The receptionist refuses to let me into Tony Allen’s hotel room as a matter of policy: no guests. The small-framed 75-year-old Nigerian emerges dressed in crisp sportswear and we walk to a café in between Algerian grocers and Ethiopian cafés in London’s Finsbury Park. Taut and sinewy, I wouldn’t have put him a year over sixty. He’s monosyllabic – a little tetchy perhaps, having flown back and forth between the city and his home in Paris twice in the past couple of days. Allen shakes his head sternly and covers his mug with a firm hand as the barista tries to offer him sugar.
He soon loosens up, and sparks up a mild, pre-rolled joint in the café garden. Still, he seems like a sombre man, with weight on his mind. While his life has been devoted to music – Brian Eno called him “the greatest living drummer” – chaos and desperation have often cast their shadows, from thieving managers and creative disagreements, to military repression and a period of heroin addiction.
‘No guests’ is a policy Allen himself couldn’t be more opposed to. I’m speaking to him between a show at Jazz Café as part of the dub techno collective Moritz von Oswald Trio and an afro-beat-meets-acid-jazz session at the world famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz bar with his friend Bukky Leo. His career has been constantly fired by sparking inspiration in a diverse series of collaborators including von Oswald, Damon Albarn, Ginger Baker, Doctor L, Theo Parrish, and, of course, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
Check out the rest of the Tony Allen profile over at Crack Magazine.