Yannis & The Yaw Combine the Brilliance of Tony Allen & the Talent of Foals’ Yannis Philippakis to Create Catchy, Breezy Rock on “Walk Through Fire”

Yannis Philippakis and Tony Allen © Kit Monteith
Yannis Philippakis and Tony Allen © Kit Monteith
A project started in Paris before Tony Allen’s passing, Yannis and the Yaw’s debut single “Walk Through Fire” shows a whole new side – but the same talent – from a brilliant group of musicians.
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“Walk Through Fire” – Yannis & The Yaw ft. Tony Allen

Sometimes greatness walks right into your path.

It breezes into a ’70s era studio in Paris, sits behind a drum kit, and blows your mind. And as the recipient of this greatness, you have two tasks: Hold on tight, and make sure that this moment is shared with the world. Tony Allen is this greatness. And the lucky recipient? Foals’ Yannis Philippakis, who has pulled together one of the best songs of the year.

Lagos Paris London - Yannis & The Yaw ft. Tony Allen
Lagos Paris London – Yannis & The Yaw ft. Tony Allen

For those unfamiliar with Tony Allen’s work, he is largely considered to be one of the eminent creators of afrobeats music. He was the drummer and musical director for legend Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70 for over a decade, culminating in over 30 albums together (Kuti once said “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”).

Disputes over royalties led Allen to strike out on his own, where his solo work spanned from afrobeats into afrofunk, along the way working with everyone from Flea to Damon Albarn to Erykah Badu and anyone else lucky enough to step into his orbit. He was a musician whose creativity and curiosity knew no bounds.

Yannis Philippakis © Kit Monteith
Yannis Philippakis © Kit Monteith

Snap back to that Paris studio in 2016, when Philippakis met Allen – along with Allen’s usual collaborators Vincent Taeger (percussion, marimba), Vincent Taurelle (keys) and Ludovic Bruni (bass, guitar) – expecting to be writing some classic afrobeats music with a legend. Instead, it’s classic rock that evokes everyone from the Black Keys to Queens of the Stone Age.

From the opening guitar riff, it’s clear that something special is about to happen. By the time Allen comes in with his classic complex-drums-that-sound-easy patter, the excitement is palpable. Philippakis takes his catchy Foals energy and ear for a hook and adds an edge not usually found in the British bands’ work.

Oh, well, I walk through fire, I walk through flame
The city burns while it says my name
I feel like war now, feel the heat
The time has come to reclaim the streets
I walk through fire
Oh, I walk through flame
Yannis Philippakis and Tony Allen © Kit Monteith
Yannis Philippakis and Tony Allen © Kit Monteith

“Walk Through Fire” starts out simply, building and evolving as pianos come in and out and Philippakis’ stretches voice to a gravelly rasp. The guitar riff remains constant throughout, unfazed by the funky bass line that dances around it. Distortion pedals arrive and then grow grungier, the whole song feeling like a long trudge through inferno-laden streets.

And all the while there’s Allen’s drums, a beat that’s somehow simultaneously understated and breathtaking. It’s a constant rhythm holding everything together, playing on another plain but never leaving his bandmates behind. He’s a drummer who understands instinctively what a song needs and delivers, who can draw your ear away from everything else with a simple fill. He’s undoubtedly the star, even tucked away behind his kit.

“Walk Through Fire” is another exciting entrance in the legendary career of Tony Allen, demonstrating even more versatility from a musician with nothing left to prove. Philippakis has taken this brush with greatness and peaked his career.

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“Walk Through Fire” – Yannis & The Yaw ft. Tony Allen

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Lagos Paris London - Yannis & The Yaw ft. Tony Allen
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