April 30, 2015 / 8:29 AM / 2 years ago

Songlines world music awards honor Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen

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Nigerian singer Tony Allen performs at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, in this May 17, 2008 file photo.Rafael Marchante/Files

LONDON (Reuters) - Nigerian artists spanning five decades of music-making took honors in Songlines magazine's 2015 awards, with Afrobeat pioneer and drummer Tony Allen winning Best Artist and Ibibio Sound Machine picked as Best Newcomers.

The Malian father and son duo of Toumani Sidiki Diabate were named Best Group for their work highlighting the griot (story teller) tradition in the awards, announced on Thursday.

The Kronos Quartet, usually associated with classical music, took the Cross-Cultural Collaboration award for an album embracing the music of countries ranging from Syria to China.

Allen, 74, was nominated for his "Film of Life" album but the award was as much a recognition of his lifetime achievements, Songlines editor-in-chief Simon Broughton said.

Allen began working with the late Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti in 1964 and helped create the Afrobeat style which energized the continent. Once described as the "finest drummer on the planet", his music blends jazz, funk and tribal grooves.

"As Fela said, without Tony Allen, there wouldn't be any Afrobeat. Fela very much handed the invention of Afrobeat over to him as a moving force," Broughton told Reuters.

"Film of Life," which features a collaboration with Blur's Damon Albarn, showed him still fresh and eager to experiment.

It also deals with topical issues. Two tracks, "Go Back" and "Boat Journey", with its refrain of "Don't take the boat journey", highlight the plight of Africans fleeing from war and poverty only to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

The London-based Ibibio Sound Machine, fronted by charismatic singer Eno Williams, are a group of young Nigerian expatriates who weave the folk tales of southeast Ibibio region with electronic grooves, funk, Afrobeat and Highlife.

"They are really making an impact. It's that nice mixture of Nigerian but in a London context. London is probably the World Music capital of the world right now," Broughton said.

Sidiki Diabate is better known as a rapper but he linked up with his father, griot and kora player Toumani, for an eponymous album of songs in a traditional vein.

"The Diabate family has been absolutely central to Malian music for years and years, generations and generations. Toumani's father was a leading kora player. They are very much looking back at the tradition they have inherited and expressing the idea of passing it on," Broughton said.

The Diabates also address the refugee tragedy - their song "Lampedusa" references the Italian island which has offered shelter to shipwrecked and stranded migrants.

Although The Kronos Quartet usually works with contemporary composers, its album "A Thousand Thoughts" draws on music from countries as diverse as Iran, Syria, China, Vietnam and Ethiopia and features guest artists such as Le Mystere des Voix Bulgare women's choir and Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain.

Editing by Louise Ireland and Michael Roddy

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