Collection of afrobeat masterdrummer's solo recordings. Rare and funky.
John Armstrong 2002
'It's not my body that plays the drums, it's my arms and legs,' says afrobeat masterdrummer Tony Allen in the liner notes to this well-thought out compilation.
Most Nigerian music fans will be aware of Tony's work with Fela Kuti's band over the years,but only the true fan will have the rare solo material presented here.
Perhaps the most defining work showcased is taken from his early period with Africa 70: Jealousy (1975), Progress (1977); and No Accommodation with Lagos (1979). 1979's ' No Discrimination' and 'Ariya' show all the Afrobeat trademarks: politically involved lyrics, stabbing horn sections, and Allen's preternaturally co-ordinated four-beat drumming. Such was Allen's sheer physical stamina that when he left Fela's band in 1977, Kuti needed four drummers to replace him for live performances.
After No Accommodation,Allen formed the Mighty Irokos in Lagos. The band made a living in the clubs but recording opportunities were few and far between, so 1984 saw Tony emigrating to Europe. The first solo fruit was the excellent N.E.P.A. EP from 1984: the title track is included in this selection. In 1989 there followed an uneven French recording, Afrobeat Express, which relied too heavily on the synthesised sounds of 80s pop and dance to advance Allen's own musical path significantly.
But a good half of the music presented here is culled from Tony's most recent period: the three albums that he's recorded between 1999 and today. And here, with the resources of an obviously empathetic and young production team, Allen's sound is subtly updated.
It embraces the world of hip hop and dj beats: 'Asiko', 'Get Together' and 'Kindness' all sit seamlessly alongside the wider genre of dance music. This is essential if Nigerian music is to move forward decisively once more, as it did all those years ago from highlife to afrobeat.
70 minutes of music as good as this for a mid-price albummakes it a must-buy for newcomers to Nigerian music: there's 20-odd years of history implicit in its rhythms.