Tuesday, April 11, 2006

music is his radar

Woke up this morning to hear John Humphreys on Radio 4 declaring the marvellous but not exactly world-famous Nigerian drummer Tony Allen the greatest musician of the last 50 years, which was a bit surprising. Waking up a bit, I figured out in actual fact he was repeating Brian Eno's assertion - and in fact the subsequent interview with Eno downgraded Allen to the greatest drummer of the last 50 years - although calling Allen a good drummer implies that the man can keep a beat. His stunning, sprawling work on Fela Kuti's complex, sunny afrobeat - and subsequently in his solo work - goes well beyond that. It's marvellously appropriate that when Allen finally left Kuti's band in the late 70s, Kuti found it necessary to replace him not with just one drummer, but with four.

I've been listening to Allen's latest record, Lagos No Shaking, almost constantly in the last week or so (well, that and 1999's hard, minimal masterpiece Black Voices), so now is as good as any a time to offer up a few thoughts. Firstly, it's a simpler and less contemporary record than his fine 2004 effort, Homecooking, finding inspiration from Allen's hometown of Lagos, rather than London, and carrying a more nostalgic and direct afrobeat feel, although there are plenty of moments of dubby spaciousness, guitar chops, call and response lyrics and jazz-flecked trumpets to counterbalance his occasionally frenetic (and always breathtaking) drumwork.

When Allen left Kuti in '78 he headed straight for Paris, and spends most of his time in London these days. So there's something particularly heart-rending about his first all-African record in 28 years; it's a passionate love-letter to Lagos, featuring outstanding performances from a host of Nigeria's finest artists, young and old. In particular, Fatai Rolling Dollar and Yinka Davis offer up gorgeous contributions. And now that we're moving slowly into the summer, there's something glorious about blasting out warm, propulsive funk with lyrics imploring "Don't morose your face!" Definitely the first record of the summer, then.

some African records for the summer
1. Mulatu Astatke - Ethiopiques Vol.4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale (1969-1974)
2. Tony Allen - Lagos No Shaking (2006)
3. Amadou & Mariam - Dimanche a Bamako (2005)
4. Fela Kuti - Expensive Shit / Him Miss Road (1974)
5. Konono No. 1 - Congotronics (2005)
6. Dhafer Youssef - Elecric Sufi (2001)
7. Tinariwen - Amassakoul (2004)


Post a comment

<< Home