2. Rejoice -Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela
In April 2020, we lost a musician that I would happily describe as one of the absolute greats, the one that was responsible for that beat that he and Fela Kuti made so very famous as Afrobeat: Tony Allen.
This was the man whose innovative mix of funk, jazz and African stylings into his sound enabled critics to refer to him as the 'greatest drummer on the planet'. Back at the start of the millennium, young Damon Albarn sang 'Tony Allen ... really got me dancing' on the bonkers Blur single 'Music is my Radar' . And yes, twenty years on, in lonely locked down kitchens, Tony still made us dance with this delicious with the (equally), legendary Hugh Masekela.
I first encountered Masekela as support act on Paul Simon's 'Graceland' revue. The (then) exiled South African trumpeter was a powerful force and leading voice in the campaign against apartheid. If any one ever asks you what the best song about the need to free Nelson Mandela was, tell them that it's Masekela's 'Bring Him Back'
The knowledge that, in 2010, these two giants found time to record together is joyous in itself, but the fact that the session material was left unfinished for so long is troubling. It was only following Masekela's death in 2018 that Allen revisited their project and, with the blessing of Hugh's estate, found ways to finish the work. The result is a fabulous final triumph for both artists.
Both drummer and trumpeter share the limelight. After Allen's vocal introduction on jazz tinged opener 'Robbers, Thugs and Muggers (O'Galajani)' the two musicians weave effortlessly around each other. Instrumental 'Agbada Bougou' is funkier, whilst 'Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same)' is a sweet and sincere tribute to Fela.
But it's the lyrics to 'Jubalani (Rejoice, Here Comes Tony) that some up the glee at the heart of this record, they translate as:
Be happy, here is Tony,
Playing the drums.
He is hitting them hard,
And that is the message, even after the death of both of these players: listen, be happy and rejoice. In such a deeply troubling year, it's advice worth adhering to.
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Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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