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In his almost 40-year career, the Lebanese lute virtuoso and composer has created his own unique musical style. Rabih Abou-Khalil was one of the first artists to synthesise Arabic music with jazz and elements of western classics.
His open-mind attitude was developed thanks to the atmosphere of his hometown –tolerant and cosmopolitan Beirut of the 60s and 70s. The start of the civil war in Lebanon meant the end of the glory days and liberalism for the “Paris of the East”. At the time, Abou-Khalil was studying the oud at the Beiruti conservatoire. In 1978, he emigrated to Germany and focused on western music by studying the flute at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich. Vast knowledge of European and Arabic musical traditions allowed him to create a synthesis based on the sounds of the oud and styles that he found the most interesting – jazz, rock as well as European and Arabic classical music. He started to create such musical fusions in the early 80s, even before the term “world music” became a thing. Rabih recorded his first albums as a flute player, but they did not bring him the anticipated fame. That is why, he decided to return to the oud. This turned out to be a brilliant move – the gifted Lebanese musician started to attract more and more attention. In the early 90s, Abou-Khalil signed a contract with the German record company Enja, and that is when his career started to pick up the pace. Since then, he has released over 20 well-received albums, recorded with artists from various musical worlds, including the classical music of northern India, Armenian music and fado.
Tony Oladipo Allen (born on 1940 in Lagos) is a self-taught musician who discovered the drums at the age of 18, so relatively late. Back then, he was working in a Nigerian radio station as a sound engineer. The turn of 50s and 60s saw the rapid development of the Lagos metropolis, which brought new musical styles, including jazz and highlife. African traditions had a huge influence on those genres, which eventually led to creation of afrobeat. At the time, Allen was very familiar with Jùjú, a popular genre that was based on Yoruba, traditional drum music. He was also fascinated by the work of Guy Warren, a Ghanaian innovator who combined tribal drum music with bop. Allen’s first band was Cool Cats, a highlife group with the legendary trumpet player Victor Olaiya as the frontman. Later on, he was also involved in such bands as Nigerian Messengers and Melody Makers.
One of the most recognisable artists of the world music, the legendary drummer and the undisputed king of the modern African rhythm, the co-inventor of afrobeat and afrofunk. Brian Eno called him “perhaps the greatest drummer ever”.
The list of artists with whom Allen has recorded and performed is truly impressive and most of all diverse. He became an icon for many western musicians who invited him to cooperate. Some of them are: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Air, Sébastien Tellier, Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn, whose band Blur paid a tribute to him in the song “Music is My Radar” with the line “Tony Allen got me dancing”. In 2006, Allen, Albarn, Paul Simonon and Simon Tongo founded the supergroup „The Goods, The Bad and The Queen”. Today, the 79-year-old musician is still named among the best drummers in the world. Moreover, he did not rest on his laurels – he recorded his latest album, “Tomorrow Comes The Harvest” (2018), with the Detroit techno icon Jeff Mills.
The huge milestone in Allen’s career and in the history of modern African music came in 1964. In that year, the artist started a regular cooperation with Fela Kuti – initially as the highlife band Koola Lobitos. In 1969, Fela renamed his group to Africa ’70 and came up with a new music genre based on jazz and funk inspirations from the USA. Tony Allen was the other pillar and co-founder. He and Fela invented afrobeat and revolutionised the musical image of Africa of the 70s. They have recorded dozens of albums, both together as Fela Kuti’s band and solo. In the 80s Allen went even further – based on afrobeat he came up with a hybrid of electronic music, rap, dub, r’n’b, which he named afrofunk. This led to the release of “No Discrimination” (1980), one of the best albums in the history of African music.