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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

UNGA76: Giant eco-friendly artwork set to inspire world leaders

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An aerial view over the UN headquarters in NY shows the giant 11'000 square meters (118'000 sq ft) biodegradeable ephemeral fresco "Work in Progress II". Valentin Flauraud for Saype

A new 11,000 square metre ‘ephemeral fresco’ created by Swiss artist Saype, has set the stage at UN Headquarters in New York, to welcome world leaders for the General Assembly High Level Week. It shows two children building the world of the future using origami, highlighting the participation of young people. 

World in Progress II is perfectly suited to our time and place. First, it is, in all senses, a big picture.  Both its execution and its subject are monumental and ambitious.  We have to take several steps back, just to view it in its entirety.  Then we understand that it shows two children, designing their ideal world together”, said on Saturday UN Secretary General during the unveiling ceremony.

Antonio Guterres explained that, just like the artwork, the United Nations’ mission extends far beyond what we can see around us. “Most of it lies out of our view. Our work is multilateral, and multi-generational. And each of us plays an essential part in creating the whole”, he added.

Earth-friendly art

Guillaume Legros, or “Saype”, an artist name inspired by the contraction of the words “say” and “peace”, is famous for its invention of an eco-friendly painting process. His special technique allows him to create huge frescoes directly on the grass.

“In two weeks, there will be nothing left due to the regrowth of the grass. This makes the work disappear, even more than the rain”, he explained to UN News, adding that he spent more than a year finding the right pigments for his ephemeral art.

Saype had already shared one of his creations at UN premises before. Last year, World in Progress I was unveiled during the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary in Geneva, Switzerland.

“In the centre, there is a dove that symbolizes peace. The basic idea is that on the one hand when talking about children, we ask ourselves what responsibility we have towards them. But, on the other hand, they are the ones who will have the world of tomorrow in their hands. This means that we must really learn to live together in a world that is also hyper-connected”, he said.

A call to world leaders

For the UN chief, the children depicted in World in Progress II are designing our shared future. 

“This year’s General Debate will take up this theme, focusing on the world we are building together. My recent report on Our Common Agenda recommends new ways for today’s decision-makers to better serve both young people, and future generations”.

Mr. Guterres said he was hopeful that world leaders will take inspiration from Saype’s art to consider how “we can look beyond our immediate surroundings, while respecting nature and our planet”.

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Bengal’s Thriving Cotton Handloom Tant Textile Crafts Looming

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India being a diverse nation endorses and nourishes indigenous ethnic crafts. Every region of India has to offer thriving cultural heritages, a few of those receiving the attention of the mainstream population, while several are failing to do so. Once glorified Bengal’s Handloom Tant Textile Crafts falls into the second category, as it’s lost the place to be under the spotlight. Even though “Every Handloom Tant Textile Crafts has a unique story to tell—as it is inheriting one of the finest and ancient weaving mechanisms that sprouted in nowhere other than Bengal. Dating back to the 15th century and leaving remarkably earliest trace from Nadia District of West Bengal Handloom Tant Textile Crafts received Royal patronage and retained popularity throughout centuries. Its uniqueness lies in design which mostly includes the depiction of ancient Bengali cultural influences and reflection of Bengali flair. In that sense, Handloom Tant Textile Crafts are very much connected to the soil of Bengal and utterly reflects sustainable, indigenous initiative within the millennials weavers of Bengal, who still feel connected to the ancient essence.  

Origins

The word ‘Tant’ indicates the cotton-based Handloom Textile Crafts, includes Handloom weaved Textiles including Saris, Cloth pieces, Dupattas, Bed Sheets etc.

Shantipur of undivided Bengal, now in Nadia district of West Bengal having earliest record of Handloom Tant Crafts weaving back to 15th century. It remained dominant cultural tradition from 16th to the 18th century and received extensive royal patronage along with the world-famous Muslin and Jamdani Sari of the same genre. In 1947 after the partition of Bengal, a hefty number of weavers migrated especially from Tangail Bangladesh to India and received rehabilitation in different regions including Phulia, Shantipur. Weavers bore their lineal Handloom Tant Textile weaving Crafts with them. Residual weaver communities got settled in the Hooghly and Bardhaman regions of West Bengal. Since then, each region has developed its signature style.

The weaving Technique

Handloom Tant Textile Craftsare woven with locally produced Bengal cotton. The kind of fine handspun yarn being used for Weaving of Handloom Tant Textile Crafts once applied in weaving soft, feather-light Muslin and Mulmul textiles that have been exported and adored globally for ages. The fineness of weaved cotton depends on the yarn quality and it is on the yarn that the textile is fine (combed cotton) or coarser (regular cotton).

Cotton being deftly woven to the thread is further being woven by craftsmen to Tant Textile. It is customary to use shuttles. Though nowadays handlooms have largely been replaced by power looms to weave Tant Textiles, which compromising the quality of Tant Textiles pushing environment-friendly, electricity-saving Handloom on the verge of extinction.

Popular motifs in use

The most popular Handloom Tant Textile Crafts product is Sari. The handloom Tant Textile crafts products other than Sari also depict motifs like Sari. A quintessential six-yard Tant Sari is distinguished by a thick two-to-four-inch border and a decorative Aanchal. Weavers use fine cotton yarn to manifest a variety of floral, paisley, and artistic motifs, attached to the culture of Bengal. Some of the most adored time-honoured motifs of West Bengal’s Handloom Tant include bhomra (bumblebee), tabij (amulet), rajmahal (a royal palace), ardha Chandra (half-moon), chandmala (garland of moons), ansh (fish scales), hathi (elephant), nilambari (blue sky), ratan chokh (gem-eyed), benki (spiral), tara (star), kalka (paisley) and phool (flowers), etc. Apart from these regional trends are being followed.

Why Handloom Tant Textile Crafts losing the interest of the mainstream population and what are the way forward?

Because of the advertisement and marketing industry the youth generations are mainly inclined towards high-shine clothing, heavy silks and zari, ignoring or being unaware of clothing science and technology. Handloom Tant Textiles, in comparison, is a modest, soothing clothing based on environment-friendly technique which add real charm to Tant. Elderly people are not even aware of the positive aspects of Handloom Tant Textile Crafts, due to no such promotion leading the Crafts to evade.

What is in particular in Tant to rethink its revival?

Handloom Tant Crafts comes under the range of heritage textiles of West Bengal. Sari-loving Indian women would certainly like to acquire collection of handloom saris from across India. While Handloom Tant Textile Sari would certainly give the blended feeling of heritage and comfort. Most of the Sari-wearing Indian women find themselves particularly attached to Bengal’s Handloom Tant and Jamdani Sari. Jamdani Sari belongs to the same genre of Handloom Tant. Tant Jamdani from Dhaka and Shantipur is exceptionally lightweight, characterized by intricately designed motifs that seem to float on the surface of the translucent ultra-fine textile, giving it an almost mystical grace in appearance.

Moreover, Handloom Tant Textile Crafts are comfortable to wear in tropical climatic zones of the world. Tropical, subtropical climates of the Indian subcontinent are exceptionally fine to wear and use such textiles. While most of the raw material being used and the technology being followed in Handloom Tant Textile Crafts is nature friendly and indigenous for the subcontinent. Revival, then on the restoration of the lost glory of Handloom Tant Textile Crafts of Bengal will certainly promote environment-friendly sustainable textile technology basing on the growth of the home-based cottage industry of West Bengal. Employing Indian youth in the process may revamp the initiative in the way Handloom Tant Textile Crafts would get a modern outlook and that will generate youth entrepreneurs to promote indigenous industries and a lot more positive things would happen in this row.

How important the present time is to preserve Handloom Tant Crafts? what could be the way forward?

As an economic industrial activity, the ‘Tantshilpa/Tant Crafts’ (the art of weaving handloom Textiles) is second only to agriculture in providing a livelihood to the people of certain regions of West Bengal. Ravaging the hope of business in Bengali New Year on April 14, 2020 the ongoing pandemic and ensuing lockdown have led to insurmountable losses to Textile Industry. Handloom Tant Textiles also facing a tremendous challenge for decades losing the interest of younger generations owing to its traditionalism and maintenance cost.  The need of the hour is to activate retail for existing stock using e-commerce and involving youth to regenerate the work chain and boost business. The genesis of interest towards such heritage and endangered craft like Handloom Tant Textiles can restore the sentiment and attachment of weavers’ communities. 

Organizing regular workshops with the weavers offering creative concept and textile design expertise in developing an ongoing collection of modern Tant saris and textiles that can bring the Handloom Tant Industry on-trend. While Tant is a versatile and comfortable fabric especially suited in the climate of India and considerable places of the world and also lends itself well to soft furnishings home decors cum comfortable garments.

Classified Handloom Tant Textile Crafts are being picked by authentic celebrities, dignified women. To revive the Indian Economy in the post-pandemic global crisis, promotion of indigenous Industries based on the authentic handmade, handloom, and traditional crafts are the way out, which is also environment friendly. ‘Make in India’ and ‘buy local’ is more relevant now than ever before, as each locally-made purchase directly supports indigenous industry, regional to global work circle, in turn, funds its makers, that is, the craftsmen/women in every level.

The hands that nourish tradition, indigenous crafts need to be celebrated. Direct connection of remote areas Handloom Tant Textiles weavers with well-structuredHandloom Tant Textile Craftswork chain is the way forward that less known regions areas of West Bengal like Santipur, Phulia, Nadia, and Dhaniakhali get counted in the global map of Textile industry representing the glorious Handloom Tant Textile Crafts of Bengal.

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Copenhagen named UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture for 2023

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The city of Copenhagen has been officially designated as World Capital of Architecture for 2023 by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, on the recommendation of the General Assembly of the International Union of Architects (UIA).

This decision is in keeping with the partnership agreement established between UNESCO and the UIA in 2018, through which UNESCO designates the host cities of UIA’s World Congress as World Capitals of Architecture. “We are very happy to see the torch of the World Capital of Architecture title pass to Copenhagen from Rio de Janeiro,” Audrey Azoulay said. “The inaugural World Capital of Architecture in Rio was a real success, underlining the important role of urban planning, notably in the pandemic context”, she noted, adding that “Copenhagen will build upon Rio’s achievements, by continuing to show the way in which architecture and culture can respond to the challenges of our time, especially in the environmental field.”

UNESCO and the UIA launched the World Capital of Architecture initiative to highlight the key role of architecture, city planning, and culture in shaping urban identity and sustainable urban development. Every three years, the city designated as World Capital of Architecture becomes a global forum at the forefront of discussions on contemporary urban planning and architectural issues.

As the World Capital of Architecture for 2023, Copenhagen will host a series of major events and programmes on the theme “Sustainable Futures – Leave No One Behind.” In cooperation with the Danish Association of Architects and various Nordic professional bodies, the municipality will examine how architecture and urban design contribute to meeting the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

From 18 to 22 July 2021, Rio de Janeiro will host the World Congress of Architects online. Following Copenhagen in 2023, Barcelona and Beijing are the two contenders looking to claim the World Capital of Architecture title in 2026 and host the next World Congress. The official decision will be made later this year.

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