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Tony Allen


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Tony Allen is the autobiography of legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, the rhythmic engine of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction / Michael E. Veal 1
1. Right in the Center of Lagos 21
2. Highlife Time 36
3. The Sky was the Limit 47
4. God's Own Country 68
5. Swinging Like Hell! 85
6. Everything Scatter 108
7. Progress 128
8. When One Road Closes . . . 146
9. Paris Blues 162
10. No End to Business 175
Selected References 187
Index 193

About the Author

Tony Allen, a major African musician and world-class drum-set player, was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1940 and has lived in Paris since 1985. Allen is best known as Fela Kuti's supremely talented sideman. After leaving Fela's band Africa 70 in 1979, Allen went on to establish a successful career as an independent musician. During his five decades behind the drum set, he has toured the globe and collaborated with musicians from King Sunny Ade to Ginger Baker to Damon Albarn.Michael E. Veal is a musician and Professor of Music and African American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon.


"Tony Allen is an engaging person, an important musical figure during a dynamic era in African music, and a major contributor in the creation of an influential musical genre. He and Fela Kuti emerge in his portrayal as dedicated musical seekers who continually struggled to develop and protect their art. Allen's memoir is an exceptional achievement that will make readers wish to have been there with them to live it all again." - John M. Chernoff, percussionist, ethnographer, author "This is a much needed, truly fascinating book... Allen spins the tale of his life, and of the evolution of one of the great popular musical styles of the 20th century, like the great storyteller he is. It's a narrative filled with tasty anecdotes and twinkling details, which just add to its momentum. You can almost see the wry smile on his face as he challenges you to make up his own mind... Allen's totally absorbing narrative was edited and shaped by Michael E. Veal... In his introduction he treats us to an unbeatably succinct, lucidly accurate contextual analysis of Allen as a 'Yoruba modernist'. He also gets to grips with how the Allen technique works... This is highly readable and highly recommended." - Max Reinhardt, Songlines "Allen bring us his inspirational biography. Written together with Michael Veal, author of Fela Kuti's biography, this is the most accessible Afrobeat book of them all... Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of West-African popular music." - AfrobeatMusic.net "After decades of being underpaid and underappreciated for his contributions with Kuti and beyond, it's satisfying to see Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat in print. Drummers, fans of African music, and lovers of music more generally will find a lot to love in this book."--Zachary Stockill, PopMatters.com, 13th November 2013 "No one could say that Tony Allen's autobiography isn't great value for money. On first glance, the book contains Allen's reminiscences and a forward by Michael E Veal, Wire contributor and a professor of music and African-American studies at Yale University... This master drummer's account is enriched by unstinting critical appraisal, whether evaluating Fela's most loved recordings or his own subsequent solo efforts. Tony Allen, ever restless, retains the enthusiasm of an absolute beginner, tempered with a survivor's wisdom. His life obviously a work in progress, on anticipates music yet to come and the stories that surface in its wake."--Richard Henderson, The Wire, October 2013 "There's a sentence in the introduction where Veal, a Yale professor, uses the phrase "indigenization of jazz drumming", but don't let that put you off. The academic is present primarily to transcribe and edit, while Allen reflects on 50 years at the coalface. A disciple of Art Blakey and Max Roach, but no great fan of Ginger Baker, the leader of Fela Kuti's bands during his peak year is now, at 72, rhythm king for Damon Albarn, a solo act and more in demand for sessions than ever. One of the great sidemen, allen here cuts mercilessly through the bullshit. Kuti is portrayed as having no manners or generosity (salaries often vanished and, if he spoke back, Allen would be buried in the next album's mix - compare say, Confusion with Zombie, which might explain the drummer's admiration for Albarn. One question, though: did Nigerians really die from doing the Twist in the 1960s?" - David Hutcheon, Mojo, September 2013 "Many [anecdotes], are featured in the newly released autobiography of Allen, the iconic Nigerian drummer who's left an indelible stamp on the history of world music with his distinctive style and pioneering grooves... Co-written with Michael E. Veal, Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat follows Allen's life from his early days growing up in the heart of Lagos Island, though his struggling first steps as a badly paid freelance musician, the meeting with Fela and the heights of their "Africa 70" band, to his departure from the group and his relocation to Paris in the mid 1980s." - CNN "Music may be a universal language, but understanding what it takes to make it and what it means in the place it comes from is another matter entirely. For that reason alone, Tony Allen's autobiography, set as it is in a critical and influential time in Nigerian music and political history, is invaluable... [Tony Allen] is revealed as a man devoted to making music in the midst of both exciting and dangerous times." - CHRIS HEIM, KMUW

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