Tony Allen

An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat

Tony Allen

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 31 photographs Published: September 2013

African Studies, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Music > Popular Music

Tony Allen is the autobiography of legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, the rhythmic engine of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat. Conversational, inviting, and packed with telling anecdotes, Allen's memoir is based on hundreds of hours of interviews with the musician and scholar Michael E. Veal. It spans Allen's early years and career playing highlife music in Lagos; his fifteen years with Fela, from 1964 until 1979; his struggles to form his own bands in Nigeria; and his emigration to France.

Allen embraced the drum set, rather than African handheld drums, early in his career, when drum kits were relatively rare in Africa. His story conveys a love of his craft along with the specifics of his practice. It also provides invaluable firsthand accounts of the explosive creativity in postcolonial African music, and the personal and artistic dynamics in Fela's Koola Lobitos and Africa 70, two of the greatest bands to ever play African music.


“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.”

“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

“Anyone who knows their Afrobeat will tell you how pivotal the kit drummer Tony Allen was to the genre’s development. Indeed, as . . . Michael Veal points out in this important, deftly crafted book, the pairing of Allen and the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti could be likened to partnerships between such jazz supernovas as Coltrane and Elvin Jones; Miles and Philly Joe Jones; Ornette and Billy Higgins.” — Jane Cornwel, Jazzwise

“This is not a slice of dry academia, what we get in this incredibly fruitful collaboration is 160 pages of rich revealing narrative that is so engrossing that I missed my stop on the tube. . . . Basically, I couldn’t put the book down and it had me sifting through the records to provide a soundtrack to the narrative.” — Paul Brad, Ancient to Future

“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

“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. . . One of the great sidemen, Allen here cuts mercilessly through the bullshit.” — David Hutcheon, Mojo

“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, one anticipates music yet to come and the stories that surface in its wake.” — Richard Henderson, The Wire

“Tony Allen is a fascinating insider’s view of how a musician and a musical style developed over time. Allen is a compelling storyteller and sharp observer whose memories bring forth a stream of ideas, anecdotes, humor, and life lessons that add up to an insightful auto-ethnography. Well-organized and concise, the book ?ows as a story of one of the most important West African musicians of the past 50 years, a narrative of creativity in post-colonial African popular music, and sound advice on how to have a long and productive career in music.” — Thomas Brett, Popular Music and Society

“This book is both a fascinating memoir and a compelling historical snapshot of West African culture and politics seen through the lens of Nigerian popular music…. Summing Up: Highly recommended.” — D. J. Schmalenberger, Choice

“[O]ffers an unusual glimpse of the Western musical scene from the Afro-centric perspective of a subject highly experienced in both. The chronological narrative is well edited, fast paced and just a little more than it purports to be: an honest view of life from the drum-stool of a ‘Yoruba modernist,’ and is as such a welcome addition to the bookshelves of those who . . . have sought to re-centre performance studies within musicology.”  — Bill Bruford, Popular Music

“[D]rummers are going to love this book. With so few autobiographies of drummers in print, the publication of Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat is a cause for celebration. . . . Most importantly, the book is a hell of a lot of fun to read, although Allen's first-hand accounts of his struggles with shamanistic bandleader and Nigeria's adopted ‘black president’ Fela Anikulapo-Kuti will piss off any musician who has had to fight to get paid for playing a gig." — Chris Becker, All About Jazz

"Achieves the rare duality of being a fun and engaging read for fans as well as a significant addition to Afrobeat and African popular music scholarship."  — Carlos Peña, ARSC Journal

"There is much to enjoy from his account of growing up and becoming part of 'swinging Lagos' pre 1978, before it was unsafe to venture out at night. The part describing his musical influences and relationship with Fela Kuti is illuminating. Tony, one of the originators of Afrobeat, still plays to sellout crowds in his seventies  . . .  demonstrating that age is just a number. Allen's autobiography is a gem." — The Voice

"Tony Allen brings the music scene in Lagos, Nigeria, to life, the dynamic and spiritual music that the world came to know as Afrobeat. He shows what it means to be a musician and a master drummer, and he shares the stories not only of Fela Kuti but also of many other important musicians." — Randy Weston, author of African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston

"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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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 Adé 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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
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
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5591-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5577-9
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