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The maestro and his “Don’t Fight Your Wars” album

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


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.
“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.




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.


A man for every generation: Despite some 50 years in the business, Tony has not stop experimenting and playing with younger artistes


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 1990s 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.

 With thanks to www.kalamu.com/bol where this piece was originally posted.

 Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 


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