Song of the Day: Tony Allen “Cruising”
The recent passing of drummer Tony Allen on April 30th has inspired a titanic outpouring of love and appreciation for this man’s epic life’s work. On a personal level, losing Mr. Allen is a huge blow for me. His drumming, musical conception, and vision have been extremely powerful and positive forces in my life since I first heard his work with Fela Anikulapo Kuti almost thirty years ago. I used to write the man fan mail while in my twenties, just to tell him how much I loved and appreciated him for his utterly fantastic contribution to the drumming community and to humanity at large. He continues to give me so much life, I’ll be sending him gratitude and love for as long as I live.
“Cruising” comes from his 2017 release on Blue Note Records entitled The Source. Because it is impossible for me to pick a ‘favorite’ track of his. I decided to choose something from his most recent offerings, to showcase how he never stopped growing, creating, and innovating. The whole album is brilliant and is, in many ways, a homecoming for him. Jazz was one of his primary musical influences, and the music often came to him by way of LPs on the Blue Note Label. It was a special connection for him!
I was blessed with the opportunity to see Allen perform live once in 2000 at the Black Cat in Washington D.C. The club was about a quarter full and he proceeded to alter everyone in the room’s DNA that night. Standing about 10 feet away from him throughout the performance, I was awe-struck by how composed, how relaxed, and how powerfully and dynamically he created the most beautiful rhythmic foundation I’d ever heard. There were rhythms inside of rhythms. The drums danced in a joyous trance that could have gone on forever. He was tapped into something timeless, something eternal, something universal. You could feel the life-giving force of the beats coursing through him and emanating from him: he was giving it all away, sharing it freely as a form of healing energy. Speak with anyone who was at that show and they’ll tell you they felt it too. This is the effect that Tony Allen had on people on and off the stage.
Tony Allen, from all accounts, was a kind and generous man. You can feel the humanity in his playing, the space that he creates for others to find the music in themselves. A child of Lagos, Nigeria, he began drumming while still a teenager. Influenced by the Nigerian popular Jùjú music and by Jazz music coming out of the United States that he heard his father listening while growing up, he quickly developed his own unique voice on the drum kit. He made his first recordings with Fela Kuti in 1969 and remained with him for over twenty years. Together, they spearheaded a musical, social, cultural, and political revolution that centered around a musical style they created together called, Afrobeat. Tony Allen‘s drumming and musical vision was clearly the central driving force of this enduring musical style. Fela once stated, “Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.”
Tony Allen eventually left Fela to pursue his own incredibly varied solo career. The list of musical artists that he collaborated, performed, and recorded with is immense. If you haven’t done so, do yourself a favor and explore his whole catalog…. It’s a monster! I’ll be forever grateful for you, and will always be singing your praises Mr. Tony Allen. Rest in Peace and Power!