Tony Allen: Afrobeats Is Not My Thing, It's Retrogressive.

Legendary drummer Tony Allen talks about his latest musical excursion, 'The Source,' and reveals his take on Wizkid and Davido.

Fela has said, "without Tony Allen there would be no afrobeat."

The legendary drummer's latest musical excursions, however, have concentrated on a slightly different world.

In his recent debut EP for Blue Note Records, A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Allen opted to take a look back one of his early jazz influences: the American drummer Art Blakey.

Allen's now following that up with a new full-length album, The Source, a further exploration into jazz. The album features 11 original instrumental songs that Allen worked on closely with frequent collaborator Yann Jankielewicz.

“Tony has never played drums as well as this,"Jankielewicz says. “He's never had as much freedom, never had as much power as he does today."

The Source includes contributions from Gorillaz' Damon Albarn and features a cast of Paris-based artists such as saxophonists Rémi Sciuto and Jean-Jacques Elangue, trumpeter Nicolas Giraud, trombonist Daniel Zimmermann, bassist Mathias Allamane, pianist Jean-Philippe Dary, and keyboardist Vincent Taurelle, who produced the album with Bertrand Fresel. Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue from Cameroon also makes an appearance.

We spoke to Tony Allen about the inspirations behind The Source, his jazz influences and, even got to hear what he thinks of Wizkid and Davido's modern 'afrobeats.'

Tell us about The Source.

Tony Allen: I wanted to do this for a long time but everything got in the way. I'm always involved in many different projects. My own approach is to always give time after each album to think about what's gonna be the next, because we don't want to repeat ourselves. So, I've been thinking of jazz because I've been getting tired of singing. I wanted to concentrate more on my compositions and drumming, strictly.

I didn't want to sing, didn't want any voices, I wanted more instrumental—this direction, which is my way of playing. My own presentation of our jazz. I've been playing drums my way from the beginning, combining jazz with African rhythms.

This time, I wanted to make it no subject, I left that for the afrobeat music that's on today. I've left it since a long time ago. I want to explore my own field and my own awareness about drumming. I don't see any limit there. You don't repeat yourself.

What are the jazz influences on the record?

It started with the Art Blakey EP. I wasn't trying to reproduce and I wasn't trying to compete with anybody. I'm just trying to be me and expand my own ideas in terms of the way I look at drumming. The way I play my drums is different. I have a different approach to drumming. I was influenced by listening to my local music, then finally got introduced to jazz. then in my country. Then I started to make music with Fela. Fela made it very clear for me to explore my own avenue, he made it possible. He's another genius composer that doesn't want to do anything like the others.

How did you get connected with Gorillaz/Blur's Damon Albarn for it?

I was recording my album, Home Cooking, back in 2002 in between Paris and London. I had an unfinished track that needed a singer, and these producers that were mixing the album suggested Damon Albarn for it because on the Blur song "Music Is My Radar," he'd sang the line "Tony Allen, got me dancing." Damon agreed and he was happy to do it. So he recorded, brought it back, and it sounded good to everybody. After that, I told him we should work together again. We've collaborated several times since then.

You're known as the master drummer of afrobeat and one of its main creators. If you go back to that time when you were first playing with Fela, what was influencing you?

It's a combination African local music with jazz. It's my gift that I was able to make this combination.

Tony Allen, 'The Source' album cover.

Do you listen to modern 'afrobeats' music like Wizkid and Davido?

Afrobeats for me—with the 's' at the end—could mean different things. It has nothing to do with the afrobeat that we're talking about. When you say afrobeats, plural, it can be any African rhythm that could be used for any of those songs.

Sometimes, when it's passing I listen, but it's not my thing. It's not for me. I shouldn't be listening to such things because they're retrogressive. It's good for the kids. I don't criticize. They're doing fine and that's good. But it's not afrobeat.

If you had to sum up afrobeat in 3 words what would they be?

Afro beat movement.

Tony Allen in 3 words?

Simple gentle guy.

Stream Tony Allen's new album, The Source, below and purchase it here.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

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The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

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Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

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