Surprise Gorillaz track honors afrobeat drummer Tony Allen

Breaking their pattern of posting a track approximately one month apart from each other, Gorillaz’ “Song Machine” initiative released a new track on May 2.

The unexpected track “How Far?” features rapper Skepta and drummer and songwriter Tony Allen.

The track was released earlier than previously scheduled tracks in honor of Tony Allen, who passed away at the age of 79 on April 30 due to an aortic aneurysm.

Allen was best known for his co-founding of the afrobeat genre and had previously collaborated with Damon Albarn, lead singer and creator of Gorillaz, on Albarn’s album “Rocket Juice and the Moon.”

“How Far?” features Allen’s drumming clearly and prominently in comparison to previous instrumental features in the “Song Machine” project.

Allen’s percussion beats carry the flow of the song, almost being on equal footing in terms of audio mixing with Skepta’s rapping, allowing the beat and vocals to mix together and work in such a way that brings a dynamic narrative to the song.

The beat is varied with different percussion instruments underlying a base drum-line that carries the melody of the instrumental. Softer instruments such as piano and guitar are present but are used sparingly to allow Allen’s drumming to take the stage.

While the lyrics are nothing spectacular, they certainly revert to Gorillaz’ previous pattern of discussing relevant societal issues of being corrupted by wealth and fame and losing sight of true ambitions.

The lyrics also contain references to Allen’s previous works such as the line “love how you live, remember the world, full of expensive sh–,” which calls back to Fela Kuti’s album “Expensive Sh–,” the album that put Allen and his style in the spotlight for the first time.

It is certainly evident how much Albarn and his crew wanted to honor Allen as the track was released without an accompanying music video, a practice that had been done by all “Song Machine” tracks previously.

Along with the absence of an animated music video, the song’s art centers primarily on Allen’s image.

Following the release of the track, Gorillaz also released a quote from Allen discussing his work on the new song.

“I want to take care of youngsters they have messages and I want to bring them on my beat,” Allen said.

“How Far?” is a unique track in the Gorillaz “Song Machine” line-up. But the song would likely not stand out in a line-up of other Gorillaz tracks that feature rappers if it were not for Allen’s unique afrobeat drumming.

Nevertheless, while the track may be a bit lackluster in some areas, it raises the quality once again for the “Song Machine” initiative and acts as a loving tribute and remembrance track for Tony Allen’s legacy.