Praise You: a Tony Allen tribute mix by Nu Guinea

2020 has dealt out some heavy losses to musical pioneers across the spectrum but few have contributed so much for such a prolonged period as Tony Allen. Rising to prominence as part of Fela’s Egypt 70, he’s credited by Kuti himself as a co-founder of afrobeat, but his work since has helped carve a singular career as a percussion polymath. Collaborations with Damon Albarn (in The Good The Bad and the Queen), Jeff Mills, Amp Fiddler, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers enhanced rather than diluted his standing and the outpouring from all corners of the popular and underground music show what a truly universal figure he was.

In 2016, Napoli-via-Berlin duo Nu Guinea were granted rare access to Allen’s drum recordings to rework them into an original album called Tony Allen Experiments. It makes them as familiar with his work as any and perfectly placed to curate this Praise You to one of the greatest drummers who ever lived.

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Why does Tony Allen and his music mean so much to you?

Coming from Italy our musical background comes from a big focus on the melody, which Italy is famous for. Just a few artists from back in the day gave a big importance to the groove part of the songs, Tullio De Piscopo and Tony Esposito for example. Tony Allen was really one of the first musicians that revolutionized our way of conceiving rhythmic patterns. His musical vision was way beyond what a normal musician would think. He was thinking beyond the rules, creating complex yet harmonic rhythm patterns.

What’s your most sacred Tony Allen record and why?

Probably Afrobeat Express, released in the late 80s. It doesn’t sound as warm as his older recordings but it has something peculiar regarding the use of sounds and moreover it’s one of the only records where you can hear tony using some electronic drums. When we started the Tony Allen Experiments LP, that was one of our main references.

Any standout memories from dropping a Tony Allen track in a set?

Definitely ‘When One Road Close (Dance Dub)\, from his NEPA record. People go literally crazy when we drop this one. It’s a 100% dance floor weapon.

Why did you decide to make Tony Allen the subject of your Experiments EP? And how did you approach adapting his work?

Actually his manger, Eric Trosset, proposed it to us, in agreement with Tony, to let us rework his original drum recordings and do something different, which would go beyond afrobeat. Still today, we are deeply blessed to have been able to work on this project.

What impression did Tony leave on you when you met him? 

Tony had something that is hardly explainable. A very strong energy that you could feel when he was around you. He had a special aura. If you think about it, he was one of the few musicians that could compete with Fela’s strong character. He had a magnetic personality. Moreover, from the stories he told us we realized he has been one of the key figures that brought musicians from neighbour countries to Nigeria, helping them record music and release it. When we had been speaking with him about music in Nigeria, we were big fans of a keyboard player called Nkono Teles, one of the more prolific musicians in the Nigerian boogie funk scene. Tony was the one who brought him from Cameroon to Nigeria.

How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about Tony and his music?

We wanted to express the versatility of Tony’s drums, which started with his records with Africa 70 and other musicians from Nigeria such as Lekan Oke and Tunde Williams, and ended up collaborating and melting perfectly with people that came from completely different music styles. We were impressed to know he collaborated on records from Amina, a French-Tunisian songwriter, for example. Some people might know him mainly for his long-lasting collaboration with Fela, but we feel like this doesn’t really does justice to Tony’s career . If we did a 6 hours mix probably we could have inserted much more, but here we tried to cap it to one hour of our favourites 🙂

Subscribe to STW on Mixcloud Select to download the mix, peep the tracklist and ensure that the artists included in our mixes get paid.

 

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