Master Nigerian drummer and Afrobeat powerhouse returns with new album of diverse styles.
John Armstrong 2002-11-20
Nigerian master-drummer Tony Allen was the powerhouse behind the late Fela Kuti's bands Africa 70 and Egypt 80. By general consensus, he invented the devilishly complicated, deceptively simple-sounding rhythm that came to be known as Afrobeat. It's said that Fela needed four drummers to replace Allen when the two musicians eventually parted ways and from this record it's not hard to see why.
Blur's Damon Albarn seems to find his way onto a number of African records nowadays. Whilst association by fame can do nothing but good for African record sales, the actual artistic point of his inclusion as singer on this session's opener, 'Every Season', is questionable. Although Albarn makes a perfectly good fist of his guest spot, the tune is a success despite the celebrity presence, not because of it.
This is the key to the whole album. Although Allen brings in fresh elements to his time-honoured sound in order to attract a broader audience (another example is the convincing rapper Ty), it's still the deep afrobeat grooves that leap out here. When the rich horn section locks into Allen's supernaturally powerful percussion the whole comes into its own.
Standout tracks are "Home Cooking", with its infectious shuffle beat; the classic Afrobeat groove of "Jakelewah"; and the plea for 'jaw, not war' in the Yoruba Fuji-style "Don't Fight", with its talking-drum threading in and out of the arrangement.
Then there are tips of the hat to mainstreamR&B in "Calling", with street-cred vocals from Mary and Norman, and in "What's Your Fashion", which features smoky vocals from one Eska. There's even a clubby 'nu-jazz' tune: "Eparapo", with its fuzzy double-bass line and Roy Ayers-ish vibraphone.
As with so much West African music, though, it's essential to experience the live show in order to take in the sheer power of the rhythms on offer. Luckily for UK fans, Allen is now based semi-permanently in London and has well-advanced plans for the opening of a club dedicated to live African music: watch this space.