At nearly seventy years of age, Tony Allen is one of the few
links to the sound of Afrobeat’s past and its future. The Lagos,
Nigeria-born drummer was an unofficial music director of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 between 1968 and 1979. Allen also added
intricate percussion and kit drumming to sessions for Manu Dibango, Jimmy
Cliff, Khaled and King Sunny Ade making him one of world music’s go-to musicians. In the 21st Century, along with
playing on electronic records by Groove Armada, Air and Nightwmares on Wax, Allen
was a founder of the dub-inspired The Good, The Bad and The Queen with
Gorillaz/Blur main man Damon Albarn and The Clash’s bassist Paul Simenon.
But as a composer and leader, Allen shines just as bright as
any of those he’s worked with. Employing a subtly stormy style comprising sprightly jazz,
R&B, traditional Nigerian and highlife rhythms, Allen’s cross-cutting beats
instantly propel each track. His powerful emotive grooves leap through the
jittery funk of rhythm guitars, keyboards (accordion included) and thick horn
sounds on “Nina Lowo” and “Ijo.” Throughout the call-and-response vocals
there’s comparison to be had between Allen’s work and the political texts of his
past’s main collaborator Femi Kuti. While “Elewon Po” discusses jails
overcrowded with prisoners, “Pariwo” asks each listener to resist oppression
loudly. But Secret Agent is a
spaced-out spacious work too that benefits from dub and the electronic avant-garde.
Mostly, though it’s a party album with Allen proving to be a most amiable host.
Standout Tracks: “Elewon
Po,” “Busybody,” “Ijo”A.D. AMOROSI