Tony Allen – Village Underground, London, 20th November 2014
After seeing Tony many years ago thrash out some fantastic drumming with superband curated by Damon Albarn, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, in a town hall in Scotland’s finest, Motherwell, I had absolutely no doubt about the quality of this gig. Resoundingly an incredible musician, whom was addressed by Fela Kuti, as talent that, “sounds like ten drummers at once,” Tony Allen hits the cool nerves with a pork pie hat propping up some pretty flashy shades.
Whilst on stage genres are clearly blurred, juxtaposed, woven together, as the crowd witness Allen begin with a track without percussion, significantly lacking for a Nigerian musician who succinctly put the beat into Afrobeat. Looking to please those attending for the Jazz Festival of which this show is programmed as part of, the audience is instantaneously lured into a world of lounge, jazz and smooth brass, throwing myself off guard with Tony himself being a drummer.
After a long wait queueing, with a significantly packed Village Underground, the musician came on fashionably a good half hour later before we were given the opportunity to watch Allen perform but it is not long before our memory of this wait collapses, and we dispel into a sea of guzzling rhythmic dancers, or the classic head-bopping music enthusiasts. Beginning with a lounge groove, we went on a journey with the calmly composed Allen, who moved into working with differing time signatures, coalescing the electronic with Nigerian Afrobeat, creating a futuristic percussion which made for interesting listening for all, and had most tapping their feet if nothing more.
Mastering the drums, he had a band that were close to levelling with him on substance and flair, the funk was injected to the atmosphere and air, as the evening drew on, and it was soon realised that this was a gig worth waiting for. With ten solo albums and a grand age I am sure he would prefer I did not mention, it is energising to see one of the older percussion masters still deliver to a very high stock. As a self-taught musician who has been well-regarded by Brian Eno, as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived” it is formidable to anticipate what quite to expect except that the quality will be pronounced. Obviously with Nigerian blood the rhythm is fluent, the percussion heavy and our feet inevitably unable to remain static. Having played with the prolific Fela Kuti, it is hardly surprising that his tracks are occupied with funk, soul and jazz, mixing the traditional Yoruba conventions, amalgamating genres.
With his latest album, Film of Life, having been regarded as his masterpiece it is perhaps cynical of me to expect him not to deliver, and despite his hat and shades combo, it is clear that Allen is happy to let his music do the talking whilst on stage, his stage presence very much there but somewhat removed from the forefront of this gig. Boy, wouldn’t it be fantastic if most musicians engaging with their seventies were able to captivate their audience?!
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