Fela Kuti once said of his longtime drummer and bandleader Tony Allen “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.” So when he has a new album out, it's a major event. On his latest, Film of Life, the 74 year old percussionist and composer proves why.
By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor
Leading with the fairly traditional Afrobeat jam “Moving On,” Allen opens on a note of genuine gratitude “thank you for listen to my music,” he intones in his hushed baritone. But as the record goes on, Allen and company expand the palette of Afrobeat which he helped create. Synths and sitars pop up on the “Boat Journey,” a track which gives the melody to the bass. On the lush “Tiger Skip,” these synth nods and atmospheric tinges take center stage, at times even dominating Allen's almost effortlessly virtuosic drumming. It's amazing that some 50 years into his career, and Allen is still at the heart of Afrobeat's evolution as a genre. “Afro Kung Fu Beat,” meanwhile takes things back to the 70's, with a funk guitar riff that would feel at home on a classic Isaac Hayes track.
On the Damon Albarn assisted “Go Back,” the two bring out the best in each other. Albarn hasn't written a melody this strong since Demon Days, while Allen sounds like 4 drummers for the first time on the record. The two have been regular collaborators since Albarn's The Good, The Bad, and The Queen, and have a lived in chemistry rare on these kinds of guest appearances. Allen follows it up immediately with the Afrika 70 throwback “Ire Omo” featuring Nigerian singers Adunni and Nefretitti. The track's massive horns, dominant sax, polyrhythmic drumming, and those vocals all call back to Afrobeat's golden age. In what's turned out to be an amazing year for Afrobeat, Tony Allen's Film of Life points to where Afrobeat's been, where it is now, and where it could go in the future. For a man who has been the pulse of Afrobeat since the beginning, that's about as concise a film of his life as you could hope for.