Tony Oladipo Allen, a drummer and co-creator of the popular afrobeats sound died on the 30th of April 2020 and the world have been reacting. We at cillacritic have been at a refresher course on who this drumming legend was. A lot can be said about his life in music from Nigeria to Monaco in France and the different band groups he played with in his lifetime. We can write about his influence in the Fela led band and his eventual fall out with the Afrobeats king himself. But that will be telling you what you can read on Wikipedia. In this article we will be x-raying what made this man’s work with Fela unique. And why did his drumming style become a style that has inspired the popular Afropop music made in Africa and the world?
According to Tony Allen, Fela always came to him to ask him what tune he would love to experiment on. He said that Fela who was a music graduate always wrote the Sheet music for every other instrument but never wrote a sheet music for the drum line. This gave Allen the space to dictate the pitch, rhythm and tempo of the music. Sitting on the drum kit with every other musician in the band at his beck and call, Allen was a master of his own sound. This made his working relationship with Fela unique because just like the legendary duo of Dani Alvez and Messi, they created musical assist and goals. People would always look at the synergy between the horns, keys and drums in any record or event that Fela’s Afrobeat band was headlining. Tony was Fela’s wing man who allowed Fela explore his musical prowess using the same type of percussion line is different music. The popular signature shekere sound that is used in Afrobeats today could only be absorbed and used because Allen found a way to manipulate the snare, hi-hats, kicks and toms of a drum kit. He created a total unique brand of music with one sole drum style.
Afropop, a genre of popular music made from digitally sequenced beats that has high African music influence from makosa, afrobeats, afrojuju etc. have been highly influenced by the drum legacy of Tony Allen. As discussed in the second paragraph, Allen had a free role to create the tunes that Fela made. This made him dictate the tempo of the music. Allen who is firstly a slow Jazz music drummer added this sauce to the Fela led band. He created percussion lines that was slow but was danceable to. What this did was make his style sound so easy to glide to. When digital music was been introduced to the African music scene in the mid-90s, producers wanted to create sounds close to RnB and Hiphop with African flair. Using the Tony Allen approach of mid/slow tempo percussion line, afropop was gradually incorporated. Before the producers knew it, the way the kicks are dropped by Allen was adopted and that has been the way most Afropop songs are done.
Allen is a Jazz music drummer with influence from artist like Max Roach, Art Blakey and Guy Warren (Kofi Ghanaba). But the truth is that every musician is first of all influence by his folk music. Allen was highly influenced by the “juju” music of the Yoruba people. And this can be heard in the way he blends his slow jazz drums with shekere and gong. What he did was tweak the “juju” music by eliminating the talking drums and replacing it with congas. Thereby creating a sound that it almost closely related to the mariachi music style of Cuba and Mexico. A really complex blend of sound which was so well blended by Fela’s ingenious skills in arranging other elements like horns, strings and keys.
Allen is a drum kit player who has his beats assisted by other percussion instruments. Shekere, congas, wood and gong are some of those instruments which complete the blend of his unique percussion line. In any music band, the person playing the drum kit is the commander-in-chief of the general beat. He or she dictates the transition and hooks. Using a composition of the above named instrument composition, Allen made his percussion line African and totally interesting.
In summary, the Fela led Afrobeats band was a ship that was captained at a time by two captains. Tony Allen used his abilities to create the basic of Afrobeats persuasions. Although digital technology have been introduced and used in making modern songs, his compositions and instrument collections are still used in creating Afrobeats music today