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Okayafrica TV: Tony Allen And The Genesis of Afrobeat

Afrobeat's co-founder and percussion father Tony Allen sits down with Okayafrica to discuss James Brown, Fela Kuti, and his start in music.


Today we honor the afrobeat creator, on what would have been his 76th birthday, with Felabrations around the world. Yesterday Fela's afrobeat co-founder and longtime drummer, Tony Allen, celebrated the release of his tenth studio album. Film Of Life, produced by French trio The Jazzbastards and featuring appearances from Damon Albarn, Nigerian singer Kuku and Nigerian all-female folk singing group Adunni & Nefertiti, is a ten-track self portrait of the Nigerian percussion pioneer through incursions into bebop, psychedelic pop and, of course, afrobeat. Allen, who has been touring in support of his new album, was recently in New York City, where he hit the studio to lay down his parts for a new project with Antibalas drummer and EMEFE bandleader Miles Arntzen. Okayafrica TV caught up with Allen at Brooklyn's Daptone Studios to discuss his start in music, Fela Kuti and the beginning of afrobeat, and the influence of James Brown on the continent. Watch the latest episode of OKATV below. Tony Allen's Film Of Life is out now via Jazz Village.

Video by: Sean Phazes

Interview
Photo: Jolaoso Adebayo.

Crayon Is Nigeria's Prince of Bright Pop Melodies

Since emerging on the scene over two years ago, Crayon has carved a unique path with his catchy songs.

During the 2010s, the young musician Charles Chibuezechukwu made several failed attempts to get into a Nigerian university. On the day of his fifth attempt, while waiting for the exam's commencement, he thought of what he really wanted out of life. To the surprise of the thousands present, he stood up and left the centre, having chosen music. "Nobody knew I didn't write the exam," Charles, who's now known to afro pop lovers as Crayon, tells OkayAfrica over a Zoom call from a Lagos studio. "I had to lie to my parents that I wrote it and didn't pass. But before then, I had already met Don Jazzy and Baby Fresh [my label superiors], so I knew I was headed somewhere."

His assessment is spot on. Over the past two years Crayon's high-powered records have earned him a unique space within Nigeria's pop market. On his 2019 debut EP, the cheekily-titled Cray Cray, the musician shines over cohesive, bright production where he revels in finding pockets of joy in seemingly everyday material. His breakout record "So Fine" is built around the adorable promises of a lover to his woman. It's a fairly trite theme, but the 21-year-old musician's endearing voice strikes the beat in perfect form, and when the hook "call my number, I go respond, oh eh" rolls in, the mastery of space and time is at a level usually attributed to the icons of Afropop: Wizkid, P-Square, Wande Coal.

"My dad used to sell CDs back in the day, in Victoria Island [in Lagos]," reveals Crayon. "I had access to a lot of music: afrobeat, hip-hop, Westlife, 2Face Idibia, Wizkid, and many others." Crayon also learnt stage craft from his father's side hustle as an MC, who was always "so bold and confident," even in the midst of so much activity. His mother, then a fruit seller, loved Igbo gospel songs; few mornings passed when loud, worship songs weren't blasting from their home. All of these, Crayon says, "are a mix of different sounds and different cultures that shaped my artistry."

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