that you don't necessarily recognize that you recognize. Meaning, you can hear many a Fela tune without realizing that Fela's characteristic funky looseness has more than a little to do with Tony's very uncharacteristic style behind that drum kit. But once you do actually, consciously hear what Tony is putting down, the sound of it practically leaps out at you. It announces itself.
One of the things I most admire about Tony—and it is an attribute he shares with other musicians I admire, Prince and Miles Davis among them—is the way he continues to come up with creative new music well past his personal creative prime. How does he manage this? By surrounding himself with young musicians.
I don't remember who said it, but I once read a quote where a older cat said, "When you're young, you're full of ideas, but you don't have technique. When you're old, you're full of technique, but you don't have ideas." I paraphrase. In any event, one way cats like Prince, Miles and Tony Allen have gotten around this problem is by being open-minded enough, and by submerging their egos enough, to engage with talented young musicians who can and do push them creatively. In turn, the old guard tutors, mentors, instructs and, um, 'borrows' from the young lions. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.
I don't know if we'll have space in the jukebox for one more tune, but if we do, I'm going to suggest another track from Home Cooking—"What's Your Fashion?" I like this tune because it is a mellow, contemporary cut yet it is still imbued with Tony's glorious polyrhythms. It's the kind of tune naysayers might have had in mind when they criticized Home Cooking for not being 'African' enough. Thank goodness Tony Allen is hip enough to disregard people's expectations of what he 'should' be doing. Instead, he just keeps on playing.
—Mtume ya Salaam
it was monk
mtume, monk was the one who made that statement you were paraphrasing.
the tradition in jazz was for the young cats to learn from the older cats and for the older cats to stay up on what was going on by listening to the younger cats. all of the best bandleaders did that. that's how the tradition not only continued, that's also how the future was assured. under the pressures of commercialism what we see now is that there are very few "older" musicians who are working on a consistent basis and who are able to offer leadership. for example, until he died drummer art blakey was schooling the next generation and in the process, as you noted mtume, art was drinking from the fountain of youth... enough, you got the picture. imagine if van hunt was in prince's band... ok, i'ma stop ;->)
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