Sunday, January 20, 2008

tony allen on africa, and in the UK

There's a great little interview with the incomparable Tony Allen, whose lovely Afro Disco Beat reissue has been all over my iPod this month, in today's Independent. Allen is - incredibly - now 67 years old. Anyone who, like me, saw him live this year and marvelled at his drumming will shake their heads in disbelief at this. Yet if anything he is speeding up rather than slowing down. He's about to embark on a reprise of last year's hugely successful African Soul Rebels tour (with Salif Keita and Awadi), is working on a new solo record, and reveals that he reconvened with Damon Albarn, Paul Simonen and Simon Tong in December to work on the new Good, The Bad and The Queen record.

I'm a massive Tony Allen fan in any case (his drumming on Fela Kuti's Africa 70 records has to be heard to be believed) but obviously I'm excited about him teaming up with Albarn once again. I'm optimistic that this time he'll be let off the leash somewhat, as the best moments on the debut album - and particularly on the accompanying tour - were those where Allen's drumming kicked off.

And as interesting as Allen's current activities are, it's a pleasure to hear him talk about his past. Later this year he's set aside time for a collaboration with some fellow African musicians and members of James Brown's band. An opportunity for him to set the record straight about Brown's legendary visit to Africa in 1970.

"We'd already heard him and assimilated what he did by then," he insists. "None of the Nigerian musicians got to see James Brown when he came to Africa because he played only for the rich people in a five-star hotel. What really happened was that his musicians came to our club to see us every night after their show. People like Bootsy Collins were writing down my patterns. I didn't mind, it was flattering. But the truth is that James Brown's band learnt more from African musicians than African musicians learnt from Brown."
I can believe it.

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