Drum legend Tony Allen has seen a childhood dream come true. He even says that when he made The Source (his debut album for Blue Note Records), it was the best recording in his whole life. Coming from Allen, that’s not a casual statement: he is 76 years old and his career goes back 50 years, not to mention recordings by the hundred. The saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz, who has been playing alongside him for nearly a decade, observes: “Tony has never played drums as well as this. He's never had as much freedom, never had as much power as he does today.”
The Source is the Nigerian-born Paris-based drummer’s first full-length album for Blue Note, following the tantalizing 4-track EP release A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Blue Note is one of the most prestigious names in jazz and a label that has opened its sphere of creativity considerably wider since its renaissance in the 1980s. The Source manages to represent the label’s classic era at the same time as it symbolizes Blue Note’s innovative present. The jazz here navigates its way back to the source in Africa, creating a sound that is totally captivating.
The best albums always tell a story. This one takes us back to the source of Allen’s art as a musician, in other words, to Nigeria in the latter half of the 20th century. Tony Oladipo Allen, who was born in Lagos in 1940, never played a traditional instrument: right from the beginning, his interest was for a distant relative of the ancestral percussion family, namely, the drum kit. He taught himself, serving his apprenticeship while working as a technician for Nigerian national radio, all the time listening to records by American masters such as Art Blakey, Max Roach and Kenny Clarke, the eminent drummers of the bebop and hard bop eras.
His life changed totally in 1964 when he made the acquaintance of Fela Kuti, whom he would accompany for the next 15 years, first with Fela’s Koola Lobitos, an emblematic highlife band that was a model for all modern African music groups, and then when Fela led Africa 70, for which he developed a new music language: Afrobeat, which combined Yoruba rhythms and funk instruments with themes of revolution. Alongside Fela, Tony recorded some 20 albums and put his rhythm-signature to each of them. From then on, Afrobeat would propel a career that saw him pursue his own projects while collaborating with everyone from Oumou Sangare to Damon Albarn (in The Good, The Bad & The Queen).
In early 2017, Tony began preparing The Source, the next step in the musical and spiritual voyage that he has undertaken from Africa to America and beyond. To share writing tasks and take care of the arrangements, he called on Jankielewicz, with whom he has worked since 2009 and the album Secret Agent. They began by getting together to listen to and exchange their favorite records: Lester Bowie, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Gil Evans… albums that served as a compass to guide them on their way, as if they were navigators of old scrutinizing a constellation.