Legends are hard to come by, but this summer sees the return to Afrobeat of Africa’s greatest drummer Tony Allen, following his stint adding some distinctive musical backbone to Damon Albarn‘s supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen.
Together with the late Fela Kuti, Allen was responsible for defining the Afrobeat movement from its jazz roots. Anyone unfamiliar with this sound should find Secret Agent an exciting and accessible diving board into the genre’s rich depths.
The sound combines African-American soul and funk with a Nigerian flavour; added to this is a rich vein of celebration and political rebellion. Some tracks take up entire sides of albums, but Secret Agent is a more immediate collection of tracks that largely stick to a ‘keep it simple’ approach. These tracks are a joy to listen to; it’s no wonder that Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer ever.”
Although it’s Allen’s name on the cover, Secret Agent feels like a collaborative effort. His band is comprised of several of Allen’s regular band from Nigeria, Cameroon, France and Martinique. There’s a plethora of instruments giving it their all, but the dominant horns really shine.
Though Allen takes lead vocals on Secret Agent and Elewon Po, the rest of the singing duties are handled by Lagos based singers Ayo, King Odudu, Switch, Kefee Obareki and Wura Samba. These vocals lend their various distinctive local flavours.
The tone of the album changes according to the traditional themes of Afrobeat; there are tracks based on proverbs, celebratory party tracks and stirring political resistance. The album’s climax Elewon Po (Too Many Prisoners) is a particularly memorable piece of funk insurrection.
Summer is here, and in the midst of a heatwave on these shores the timing of this release is perfect – a joyous, party-starting soundtrack for the season. There’s no excuse not to put this on and share its exotic secrets.