The late, great Nigerian saxophonist, Fela Kuti, is known by most as the father of Afrobeat; and while he was undoubtedly the voice, the message and the heroic frontman, equal tribute is owed to the man who put the ‘beat’ in that afro!
He’s Tony Allen, the Lagos-born musical master who together with Fela, co-founded the famous sound, which launched a musical movement that has crossed the seas, and still today remains unscathed.
Considered one of the world’s greatest kit drummers, this living legend provided the solid foundation upon which the ‘The Black President’ stood; and so much so, that Fela said he ‘sounded like four drummers’.
” Without Tony Allen, there’d be no Afrobeat” – Fela ‘Anikulapo’ Kuti
After 15 years, and countless hits together, Tony and Fela parted ways, but today, over four decades later, Afrobeat is as relevant as ever.
Tony eventually settled in Paris, and besides releasing his own albums, he’s collaborated extensively and recorded with an impressive range of artists – but never as a mere session musician.
From Manu Dibango to Masters at Work, from Grace Jones to Jamaica’s jazzman Ernest Ranglin – all have featured his signature sound on their best-selling albums.
Secret Agent’, produced by Allen himself, was recorded with his regular touring band, and reflects the tightness of these players from Nigeria, Cameroon, Martinique and France.
All the essential Afrobeat ingredients are there, from grinding guitar, raw keyboards, fat in-you-face horns, call and response vocals with a few surprise additions on various tracks, like the keyboard player and arranger, Fixi’s accordion.
Also in line with the essence of Afrobeat are the protest lyrics, which outspokenly urge resistance to oppression, and encourage humanitarian ethics.
All of Allen’s albums include this trademark, and while his message is as clear as Fela’s, it’s less angry – more universal than militant. This is evident on ‘Secret Agent’ and ‘Elewon Po’, the opening and closing tracks – these two favourites are the only ones that feature Allen’s voice.
Elsewhere, Lagos based, Nigerian singers Ayo, King Odudu, Switch, Kefeo Obareki and Wura Samba [all Afrobeat disciples], sing with passion and add conviction to this powerful offering.
There are also a couple of irresistible party tunes, with some songs based on traditional folk proverbs, and a few laid-back, dub-inspired tracks.
With the innovative bass drum patterns entirely unique to him, Allen plays polyrhythm’s with almost superhuman precision. Loose-limbed and instinctive, he’s a human beat-box that still has soul – a powerful engine propelling the groove with near-perfect precision.
Although there are no drum solos, the album as a whole, exalts this 70-year-old artist’s genius. ‘Secret Agent’ majestically arises and asserts that Afrobeat is alive and kicking, and here to stay!