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World Music CD Reviews Jazz

Tony Allen

By Phil Freeman
Published April 16, 2008

Afro Disco Beat

Leaving jazz out of it for a moment, there’s a fairly short list of drummers who permanently alter the way you hear rhythm. Can’s Jaki Liebezeit, Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, and Tony Allen are the names that spring most readily to my mind. Backing and driving Fela Kuti’s Afrika 70 band, Allen mixed funk and Nigerian polyrhythms into a one-man orchestra, buoying up horn players, one-chord guitarists, and a chorus of sardonic women, not to mention the saxophone and declamatory vocals of Fela himself. Periodically during the 1970s, though, Allen also recorded several albums as a leader, all of which are compiled on this ruthless two-CD set. The first three—Jealousy, Progress and No Accomodation For Lagos— feature Afrika 70, including Fela, as the band. No Discrimination was recorded after Allen’s break with his former partner, and not only includes twice as many songs (two per album side!) as Kuti had mandated, but also has a gentler, more lilting feel to its funk, befitting Allen’s guy-inthe-back temperament (as opposed to Fela’s frontman assertiveness). All four have previously been available only as pricey Japanese imports, making this collection essential for all Afrobeat fans.

The Orlando Julius compilation Super Afro Soul showcases two sides of the Nigerian bandleader’s personality on its two discs. The first offers tracks with Yoruba song titles and horn-heavy riffing that mixes African rhythm with an almost New Orleans jazz/R&B feel. On disc two, by contrast, running times head toward the seven-minute mark and titles like “Psychedelic Afro-Shop” and “James Brown Ride On” start to crop up. Nothing here is as revelatory as what Tony Allen was doing, but it’s raucous fun, with plenty of honking sax and churning rhythm. Fans of African music from the ’60s and early ’70s should definitely give Orlando Julius a spin.