jazz

Tony Allen

Tony Allen  @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

09.02.18

Village Underground (East) 

Tony Allen and Band   @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Matt Prev   

Tony Allen and Band 

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Matt Prev

 

Getting off the bus in East London proved to be a freezing cold endeavour. I felt grateful my evening was consisting of standing inside a potentially very hot protected building. I made my way to the Village Underground. 

What is Afrobeat? 

It’s hard to think of genres of music originated from Africa that are well known to the average Westerner much outside of the ‘world music’ boundaries. One stands rather clear however, having been popularised and developed in the late 1970’s, ‘afrobeat’ managed to break through borders and become a well known genre globally outside of it’s insemination in Africa. 

Fela Kuti pioneered afrobeat, having studied music in England and in Africa, he wanted to distinguish the music making from Nigeria where he was from, the beautiful funky soul full music they were making, and point out it’s differences to what was happening in the West at the time, such as the soul music of James Brown.

Mixing jazz and funk with elements of Western African musical styles such as jùjú and highlife, afrobeat really focuses on complex jazz rhythms, over African percussions and famously stunningly long musical interludes showcasing stunning improvisational solo’s from an array of instruments. Noticeable, one would think somewhat immediately off the saxophone as that was Fela Kuti’s primary instrument, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist. 

Tony Allen

Reasons why it is ok to say that Tony Allen is a living legend, a pioneer of music, and a fundamental character in the musical make-up of North West Africa: Tony Allen played on the first 35 studio albums that Fela Kuti and the subsequent ‘Africa 70’ albums produced, therefore Tony Allen played a fundamental and imperative role in shaping the genre of afrobeat. Known globally as if not THE best (Damon Albarn and Brian Eno have said many times he is) drummer on Earth, Tony Allen is said to be able to play different time signatures on each limb. Tony Allen played such complex cross-rythms on Fela Kuti’s recordings that when it came to gigging, no other drummer could replace Tony. They could simple only replicate the music if Tony Allen himself was there. 

Finally it isn’t that Tony Allen played drums FOR Fela Kuti who in turn innovated the genre of afrobeat. The innovation also imperatively lies with Tony Allens rhythms: the propulsive polyrhythms new beats, inspired by the fusion of African musicality, such as the Yoruba religious musical conventions that have been borrowed and adapted, morphed even by Tony. Allen then shaped these new musicalities, moulding a new groove to match what Fela Kuti was creating with his band the Africa 70’, AKA the foundations of a new genre: afrobeat. Therefore Tony Allen surely is one of the only percussionists alive to lay claim to the innovation of an entire rhythm, beat and way of playing the drums that lent itself to the invention of afrobeat as a global, as well as locally, loved genre. 

Furthermore, not only has Tony Allen played on over 35 studio albums with Fela Kuti, he has created 17 personal solo studio albums, a further seven collaborative albums, and featured on endless albums as guest drummer. All together, Tony Allen has featured in one way or another on over seventy five studio albums, now seventy eight years old, Tony has an album for nearly every year of his life. His later material revisiting his earlier jazz routes. ‘The Source’ being his latest release (2017) is  a debut full-length album for Blue Note Records. Claiming that freedom is in full flow, Tony Allen thinks that this new album is his best work as a drummer, free of all limitations, it truly explores the freedom of what it means to be Tony Allen behind a drum kit. 

The Village Underground

The venue as always is a pleasure to go to, set in an old underground station, the bar tucks neatly under an archway, with the cloak room and toilets there immediately as you enter. Then to your left is the large hall with double high arched ceilings, the walls red brick, and the stage at the far end of the arch. The stage was set with a cross of large lights that looked like old airplane fans. In the middle of the stage there stood loud and proud the drum kit of Tony Allen, all spot lights central around this. 

I got myself a drink from the somewhat reasonably priced bar, and waited the evening ahead. The DJ was playing a mix of African high life and disco, all very funky movable songs. The audience filled the floor with casual dancing. 

Around 10pm, the lights went down and the show started. Joining Tony Allen on the stage was a sax player, trumpet, piano (set up with a rowland keys and a full grande piano, an electric guitarists and a stand up bass. Lastly Tony Allen himself comes out looking fresh faced, and energetically ready. He took up spot on the drums and we were away. 

Tony Allen and Band   @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen and Band 

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

The rest of the evening consisted of a jazz enthralled journey. Each piece jamming out for long periods of time, each embezzled with jazz solos on the sax and solos on the trumpet, and sometimes solo’s from both in sync. Furthermore, the pianist was a stunner to watch, playing the grande piano with his left hand, keeping the cyclical melodic lines going, whilst simultaneously his right hand solo’s on the keyboard. The stand up bass had solos that were beautiful, funky and encapsulating, as well as the guitarist. Each musician played perfectly, with crips, clear notes, stabbing stops and harmonious harmonies. The music was really of the highest quality. 

The framing for Tony Allens set was perfect, the lighting of the stage set the scene that something special was taking place, with Tony Allen rightfully placed as the central piece in the middle fo the stage, most spot lights highlighting his drumming throughout. Watching Tony Allen drum so freely, so easily and with such complexity was a real treat to any jazz fan. 

The audience swayed along to the jazz the whole evening long. Unable to control themselves when a suggested end fo the show came, the audience demands more more more tunes, and Tony Allen and band accept the offer. Tony Allen, in his 70’s is know for his ferocious playing of the drums, a tiring discipline, only Tony Allen who played with Fela, famous for playing all night long, or for at least 6 hours at a time, can play for hours and hours impeccably. He says he finds it hard to Finnish after only two hours. 

However in the two hours of Tony Allen played drums for myself and a room full of adoring fans in the Village Underground Allen managed to display, and prove why his legacy stands so highly regarded in the world of music. 

For many I think the evening seemed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I certainly felt honoured to have witnessed Tony Allen drumming, the greatest drummer alive, some might say. 

 

Tony Allen  @ Village Underground 09.02.18   Photo by Sophie Darling 

Tony Allen

@ Village Underground 09.02.18 

Photo by Sophie Darling 

A Celebration of Fela Kuti with Bukky Leo & Black Egypt

BukkyLeoContent

27.02.17 

Jazz Cafe, London 

 

When buying my ticket previous to this event, the Jazz Cafe website stated: ‘It is very difficult to put into words the significance and stature of an individual like Fela Kuti’, I was dubious as to, if at all,  how well it could be done. Bukky Leo however promised to bring this monumental music to life with the help of the all-star ‘Black Egypt’. 

     Having been originally picked up playing saxophone on the streets of Lagos, by drummer legend Tony Allen. Bukky Leo became renowned in the acid jazz scene, playing globally, Lagos to London becoming undoubtedly one of the most important afrobeat musicians alive. Bukky Leo, is a rare musician that has had the honour of playing in ‘Africa 70’ with afrobeat innovator Feta Kuti himself.

    Upon arrival, the Jazz Cafe had set an afro-aesthetic mood, with soft dim lights of yellows and reds. The Dj from ‘Open The Gate’s' Fenomeno started the evening with some easy swaying roots reggae, gradually adding more afro-beats/jazz tunes as the venue packed out. The varying demographic in the audience all looked intent and ready for the night ahead, most of us having missed out on the original date two weeks previous, of which quickly sold out, prompting the addition of a new date.

    With nearly each member of the audience in motion, the band took to the stage, and jumped head first into their set, stopping only after the second song to introduce the stage. Each member receiving a warm welcome, some familiar faces also, such as Kishon Khan on keys, renowned British jazz pianist, composer, arranger and producer. Kishon Khan the previous week had given a seminar in ‘The School of Oriental and African studies’, SOAS, on the rhythmic and melodic foundations of Cuban music, whilst also promoting his position in the Black Egypts. Mark Crown on trumpet has also been seen playing with a variety of pop and reggae artists, most recently touring with rudimental. 

    The band played full length songs in tribute to Fela Kuti among some originals from Bukky and the Black Egypts. The energy emanating from the performance clearly engulfed the entire room that seemed almost hypnotised into a dance trance by the music on stage. A personal highlight was Bukky Leo’s rendition of ‘Shuffering and Shmiling’ by Fela. Playing the piece for over nine minutes for me it became nostalgic of every Fela album I’v spent hours listening too. Bukky Leo and the Black Egypts harnessed the magic and talent created by Flea Kuti and managed to bring that magic to the people in the Jazz Cafe that Sunday night. 

    Bukky and the Black Egypts played numerous Fela pieces and embellished the whole set with similarly complex and lengthy solos, of which truly gave the brass section of the band their time to shine. With Trevor Edwards on trombone, Mark Crown on the trumpet and of corse Bukky Leo on saxophone, the audience was truly felt elevated to original days of Fela and afrobeat, therefore making the celebration of Kuti a tremendous success. The solos from each member brought the jazz, with the on going groove being carried throughout by Richard Tunde Baker on percussion, Saleem Rahmaan on drums, Phill Dawson on Electric Guitar, and Yeukai CheMin and others on the distinctive chanting backing vocals so easily recognisable with afrobeat and Fela Kuti. 

     The endless toe tapping groove came to an end, the band rapped up and finished their set. The enormity of the songs they played that evening echoed around the Jazz Cafe as people applauded until every member had left the stage. Bukky Leo being the first musician I had personally seen that had played in the past with Fela I left the venue feeling honoured and elated.

     The most recent collaboration of Bukky Leo and the Black Egypts is their album released in 2012 entitled ‘Anarchy’, one can also refer to the multitudes of work that Fela Kuti left in the world for more afrobeat. Furthermore don’t hesitate to look up the catalogues of each player within the band, as together they cover a multitude of amazing work and fabulous music.