By Nathan M. Walters, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Tony Allen, the architect of afrobeat, will be returning to Rio this Sunday, May 6th, with his band for what promises to be a stellar performance. In a recent interview with The Rio Times, Allen discussed his role in the development of afrobeat, his recent work with a new generation of fans, and plans for the upcoming show at Lapa’s famous Circo Voador venue.
The man has been referred to as, “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived,” by producer Brian Eno, and is credited by Fela Kuti for creating afrobeat; a legend whose work changed the course of Western music, influencing celebrated performers from James Brown to the Talking Heads.
Allen started his career as the drummer and musical director with Fela Kuti & Africa ’70, but, in a career that has spanned five decades, the musician has enjoyed solo success and, most recently, the collaborative admiration of many contemporary performers.
“Most people didn’t know about the past, it took a long time but now more people are starting to think about African music, about afrobeat,” Allen mentioned, speaking from his Paris home.
The internet can be partially credited for this revival. Finding records from Nigerian performers might have proved a challenge in the past; now with a few clicks the whole world of afrobeat is accessible.
This accessibility, and the tasty quality of Allen’s afrobeat and afrofunk creations have attracted a new generation of admirers.
More people are looking back to the roots of Western music, understanding afrobeat’s importance in the development of many different genres.
“Afrobeat was progress, drawing from many different traditions, but, I, as a musician, a drummer, bringing these traditions together and progressing with afrobeat was the start,” recalls Allen.
This progress moved the African music tradition, reappearing in different genres from funk to rap, jazz and hip-hop.
Afrobeat has always addressed social problems, Kuti’s lyrics addressing the political troubles of Nigeria in the seventies. Allen’s performances with Kuti in that era were part trance-inducing tribal ceremonies, part political conventions.
Some of the fights may be less prevalent in Allen’s recent projects and performances, though as Allen remarks, “the message of the past foresaw the future, afrobeat still speaks to these problems.”
In recent years Allen has been touring the globe, keeping the gospel of afrobeat very much alive. He played at local restaurateur’s Yves de Roquemaurel (of Coccinelle Bistro) bar in Japan, and with the Rocinha Samba School at the opening of the MGM Hotel in Macau in 2006.
Allen has visited Brazil and Rio before, and enjoys performing in the country, “Brazil is a music country, the African influence always makes it nice to visit, to play, to create.”
Tony remains prolific, he has recently collaborated with Flea, bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, in an all-star group called Rocket Juice & the Moon.
“I’m a musician, not just a drummer, working with these people gives me change of mind, a new way to be creative.” These collaborations are great for admirers of afrobeat, a chance to hear the forms grow in different ways.
Allen and his band will be bringing an incredible breadth of talent to Circo Voador, a repertoire spanning the origin and ongoing evolution of afrobeat. “All the fans and Rio should wait and see,” Allen says with a lulling accent. “The fans will not be disappointed, that’s for sure.”