Afrobeat Culture Federator

AFROBEAT MUSIC & DRUMMER TONY ALLEN.

Thursday 27 February 2020 by Mabinuori Idowu (aka ID)

Brothers, sisters, friends and enemies, since my criticism of the film ‘My Friend Fela’ by Carlos Moore, I have been receiving messages of condemnation from people who believe that both Tony Allen and I are not friends and were never friends hence my criticism of his contribution in the film. As far as I am concerned I hold no animosity against Tony, the only reason why I am talking is that I cannot live calm with my conscience if I don’t speak-out with all I know, saw and experienced with Fela and his organization.

Lets just assume for an instance; that Tony Allen and I are not friends and were never friends from the way I have been commenting his testimony in the film, does Benson Idonije have an animosity against Tony when he said “…Fela took the sticks to demonstrate the rhythmic patterns for Allen’s drumming – to conform to the jazz-highlife style of the new music.” Please read, the testimony from the manager of Koola Lobitos in his book Dis Fela Sef:

“…Rehearsals started in earnest. The music was scored, and because only Baba Ani (Lekan Animashaun) and Isaac Olasugba could immediately sight-read, it took the band long periods of time to master the pieces. Added to this handicap, the songs were loaded with dense arrangements, a multi-part harmony configuration made complex and intricate by riffs of the call-and response patterns. It took the band time to perfect the songs, especially as Fela was a strict band leader at rehearsals. He was very sensitive to wrong notes and chords and always made sure that minute details were observed – from vocals and horns to the rhythm section. He established the chord patterns for guitars, and personally took the sticks to demonstrate the rhythmic patterns for Allen’s drumming – to conform to the jazz-highlife style of the new music.”

Benson Idonije was manager of the band from its inception in 1964 – 1969; I met Fela years after in 1974, this practice continued long after Tony left the Africa 70 in 1978 after the band’s performance at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Like Idonije testified; I saw Fela play on his piano drum partitions he wanted in his music to Tony Allen like he did with other musicians in his band. Please make no mistake here; that I overlook Tony’s feelings in his interpretation of what Fela indicated with the sound from his piano, however it is not honest on his part to deny this fact.

Also, Biyi Bandele who said “…just finished making a documentary on Fela for the BBC, I interviewed people who were there with Fela right from beginning - musicians who played with him for decades, producers, managers, family, wives, lovers, children etc. A century from now only the music will remain to speak for itself and when people talk about Carlos Moore it would be as a footnote to the life and times of Fela”. I am not a prophet and I cannot tell what the future will bring, given the information from both Benson Idonije and I, I hope those he interviewed for the BBC film gave the same account of Fela the way we are proclaiming for posterity?

With these testimonies and many more from those who saw, and lived the experience if I may ask who is still in doubt with regards to Tony Allen’s false claim that he wrote the afrobeat drums partitions in Fela’s music? When I first arrived in France in 1995, Tony Allen who had installed in France about a decade before my arrival used to play in small bars and underground cellars. He had in his band Indy Dibong (guitar), Roger Kom (sax), Césaire (bass), Nicolas (trumpet) among others. Please note that Fela was still alive this time and I was one of the few Nigerians present in his concerts. On several occasions I advice Tony to play Fela’s music during these concerts, but he refused saying he preferred to play highlife than play afrobeat.

Why would I advice Tony to stop playing highlife and play afrobeat, if I have any animosity towards him? Thanks to my friends Martin and Stephan Meppiel who were living in the south of France at this time, I was lodged in the apartment of their father Armand Meppiel who had just passed away situated in the chick 5th district of Paris. I know both brothers from 1979 in Lagos, in 1983 after their participation in the realization of the film ‘Music Is the Weapon’; they had the idea to put-together an afrobeat band in Paris.

They contacted members of Fela’s Egypt 80 band interested in the adventure – Nicolas Avom (aka Ringo drums), Kiala Nzavotunga (guitar), Udoh Essiet (congas) and Willy Nfor who played the bass in Sunny Okosun’s group. Tony Allen also auditioned to be a part of the adventure, but the core-members of the group preferred Nicolas Avom as drummer. Both Meppiel brothers paid the flight tickets for all the musicians from Lagos and lodged them on their boat – La Chine, anchored at the quai d’Austerlitz on the Scene River in Paris - this was the start of the group Ghetto Blasters.

With all said above, I wish to remind you brothers, sisters, friends, and enemies, that there are not too many of us who lived the Fela experience still living today, and it is clear that those of us still here cannot live forever - this is why it is important for you to understand the reasons behind my insistence to set the records straight. This is an open address to you all for posterity to judge. Like the influential French writer Émile Zola in an open letter addressed to President of France Félix Faure titled J’Accuse published 13 January 1898 in the newspaper L’Aurore, I insist, persist, sign, and I accuse, that Tony Allen is biting the finger that fed and is still feeding him and his family if he claims he created the afrobeat drum pattern in Fela’s music.


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