In this crazy hyperbolic rock/pop/funk/groove/Afrobeat world we call home, the label legend is oft all too easily applied to persons not deserving of the title. Tony Allen may not be a household name to yer average Joe but he is a man that is truly worthy of that title. He was the percussive lynchpin of Fela Kuti’s highly regarded and hugely influential Africa 70 band, he’s been described by none other than Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer that’s ever lived” and, of late, he’s been Damon Alburn’s drummer of choice for the majority of his non-Blur musical side projects. His influence can be heard all over the shop and the latest Indie bright young things such as the Foals and Djangos are indebted to the Afrobeat sound created by Messer’s Kuti and Allen.
Tony graced us with a visit when he sat in with the Drogheda-based Colours Afrobeat Foundation in the Sugar Club. The gig was part of the African Day celebrations and Dublin Soul Festival weekender. In recent years Tony’s gigged on these shores a fair bit, playing with several of Mr Alburn’s musical venture; The Good The Bad and The Queen, Gorillaz and Rocket Juice and the Moon so this was a not to missed opportunity to catch him playing in the genre in which he’d cut his teeth and earned his reputation.
By the time the 13 strong Colours Afrobeat Foundation take to the stage, the nicely full Sugar Club patrons have been warmed up by some choice rare grooves laid down by the DJ and there are a lot of itchy feet out there waiting to get their dance on. The band play two numbers before Tony’s introduced and, after he’d assumed his position behind his kit, I caught more than one of his new band mates stealing glances over to stage right, checking out the elder statesman of the genre they ply their musical trade in.
Whilst Tony was definitely a major draw his presence didn’t overshadow or detract from CAFs’ show. After the initial buzz and excitement generated by Tony’s entrance simmered down, CAF’s frontman, ‘Boye Akerele, got right back down to business and continued to coax the audience and band into a heady state of boogie-out-bliss. CAFs’ are a culturally diverse collective and each member brings a little bit of their own ethnicity to the overall sound of the Foundation. Cuban congas meld with Santana-esque guitar licks, ‘Boye’s vocals trade call and responses with two Nubian Princesses on backing vocals, keys and bass keep it grounded and one hell of a 4 strong sharp horn section punctuate the polyrhymic stew. Afrobeat, Hi Life, Jazz and Funk all rolled up into one infectious groove. And sitting under it all, holding the beats together, the venerable Mr Allen plays, seeming effortlessly, keeping it both loose and tight, driving it forward and showing restraint.
‘Boye introduced him as ‘the father’ and ‘the tree’ from which the Afrobeat comes from. He told us that ‘if Fela was the Afro then Tony was the Beat’ and I don’t think any of the 350+ Afro-nauts who came to groove with the man would disagree. Hats off to Choice Cuts and Dublin City Soul Festival for bringing this collaboration together for us. And an additional doff of the cap to Colours Afrobeat Foundation – I’ll be checking you out again.