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The late Tony Allen, who died yesterday (April 30) at the age of 79, was born in Lagos, Nigeria and never wanted to forget that, proudly representing his country throughout a career that spanned more than six decades. A self-taught musician who learned to play via albums by legendary percussionists Art Blakey, Max Roach and Guy Warren, he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest drummers who ever lived.

Read more: Tony Allen, 1940 – 2020: Afrobeat pioneer whose skill and talent inspired the world to skip and swing

From 1968 to 1979 he was the musical director of Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti’s group Africa ’70, with whom he created more than 30 albums. A tumultuous departure led to his 40-year solo career; credited with co-creating Afrobeat, Allen would later infuse dub, electronica, R&B and other genres into a sound he called “Afrofunk”.

He leaves behind a rich and sprawling musical legacy – having worked with everyone from to the aforementioned Kuti to Blur‘s Damon Albarn – which can be difficult to parse if you’re new to his pioneering work. Here, then, are five essential Tony Allen releases, which will hopefully serve as a jumping off point for you to dive much deeper into his complex musical universe.

Fela Kuti, ‘Zombie’ (1977)

If there’s one album out of the many that celebrates the iconic collaboration between Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, ‘Zombie’ is it. The title track of the album, a critique of the Nigerian military and their methods, led to the military destroying Fela’s commune (it’s also widely believed that it resulted in the murder of Fela’s mother). The album finds Allen at his most agile, directing and dictating where the song goes, orchestrating shrewdly. It’s no wonder Fela had to hire five drummers to replace Allen when he left.

Key Allen Moment: On the title track Allen plays his kit in a breathtakingly vivid way, while somehow maintaining a touch of restraint.

Tony Allen, ‘Nepa (Never Expect Power Always)’ (1985)

Once Allen left Fela’s band, his career soared even further. ‘N.E.PA (Never Expect Power Always)’ is a searing critique of the Nigerian Electric Power Authority, an organisation that governed the use of electricity in Nigeria). Blending the nascent rise of electronica into Afrobeat production, it’s tighter than any Fela album and became a definitive project in shaping Allen’s future sound. Whether it’s the electro beats or the punchier, multilayered arrangement, it instantly stands out in Allen’s vast and expansive discography.

Key Allen Moment: From the first seconds of the album, Allen’s drumming is on a whole other level as he seemingly gain extra limbs to create the rhythms that are the backbone of a seminal record.

Tony Allen, ‘Black Voices’ (1999)

Combining funk, highlife, Afrobeat, jazz and electronica, Allen had by now created his signature sound. With the spaced-out energy of ‘Black Voices’, Allen further experimented with electronica, creating a new sound. The ceiling-threatening arrangements and positive energy cement this as one of Allen’s most important works; ‘Black Voices’ truly showed that Allen’s work is impossible to pigeonhole into one genre.

Key Allen Moment: On ‘Get Together’, all the other instruments seem to melt away as Allen’s drumming takes centre stage.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen, ‘The Good, the Bad & the Queen’ (2007)

This supergroup was comprised of Allen, Damon Albarn, The Clash‘s Paul Simonon and The Verve‘s Simon Tong, and their debut album was produced by Danger Mouse. The downbeat, politically aware songs are in stark contrast to Allen’s usual creations, but the combination somehow works. Though he’s surprisingly restrained here, Allen’s patented beats pulsate throughout the melancholic record.

Key Allen Moment: The whole album is evidence of Allen’s technical abilities, to work with others to create a cohesive project that sounds nothing like he’s made in the past. He was a true chameleon.

Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela, ‘Rejoice’ (2020)

The last album that Allen gave to the world took 25 years to make and another 10 to release. A collaboration with the iconic South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who passed away in 2018, ‘Rejoice’ sounds like old friends meeting after a long time. Loose, effusive and melodic, it’s imprinted with joy, which flows deep into the grooves of this record. ‘Rejoice’ is a studio session between two musical behemoths proudly showcasing their heritages.

Key Allen Moment: Allen is nimble throughout, especially on ‘Agbada Bougou’, treading on the drums lightly with the knowledge that he doesn’t need to embark on a percussive assault to make himself heard.

The post Where to start with the late, great Tony Allen’s extraordinary discography appeared first on NME Music News, Reviews, Videos, Galleries, Tickets and Blogs | NME.COM.


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