Tony Allen breaks down the five major drum patterns of Afrobeat in an unreleased clip from the recent documentary short Birth of Afrobeat.
Production team Rest In Beats and director Opiyo Okeyo provided the unseen footage to Rolling Stone following the death of the pioneering drummer Thursday at the age of 79.
Birth of Afrobeat, filmed in 2017 as Allen prepared to record alongside Chicago Afrobeat Project, offers a glimpse into how Fela Kuti and Allen crafted the Afrobeat sound. In this unreleased clip from the short, Allen breaks down the five major drum patterns he employed.
“Afrobeat has different varieties of rhythm. Maybe because I’m in control of that, I don’t know how to stop inventing different beats because when I’m bored with the patterns of the beat, I need to create another one,” Allen says in the clip. “But all what I’m doing is on 4/4 time signature, so it’s just a question of the composition of the patterns, how to group them together.”
Allen added that the most important thing aspiring Afrobeat drummers need to learn is the first major pattern shown in the video.
“Tony had an impact as powerful as Fela Kuti’s voice, though he rarely said much,” Okeyo told Rolling Stone. “His weapon was collaboration and he was Afrobeat’s greatest ambassador. While we were filming, Tony said, ‘Afrobeat is the only major music genre of which you can still count the number of bands on your fingers—from Japan, France, to the U.S.—but that will change, it’s growing.’”
Birth of Afrobeat screened as part of the 26th New York African Film Festival in 2019, and is now part of PBS’ AfroPop: Ultimate Cultural Exchange Series.
Following Allen’s death, both Flea and Damon Albarn – his band mates in Rocket Juice and the Moon – have paid tribute to the drummer.