Remembering Tony Allen, the pioneering Afrobeat drummer who inspired generations

Drumming is often the pursuit of power. Look to the controlled whirlwinds of classic rock or big band swing, the notion of a steady groove underpinned by a simmering sense of chaos, ready to explode at a moment’s notice. Yet this was not the case for Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who passed away last Thursday aged 79.

Allen’s style might seem deceptively simple – a mid-tempo, mid-volume displacement of the backbeat common to western rock and pop. Yet, listen closer and you soon realise Allen is peppering his groove with ghost notes, scattered kick drums and bright bursts of hi-hat. This is the eminently danceable Afrobeat sound he is best known for creating with multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti. It is an all-enveloping sound, pushing the drum kit to a new melodic language that extends beyond rhythm itself; part Yoruban polyrhythm, part calypso swing and part highlife melody. For Allen, drumming was the continual pursuit of groove, rather than a metronomic stasis.

Read the feature in Crack Magazine.

[This piece was published on 04/05/20]