Tony Allen - Secret Agent
Tony Allen - Secret Agent
(CD) World Circuit WCD 082, 2009-06-08
Tony Allen has long been acknowledged as Africa's finest kit drummer and one of the continent's most influential musicians. His playing draws on four different styles - highlife, soul/funk, jazz and traditional Nigerian drumming. A unique and mighty sound. Together with Fela Kuti (with whom he played for 15 years) Allen co-created Afrobeat - the hard driving, horns rich, funk-infused, politically insurrectionary style which became such a dominant force in African music and such an influence worldwide. 'Secret Agent', a majestic slice of hardcore roots Afrobeat, is Allen's debut for World Circuit and his first release since he became a founder member of The Good The Bad and The Queen (alongside Damon Albarn, Paul Simenon and Simon Tong). Afrobeat is currently enjoying an upsurge of interest and for fans of hip-hop, funk and jazz, Allen, holder of the Afrobeat flame, is today revered as its seminal living figure.
Tony Allen - Secret Agent
(CD) World Circuit WCD 082, 2009-06-08
01. Secret Agent
08. Nina Lowo
11. Elewon Po
Tony Allen - Drums and Percussion
Rody Cereyon - Bass
Claude Dibongue - Guitar
Fixi - Rhodes, Keyboards, Synths, Accordion. Vocoder voice, backing vocals (Secret Agent), Trombone (Busybody)
Nicolas Giraud - Trumpet
Jean Jacques Elangue - Tenor Saxophone
Yann Jankielewicz - Alto & Baritone Saxophones (except Secret Agent, Switch)
Simon Andrieux - Trombone (except Secret Agent, Switch)
Yinka Ogunye - Percussion
Lead vocals -
Tony Allen (Secret Agent, Elewon Po)
Orobiyi Adunni aka AYO (Ijo, Nina Lowo, Ayenlo, Atuwaba)
Bola Dumoye aka Switch (Switch)
Kefee Obareki (Busybody)
King Odudu (Celebrate, Pariwo)
Abiodun Oke aka Wura Samba (Alutere)
Backing Vocals (except Busybody, Switch) - Deborah Ohiri, Shade Orobiyi, Michael Okorie, Soji Adetona, Bola Kamson
Backing Vocals (Busybody) - Kefee Obareki
Backing Vocals (Switch) - Orobiyi Adunni aka AYO & Bola Dumoye aka Switch
Additional Guitar (Ijo, Busybody, Celebrate, Secret Agent) - Seb Martel
Additional Guitar (Secret Agent, Switch) - Oscar Olembe
Press Release :
"Without Tony Allen, there'd be no Afrobeat." Fela “Anikulapo” Kuti
"Tony Allen really got me dancin' " Blur (from the single 'Music is my Radar')
"Perhaps the greatest drummer ever" Brian Eno
Tony Allen has long been acknowledged as Africa’s finest kit drummer and one of the continent’s most influential musicians. His playing draws on four different styles – highlife, soul/funk, jazz and traditional Nigerian drumming. A unique and mighty sound. Together with Fela Kuti (with whom he played for 15 years) Allen co-created Afrobeat - the hard driving, horns rich, funk-infused, politically insurrectionary style which became such a dominant force in African music and such an influence worldwide.
‘Secret Agent’, a majestic slice of hardcore roots Afrobeat, is Allen's debut for World Circuit and his first release since he became a founder member of The Good The Bad and The Queen (alongside Damon Albarn, Paul Simenon and Simon Tong). Afrobeat is currently enjoying an upsurge of interest and for fans of hip-hop, funk and jazz, Allen, holder of the Afrobeat flame, is today revered as its seminal living figure.
‘Secret Agent’ produced by Allen himself, was recorded with his hard-schooled touring band which comprises players from Nigeria, Cameroon, Martinique and France. The music is foursquare in the Afrobeat tradition - nagging tenor guitar, funky keyboards, soulful call and response vocals, and fat, full throated, hard riffing horns - with a few twists (deliciously including keyboard player and arranger Fixi’s accordion on some tracks). And at its heart, of course, is the beat itself, even more prominent now than it was in Fela Kuti’s legendary band Afrika 70. Allen drives the music on, straight as an arrow, in a loose-limbed ragged shuffle, fusing the cross rhythms into one irresistible forward motion.
The vocals are handled by the Lagos based Nigerian singers Ayo, King Odudu, Switch, Kefee Obareki and Wura Samba “Afrobeat disciples all” says Allen. Allen himself takes lead vocals on “Secret Agent” and “Elewon Po.”
The songs on Secret Agent stay true to Afrobeat’s original, trademark embrace of protest lyrics. “Pariwo” (shout, make some noise) and “Elewon Po” (too many prisoners) urge resistance to oppression. Others, like “Nina Lowo” (money is to be spent) and “Atuwaba” (no matter if things are bad, they’ll get better), are based on traditional folk proverbs. Some are irresistible exhortations to party - “Ijo” (dance) and “Alutere” (the message the drums transmit) celebrate Afrobeat in general and Allen’s genius in particular. “Fela had a different way of writing,” says Allen. “He wrote like a singer. I write like a drummer.”
Secret Agent comes from the deep, molten core of Afrobeat - “the rhythm of gold, the rhythm of class, the rhythm of pleasure, full of history of our world,” as Ayo sings on “Ijo”. Kuti, without a doubt, would have loved it.
* Please note that on the album white label the track ‘Switch’ is mistakenly named ‘Swift’.
Excerpts from Sleeve Notes :
Somehow, Afrobeat sounds just as relevant in 2009. Its catholic blend of African-American funk and jazz with traditional West African rhythms, and its politically insurrectionary lyrics, often sung in Broken English to communicate across indigenous linguistic barriers, was the sound of pan-tribal shanty towns across West Africa in the 1970s. Today it also speaks of and to growing, polyglot, inner city diasporas in Europe and North America. It could be that Afrobeat is about to begin another spell in the global spotlight.
If so, Tony Allen is ready for it. His World Circuit debut, the raw and uncut Secret Agent, has all the ingredients that combine to make Afrobeat so special - fat, full-throated, hard riffing horns; nagging tenor guitars; jazz- and funk-informed saxophone and trumpet work outs; effervescent chicken-shack keyboards; lyrics rich in folk metaphors and proverbs, some of which confront state corruption and oppression (Kuti’s most frequent targets, still alive and toxic in Nigeria today); deep-soul call and response vocals; and, of course, energising everything around it, Allen’s majestic drumming. Allen drives the music on, straight as an arrow, but without recourse to simple time-keeping, working almost elliptically, in a loose-limbed ragged shuffle, nudging and bumping round the edges, fusing the cross-rhythms into one irresistible forward motion.
Allen‘s focus on rhythm extends to his song writing. “Fela had a different way of writing,” he says. “Fela wrote like a singer. I write like a drummer.” Rhythm is the heart of Secret Agent, for which, with keyboard player/arranger Fixi, Allen wrote all the music. The instrumental tracks were recorded by his touring band, a cooking all-nations octet. Guitarist Claude Dibongue and tenor saxophonist Jean Jacques Elangue are from Cameroon; bassist Rody Cereyon is from Martinique; trumpeter Nicolas Giraud, trombonist Simon Andrieux and alto and baritone saxophonist Yann Jankielewicz are from France, as is Fixi. The sound is foursquare in the roots Afrobeat tradition, with a few twists (deliciously including Fixi’s accordion on some tracks).
Vocals were recorded by Nigerian singers/lyricists Orobiyi Adunni, King Odudu, Bola Dumoye, Kefee Obareki and Abiodun Oke. “All disciples of Afrobeat,” says Allen, who himself wrote and sang the lyrics for two tracks.
The songs on Secret Agent are variously sung in Yoruba, Broken English, English and Orobo. Allen’s “Secret Agent” is in English and his “Elewon Po” (“too many prisoners”) is in Broken English, English and Yoruba. The four lyrics written by Adunni - “Ijo” (“dance”), “Nina Lowo” (“money is to be spent”), “Ayenlo” (“time is going, the world is moving”), “Atuwaba” (“no matter if things are bad, it will get better“) - also use this trio of languages. Obareki’s “Busybody” is in English and Orobo. Odudu’s “Celebrate” and “Pariwo” (“shout, protest, make some noise”) are in English and Broken English. Oke’s “Alutere” (“the message the drums transmit”) is in Yoruba. “Switch”, sung in English and Broken English, is Dumoye’s nickname.
During his lifetime, Fela Kuti was Afrobeat’s most coruscating political lyricist, and his 1970s’ masterpieces with Allen and Afrika 70 either provoked or described a series of increasingly brutal attacks by the Nigerian army and police. Kuti and his immediate family bore the brunt of this long and shameful catalogue of assaults, trumped up charges and jailings, but Allen was jailed too on one occasion. “With Fela it was like being at university,” he says, “and you don’t run away from education. We learnt so much by not being cowards.” On Secret Agent, “Elewon Po” and “Pariwo” continue Afrobeat’s proud tradition of speaking out.
“Fela was right about everything,” says Allen. “Everything he sang about is still happening. Nigeria’s not getting any better. It’s all misadministration and corruption, survival of the fittest. Lagos is a complete mother****** of a place. These messages we send to the government, they never listen to them. The people wait for an effect, but there’s no effect. These guys do nothing. Afrobeat is rebellious music. We have to keep shouting.”
This is both the beauty and the blues of Afrobeat in 2009. The beauty is the music’s uplifting blend of rhythm and rebellion. The blues is that, a decade and more after Kuti's death, the problems facing Nigeria’s working and middle classes are perhaps even worse than they were in Kuti's day.
Along with his own albums, Allen is a founder member of The Good, The Bad & The Queen, alongside Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon and Simon Tong. His association with Albarn goes back some half dozen years; it came about after Allen heard the lyric "Tony Allen got me dancing" on Blur's 2000 song “Music is My Radar” and invited Albarn to Lagos to guest on Home Cooking. Allen is also involved with the African Express project whose aims are to introduce African and European musicians to each other and to encourage cross-fertilisation of ideas.
“Music is my mission,” says Allen. “I never get satisfied and I’m still learning from others. The musical world is very spiritual, and I don’t think there’s an end to it.”