It’s now nine years since the passing of Nigerian political firebrand, bandleader and Afrobeat creator Fela Kuti. His music drew on funk and jazz as well as the home-grown highlife sounds – it was intense, impassioned, focused and danceable.
Two of his sons, Femi and Seun, keep the torch burning – Femi with a sharp, radio-friendly Fela-lite, while the younger Seun’s music sticks closer to dad’s blueprint, and is no less exciting for it. It did him no harm on his 2004 UK visit, having percussionist Tony Allen on board.
Ah yes, Allen was Fela’s chief musical collaborator through most of his very productive period with Africa 70, having first played with him in the mid ’60s. Amongst other things, he was and is a drummer so ferociously rhythmic that when he finally left Fela’s employ it took four men to replace him.
An in-demand session player with African greats like Manu Dibango, King Sunny Ade and Ray Lema, and with eclectic credits elsewhere on the work of Roy Ayers, Spearhead and Susheela Raman, Allen’s own solo albums have been only an occasional treat in the past couple of decades since he delivered Progress, his debut as a leader, in 1975 – though much of his repertoire has happily turned up on CD in recent times.
Honest Jon’s Records is fast becoming a haven for treasures left-field, lost and overlooked, and has given Allen his head and let him do Lagos No Shaking. Recorded over 10 nights in the Nigerian capital, the record effortlessly proves that this older generation can still show the Afrobeat way. As might be expected, the album is rhythmically faultless, the percussion being allowed to breathe in its own space, while the horns are reassuringly rude, and the guitar figures conjure a trance for a dance, if you will.
Lagos No Shaking plays host to a handful of guest vocalists, including highlife maestro Fatai Rolling Dollar and diva Yinka Davies, and while that might present the idea of a Buena Vista-esque rolling revue, it’s actually the record’s only real failing, with some performances – largely those in English – like Morose and Losun, found wanting in execution. Where Fela made a virtue of communicating in English pidgin-style, these just strike a wrong chord.
But that minor grump aside, Tony Allen’s return is all anyone could wish for. It’s hot and heavy, exhausting in the best possible way, and as funky as hell. It’s literally in a league of its own as the dance record of the year so far. A legend still going where others could only hope to tread.