Tony Allen ‘Secret Agent’ (World Circuit) (4/5)

tony-allenAfro-Beat legend and former Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen has in recent years been a stalwart of the live circuit, but has returned with a stunner of an album and one that is probably his finest piece of work in at least twenty-five years. Allen has enlisted the support of both French-based musicians on the brass section and Nigerian ones for the rhythm section and chorus. What impresses on this recording is that Allen has not simply re-emphasized the Afro-Beat legacy, but has subtly updated the sound to fit twenty-first century requirements. Recorded in Lagos with overdubs in Paris, ‘Secret Agent’ is globalisation in practice in the best sense of the word. Dancefloor action will be guaranteed on the killer ‘Elewon Po’ that closes the album. With a deceptively laid-back highlife feel, the lovely fender rhodes playing weaves into the incessant guitar riffs to great effect. Unquestionably an album highlight. Almost as appealing is ‘Switha’ with female chorus vocals that sound as they have been inspired by Nu soul. The longest song of all, weighing in at almost eight minutes, is the infectious ‘Celebrate’ where the stabbing brass section kicks in hard. In general the album offers a variety of rhythms that always allow plenty of space for improvisation, but are never over long. Modern Afro-Beat is in a very healthy state if this recording is anything to go by. As ever superb graphics transport one immediately to 1970s Nigeria and detailed and incisive inner sleeve notes are provided by musicologist Chris May.

Tim Stenhouse

Legendary drummer Tony Allen oozes Afrobeat. He was a mainstay of Fela Kuti’s Africa ’70 and here he returns to his Afrobeat roots after his more recent involvement with The Good, The Bad & The Queen’. Produced by Tony Allen and using his tight funky band this is driving afrobeat with vocals from Nigerian singers Ayo, King Odudo, Switch, Kefee Obareki, Wura Samba and Allen himself on the title track and ‘Elewon Po’. Brilliant.

Graham Radley