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Remembering legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen

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Exactly in August 2009, legendary Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, who created the Afrobeat along with his old bandmate Fela Kuti, and I had our first historical meeting in Paris, France. I had flown in from Shanghai, China, to meet with him for an informal encounter. Despite our heavy working schedules and limited time, the meeting lasted for about two hours. During the discussions, I asked him several questions about his professional musical career and life. In fact, he was extremely passionate and enthusiastic talking with me, and to remember him here are a few excerpts:

When did you begin your musical career and who are your favorite musicians?

My career started at the age of 20.  In fact, I was hired by Sir Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, “the Cool Cats” and was able to fill the drum-set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. I also played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers and the Melody Makers.

In 1964, I joined Fela’s ‘Koola Lobitos’ and stayed with Fela for 15 years. When I was learning to play I’d check out LPs and magazine tutorials by Gene Krupa, Art Blakey and Max Roach, Guy Warren was also an influence. Of course, I was also a fan of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Bernard Purdie.

I was asked to name my dream band to play with, and I chose: Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita on vocals, Bootsy Collins on bass, George Benson on guitar, Wayne Shorter on sax, Joe Zawinul on keys, Don Cherry on trumpet, and with a line-up like that I’d have to be the drummer!

What was the motivation behind your chose profession?

My parents were…not keen. Back then, musicians were more or less thought of as beggars, or worse. But I just put it in front of them. I was an electrical technician, but I wanted to make a change. My mother was never happy about it, but my father, who was an amateur musician, eventually agreed.

How is this profession influencing or shaping your own social life?

It has had a profound effect.  Our albums with Afrika 70 either provoked or described a series of increasingly brutal attacks by the Nigerian army and police. Fela and his immediate family bore the brunt of this long and shameful catalogue of assaults, trumped up charges and jailings, and I myself was jailed on one occasion.  With Fela it was like being at university, and you don’t run away from education. We learnt so much by not being cowards.

When I left Fela’s band that had a big effect on my life.  Lagos was too small for me and Fela. It was a small place, and I wanted room to take off without causing competition, I eventually chose Paris partly because the British immigration people were giving me difficulties, but also because African music was more happening then in Paris than in London, and my record company at the time was in France. It was the only place I felt I could exercise my knowledge. The only place to make a living. Being a musician, the line between work and social life is, often blurred doing what I do for a living is what I do for enjoyment.

There seems to be some truthfulness in your career. Which songs spiritually appeal most to you personally when on stage?

Absolutely, as a musician and an artist you have to be true to yourself. Different songs appeal to me more at different times and under different circumstances, it can depend on who you’re playing with, where you’re playing and how the audience respond to what you’re playing. Playing music is very spiritual but I won’t say that one thing I do is more spiritual than another as I try to invest all in everything that I do.

Of what importance are the messages you convey through your songs to our society, in your interpretation?

Afrobeat has always been about the struggle, then and now. Fela was right about everything, especially the messages in all his songs.  Everything he sang about is still happening. Nigeria’s not getting any better. It’s all misadministration and corruption, survival of the fittest. Lagos is a complete mother ****** of a place. These messages we send to the government, they never listen to them. The people wait for an effect, but there’s no effect. These guys do nothing. Afrobeat is rebellious music. We have to keep shouting.

Do you mind talking about your experiences (both positive and negative) in previous European tours?

Laughs! I don’t mind at all but this is a big question that I’m not sure how to answer.  The fact is that the good experiences overwhelmingly outweigh the bad, which is why I’m still out on tour at nearly 70 years old. As long as people want to come and see me play, I’ll play.

How do you usually visualize your audience during musical performances?

I am very pleased to have had the chance to play at many festivals abroad. The foreign people know all about social and political upheaval, so even though our cultures and heritage are completely different, they feel the power of Afrobeat and confirm my belief that music is the great healer in the world. It was a long musical trip, there is no way back but well worth it. You just don’t have to return, I have to move forward!

Many people think going into musical world is just to make quick money. What is your reaction to this?

Ha! Most musicians are struggling musicians only a small minority make serious money, musicians all around the world play for the love of it, to express themselves creatively and for the interaction with the audience. A lucky few might make millions but you can’t judge everyone else on that basis, lawyers, accountants, bankers, those guys make the serious money. Also, those motivated by money don’t make as good music, if your inspiration isn’t true, then it shines through in music.

Would you have opted out of stage if you were offered an alternative job? Not all, as I said earlier, I had job which I left in order to be a musician, that wa almost 50 years ago and I am still in it. I think I made the right decision.

If you could have lunch with anyone, real or fictional, alive or dead, who would it be and what is the first thing you would ask him or her?

It’s impossible to pick one single person, there are loved ones that would be great to see one more time, but musically the most obvious person would be Fela Kuti, and I’d ask him if he’s happy with what’s happened to the music that we created together.

What are your goals for the coming years?

I want to keep on doing what I do, improving and doing new things.  I’m very happy with my band and our new album, we can do great things together.  I’m very fortunate that I get the opportunities to work with all manner of artists doing different and interesting projects, long may it continue.

Music is my mission. I never get satisfied and I’m still learning from others. The musical world is very spiritual, and I don’t think there’s an end to it. The best legacy is your professional work and leaving an indelible mark on the minds of people.

Additional information: Agence France Press (AFP) wrote that Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70 in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, the pair created afrobeat, combining West African musical styles such as highlife and Fuji music with American imports jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th century African music.

Over Allen’s thrilling beat, Fela laid out his revolutionary and pan-African message, which led him to become one of the abiding icons of the struggle for freedom across the continent. Allen and Fela recorded around 40 albums together in Africa ‘70, before parting ways after a mythic 26-year collaboration. Such was the hole that Allen left in his band, Fela needed four drummers to replace him.

Allen taught himself to play drums from the age of 18, drawing inspiration from American jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as contemporary African music. He remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians.

British musician and producer Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived.” Allen was the drummer in the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, also featuring Blur singer Damon Albarn and The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, which released its second album in 2018. Tony Allen died suddenly at the age of 79 in the Paris suburb Courbevoie, France.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

Arts & Culture

UNESCO open exhibition “The World in Faces” at its Paris headquarters

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On Thursday, July 8, at the headquarters of UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris, the exhibition “The World in Faces” of the famous Russian photographer Alexander Khimushin opened. The author personally presented a collection of more than 170 artistic photographic portraits of representatives of different peoples of the world, shot in authentic national dress in places of residence. The exhibition is dedicated to the upcoming International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and Their Languages. It is a celebration of multiculturalism and our incredible ethnic diversity at its best.

“In the photographs from the project “The World in Faces” I express my philosophy of life, which has been formed over the years of travel. It was through meetings with representatives of different nationalities, contact with their cultures, that I came to understand that all of them – with an incredible ethnic diversity – are people just like you and me. They are simply trying to artificially divide us by borders and ideologies,” explains Khimushin.

The exhibition is a great way to tell the world about indigenous peoples and draw attention to their problems.

The people in Khimushin’s portraits managed to preserve their originality, traditions and former way of life. But it is more and more difficult for them to do this – small peoples are rapidly approaching complete extinction, the languages ​​and traditions of their ancestors are forgotten. “The world in Faces” reminds how important it is not to let them disappear without a trace.

The idea to create a collection of photographic portraits of indigenous peoples in national dress and in their native environment was born in 2014, when Alexander had already accumulated a considerable amount of work done in the most exotic locations – from Samoa and Fiji to Swaziland. Since then, he has never stopped traveling around the world, and his project is growing and becoming a phenomenon.

“Initially, when I started working on the project, I had a dream – to exhibit at the UN. UNESCO is a UN structure that deals specifically with cultural issues and, accordingly, since I am engaged in the preservation of cultures, traditions, languages ​​that are disappearing today – it was important and honorable for me to exhibit my works at UNESCO. I don’t know what will happen next. In principle, I think that these should be large international platforms, since the project goes beyond Russia. The project is worldwide. I’m not going to complete the project. I plan to travel and collect stories, photographs, from all over the world – and I will be glad to consider proposals for global exhibitions that would show us – humanity – that we live in this world are different, each has its own culture, traditions, we must respect people who belong to other cultures. At the same time, the general humanistic component is that the whole world is one and all people are brothers,” notes Khimushin.

In 2018, Khimushin went to the Russian Arctic – Taimyr. The result was a series of portraits of the region’s indigenous inhabitants – Dolgans, Nganasans, Enets, Nenets, Evenks.

“Taimyr is unique in that it is a distant, cold place. For me, this was not something new, since I grew up in Yakutia (the Far East of Russia is the cold pole on the planet), but it is the peoples living there – the Nenets, Dolgans, Nganasans, they have a unique culture, their way of life and reindeer husbandry have been preserved. It was interesting to visit, thanks to Norilsk Nickel (The world’s largest high-grade nickel and palladium producer), to get to these places. I would like to return to Taimyr, shoot more there, if there is such an opportunity,” the artist noted.

The Norilsk Nickel company, which takes an active part in the fate of the small peoples of the Arctic, supported the Khimushin project.

“Our company supports the work of Alexander Khimushin, because thanks to his work, the whole world can see amazing, beautiful people living in remote corners of our planet. Including representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North of Russia, who managed to preserve a unique, original culture and traditions. The preservation of nature, traditions and culture of indigenous peoples, support and new opportunities for the development of ancestral activities – these are the themes that bring countries, international and commercial organizations, artists and creators together, “said Tatyana Smirnova Head of Public Relations MMC Norilsk Nickel.

Khimushin became the first Russian photographer to have an exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York. Works from The World in Faces project were exhibited at the University of Lille in France, and for six months were broadcast on the screen of the world’s largest digital art center in Bordeaux.

The exhibition at the headquarters of UNESCO will run until the end of August 2021.

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Arts & Culture

Russia, Egypt Launch the Year of Humanitarian Cooperation

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Russia and Egypt have opened the next chapter in their bilateral relations as the Assistant Foreign Minister for Cultural Relations, Ambassador Mahmoud Talaat, described the launch of the Russia-Egypt Year of Humanitarian Cooperation as a “bright spot” in the history of joint relations.

Addressing the launch ceremony on behalf of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Talaat said the event comes within the framework of strategic relations between the two countries that reflected in a humanitarian exchange document, which was signed by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

Both officials reviewed Cairo-Moscow distinguished relations that have been growing in all fields, mainly at the political, economic, scientific, cultural and social levels. They pointed out to the close historic ties binding both counties and their peoples.

Russia’s Deputy Minister of Culture Olga Yarilova who led the Russian delegation in the meeting emphasized the strength of relations between Cairo and Moscow. She added that the agenda of the Cairo-Moscow year of human exchange will include several cultural, tourism, sports, youth and educational events and activities among the two countries’ cities and regions.

Culture Minister Enas Abdel Dayem and Russia’s Deputy Minister of Culture Olga Yarilova jointly launched the kick-off event at the Cairo Opera House, in the presence of Chairman of the Cairo Opera Magdy Saber, alongside a number of ministers, ambassadors and leaders of the Ministry of Culture.

Beryozka (Berezka) Dance Ensemble, one of the internationally renowned and oldest Russian dance troupes, presented a number of artistic shows on Russian folklore. The Ensemble is a troupe of female dancers founded by Russian choreographer and dancer Nadezhda Nadezhdina in 1948 in the Soviet Union which specializes in performing in long gowns and moving across the stage as though on wheels or floating.

It is worth mentioning that Russia has been chosen as the guest of honor for the Ismailia International Festival for Documentary and Short Films, set for June 16-22.

The Egyptian culture and foreign ministries and Russian bodies concerned have prepared an agenda, including 23 cultural and artistic events throughout the whole year, with the participation of the culture ministry’s sectors and authorities. The cultural programmes will run till May 2022, and as part of the preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit planned for next year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Arts & Culture

“Kharibulbul” festival represents a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural Azerbaijan

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As a country of multiculturalism, Azerbaijan promotes the cross-cultural dialogue inside the country, but also at the regional level. The modern Republic of Azerbaijan regards the existence of a people as the result of the civil and political self-determination of the peoples in Azerbaijan. For the time being, Azerbaijan is populated by representatives of over 30 national minorities such as Talysh, Kurd, Lezghi, Tat, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Inghiloy, Tatar, Avar, Ahyska Turk, Jewish, German, Greek and others. All of them enjoy the cultural societies. Representatives of three main religious confessions – Islamic, Christian and Judaic communities participate jointly at various public ceremonies and cultural events. Support and preservation of the cultural diversity are reflected in the State policy of Azerbaijan.

The ongoing clashes near Nagorno-Karabakh started after Armenia attacked Azerbaijani civilians and military on September 27. Azerbaijan won its historic Victory in 44 days, liberated its lands, dealt crushing blows to the enemy, and defeated Armenia. As a result of this defeat, Armenia was forced to sign capitulation and surrender. Thus, Armenia’s 30-year policy of aggression has come to an end. During this time, the glorious Azerbaijani Army has liberated many settlements from the enemy. Thousands of citizens have volunteered for military service across the country to fight Armenia’s increased military aggression. The volunteers come from various ethnic, religious, social backgrounds and are united around the cause to restore the country’s territorial integrity as well as justice.

Despite all this, Azerbaijanis are not the enemy of the Armenian people. Azerbaijan is a multinational state. Thousands of Armenians live in Azerbaijan, primarily in Baku. Armenia, which has created a society intolerant towards other nations and religions, has tried to completely erase the ancient Albanian, Orthodox, Muslim religious and cultural heritage that historically existed in the occupied territories of multi-ethnic and multi-religious Azerbaijan. It has either completely destroyed cultural and spiritual heritage of the Azerbaijani people or falsified their history and origins by Armenianizing and Gregorianizing it. In the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, mosques, temples and cemeteries, historical monuments, museums, libraries have been destroyed and looted, Caucasian Albanian Christian temples and Russian Orthodox churches have been Gregorianized, mosques have been turned into barns and subjected to unprecedented insults such as keeping animals forbidden in Islam in them. The Armenian regime, which has been pursuing aggressive policies for years, has ignored the norms of international law and international humanitarian law, has committed environmental crimes in the occupied territories through fires, the use of phosphorus bombs, poisonous substances and mines. Today, Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh region, also they can normally live only within the Azerbaijani state. The Azerbaijani people are tolerant.

It is also well known by the world public that the Republic of Azerbaijan, diverse in terms of ethnic and religious background, fought to liberate its historic territories from occupation that had nothing to do with Christianity. Secondly, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – representatives of all nations and religions living in our country – fought alongside Azerbaijanis in the armed forces of Azerbaijan. These people were united around the “ Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” slogan by Mr. Ilham Aliyev, Commander – in – Chief of the victorious army, and not false religious appeals. Among them are those who displayed unequalled heroism falling martyrs, wounded, and awarded with supreme orders and medals of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 

 As with the beginning of the conflict, there are lots of officers and soldiers – representatives of the nations and religious communities living in Azerbaijan – who serve in Azerbaijan’s national army and display outstanding valor in liberating our country from occupation. Azerbaijani nation doesn’t discriminate between its heroic sons and martyrs on ethnic and religious background.

Mr. President Ilham Aliyev, who played a major role in this historic victory of Azerbaijan, said the followings: “Our advantage lies in the fact that representatives of all nations living in Azerbaijan feel themselves as comfortable as in their families and motherland. The fraternity and friendly relationships between various nations is our big wealth and we have to protect it. Our policy will also be pursued in the future. Representative of all the nations living in Azerbaijan displayed outstanding courage and heroism in the Second Karabakh war, falling martyrs, fighting for the cause of Motherland, and embracing death under the Azerbaijani flag. This is the society we have in our country and it is our big wealth».

For your information, “Kharibulbul” music  festival, bearing the name of symbolic flower growing in Shusha, was first organized in Shusha’s fabulous Jidyr glade in May 1989.  30 years later on May, the 12th “Kharibulbul” music  festival in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital Shusha was organized by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and will be held every year hereafter.

Musical creativity of different nations living in Azerbaijan on Jidyr glade within the festival was introduced devoted to “ Multiculturalism in Azerbaijani music” as a program comprising folk and classic musics.

Representatives of various nations living in our country demonstrated stage performance. All nations living in Azerbaijan have contributed to our joint victory. The Patriotic War once again proved that all nations live in fraternity, friendhips, and solidarity in Azerbaijan and there is national unity and solidarity in the country.We are sure that Shusha will host numerous music festivals and international conferences.

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