Sep 19, 2018

Oghene Kologbo & World Squad - Music No Get Enemy

Oghene Kologbo, born in Warri (Nigeria) in 1958, has been an integral member of the legendary Fela Kuti's Africa 70 for the whole life of the band. This made his tight tenor guitar playing be a fundamental presence on all the masterpiece records that defined the sound of Afrobeat and brought him to play with people of the likes of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Lester Bowie, Paul McCartney, to name a few. After leaving Lagos for good with other members of Fela's band, Kologbo lived in Berlin from 1978 and since then toured with King Sunny Ade, Tony Allen and Brenda Fosse, among many others. He also founded a number of successful bands such as Roots Anabo and projects with Adé Bantu and Xavier Naidoo.


Sep 18, 2018

Zamrock: Mike Nyoni & Born Free - My Own Thing

Zambian guitarist and singer/songwriter Mike Nyoni’s music is Zamrock only because he came of age during the country’s rock revolution. His preferred wah-wah to fuzz guitar, James Brown to Jimi Hendrix. His 70s recordings – often politically charged, and ranging from despondent to exuberant – are amongst the funkiest on the African continent. He was also one of the only Zamrock musicians to see his music contemporaneously issued in Europe.

This anthology collates works from his three 70s LPs – his first, with the Born Free band, and his two solo albums Kawalala and I Can’t Understand You – and presents a singular Zambian musician on par with celebrated artists Rikki Ililonga, Keith Mlevhu and Paul Ngozi.

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The latest release in Now-Again's deluxe Reserve Edition series: the first ever anthology of Zamrock musician Mike Nyoni's funky, psych-rock and folkloric 1970s recordings spread over 2 CDs. Zambian guitarist and singer/songwriter Mike Nyoni's music is Zamrock only because he came of age during the country's rock revolution. His preferred wah-wah to fuzz guitar, James Brown to Jimi Hendrix. His 70s recordings -- often politically charged and ranging from despondent to exuberant -- are amongst the funkiest on the African continent. He was also one of the only Zamrock musicians to see his music contemporaneously issued in Europe. This anthology collates works from his three 70s LPs -- his first, with the Born Free band, and his two solo albums Kawalala and I Can't Understand You -- and presents a singular Zambian musician on par with celebrated artists Rikki Ililonga, Keith Mlevhu and Paul Ngozi. The package also features an extensive, photo-filled booklet contains an overview of the Zamrock scene and Nyoni's story.

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Mike Nyoni and Born Free - My Own Thing - Now-Again Reserve

This 2 disc on revered label Now-Again's Reserve subscription series continues the label's fascination with the Zamrock scene and sound. It's obviously a labour of love for label boss, Egon, and the care and attention lavished on the package serves to do justice to the music presented.

The context given by the accompanying literature gives a great insight to the geopolitical landscape of the era, Zambia's position on this landscape, and the journey between now and then for both the country and the artefacts of this scene.

Focusing on Mike Nyoni, this compilation distils three albums of music, both solo and with the Born Free band.

The sound is much tighter and cleaner than you'd expect based on the previous releases in the series. The guitar work is clear and melodic, utilising a blues/funk scratch rhythmic interplayed with a pickier lead to great effect across the first disc. A hermetic rhythm section drives the tunes with fierce power, and steady, rather than frenetic pace, the quoted influence of New Orleans funk easy to hear.

No washing fuzz or reverb, no wig out moments, just tight arrangements overlaid on strutting grooves. Nyoni's voice, whether singing in English or languages local to his enforcedly nomadic history, oozes sincerity, both on the personal and political songs. Given the tumultuous environment he wrote in, it's unsurprising that political themes resonated with such emotional depth.

Disc one ends with Chikwati Chata, where wah is applied to a recognisably Southern African guitar groove and lead melody, and drum pattern that will be familiar to anyone well versed in the last decade's worth of Afro-insert-genre-here re-issues and re-works.
Sounds like a pivotal point?

Disc 2 is much more Nyoni's work with (The) Born Free band. Essentially their one album, with some singles from prior to this, the production is less sharp, the band looser, and the arrangements more open to freestyle sections.

The influence of Hendrix is more obvious - the instrumental Mad Man being a prime example of trio playing more to sections than strict structures. This is aligned more closely to the inspiration that Woodstock era 'classic rock'' had on the Zamrock sound overall, and documents the beginnings of an artist finding his place within a movement, before the further self-definition outlined on the previous disc.

Overall this is a great collection of works presented with an educational package worthy of inclusion on any official syllabus that you could align the outcomes to. The socio-political climate of the country, the region, the post-colonial upheaval, a nation's leader trying to exert independence and support the rights of Africans within their own countries to self-rule, the conflicts and hardships this caused for their people, and how a generation of musicians interpreted and expressed this through a lens of optimistic post-hippie ideals. Rock transported from the civil rights US to an independence seeking African country, funk born of this and forged with peacenik ideas, this is a story worth telling, and worth your time hearing.

Sep 17, 2018

African Scream Contest Vol​.​2 - Benin 1963​-​1980 (by analogafrica)

A great compilation can open the gate to another world. Who knew that some of the most exciting Afro-funk records of all time were actually made in the small West African country of Benin? Once Analog Africa released the first African Scream Contest in 2008, the proof was there for all to hear, gut-busting yelps, lethally welldrilled horn sections and irresistibly insistent rhythms added up to a record that took you into its own space with the same electrifying sureness as any favourite blues or soul or funk or punk sampler you might care to mention.

Ten years on, intrepid crate-digger Samy Ben Redjeb unveils a new treasuretrove of Vodoun-inspired Afrobeat heavy funk crossover greatness. Right from the laceratingly raw guitar fanfare which kicks off Les Sympathics’ pile-driving opener, it’s clear that African Scream Contest II is going to be every bit as joyous a voyage of discovery as its predecessor. And just as you’re trying to get off the canvas after this one-punch knock out, an irresistible Afro-ska romp with a more than subliminal echo of the Batman theme puts you right back there. Ignace De Souza and the Melody Aces’ “Asaw Fofor" would’ve been a killer instrumental but once you’ve factored in the improbably-rich-to-the-point-of-being-Nat-King-Cole-influenced lead vocal, it’s a total revelation.

The screaming does not stop there, in fact it’s only just beginning. But the strange thing about African Scream Contest II’s celebration of unfettered Beninese creativity is that it would not have been possible without the assistance of a musician who had been trained by the Russian secret services to "search and destroy" enemies of the country’s (then) Marxist-Leninist president Mathieu Kerekou.

Already familiar to fans of the first African Scream Contest as a mainstay of ruthlessly disciplined military band Les Volcans de la Capitale, Lokonon André vanished in a cloud of dust at Ben Redjeb’s behest with a list of names and some petrol money, only to return a few days later having miraculously tracked down every single name he’d been given. The source of this Afrobeat bounty-hunter’s impressive people-finding skills - his training with the KGB - highlights the tension between encroaching authoritarian politics and fearless expressions of personal creative freedom which is the back-story of so much great African music of the 60s and 70s. Happily, in this instance, Lokonon was tracking the artists down to offer them licensing deals, rather than to arrest them.

Where some purveyors of vintage African sounds seem to be strip-mining the continent’s musical heritage with no less rapacious intent than the mining companies and colonial authorities who previously extracted its mineral wealth, Samy Ben Redjeb’s determination to track this amazing music to its human sources pays huge karmic dividends. 

Like every other Analog Africa release, African Scream Contest II is illuminated by meticulously researched text and effortlessly fashion-forward photography supplied by the artists themselves. Looming large - alongside Lokonon André - in the cast of biopic-worthy characters to emerge from this seductive tropical miasma is visionary space-nerd Bernard Dohounso, who laid the foundations for Benin’s vinyl predominance by importing and assembling the turntables that would play the products of his Bond villain-acronymed pressing plant SATEL, a factory that would revolutionise the music industry in the whole region.

The scene documented here couldn’t have been born anywhere else but in the Benin Republic , and the prime reason for that is Vodoun. It’s one of the world’s most complex religions, involving the worship of some 250 divinities, where each divinity has its own specific set of rhythms, and the bands introduced on the African Scream Contest series and other compilations from that country were no less diverse than that army of different Gods. At once restless pioneers and masters of the art of modernising their own folklore, the mystic sound of Vodoun was their prime source of inspiration.

One especially irascible Vodoun-adept was Antoine Dougbe, who styled himself “The devil’s prime minister” while turning ancestral rhythms into satanically alluring modern beats. As Orchestre Poly-Rythmo songwriter Pynasco has observed sagely, “Evil is not elsewhere, evil extends into the house”. And African Scream Contest II is a gloriously cinematic road-trip through an undiscovered realm of music lore whose familiarity is every bit as thrilling as its otherness.  


Five songs into African Scream Contest 2 comes one of the greatest recorded screams I’ve ever heard.The Picoby Band D’Abomey have just begun to play “Mé Adomina,” a track built around a loping surf groove and a lazy shaker that suggests almost anything besides ecstatic fits of joy. And then the singer gets free. He lets loose a blood-curdling howl that immediately redlines the song and that’s probably still resounding in the Beninese city where it was recorded. It is a wild thing, a shriek of joy, truly an entrant in the hall of fame of great rock ’n’ roll screams. Move over, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

It’s such a powerful shout that it shakes you into realizing that it’s the first of its kind on this two-LP compilation of afro-funk from Benin. The modest yelp that caps the North African lullaby of Elias Akadiri and Sunny Black’s Band’s “L’enfance” notwithstanding, the contested screams here aren’t being laid down by the musicians; it’s that the musicians are competing to make the listener scream.
And there’s a lot to scream about on African Scream Contest 2, the sequel to the legendary 2008 compilation of the same name put together by ace crate-digger Sam Ben Redjeb, the former flight attendant behind the Analog Africa label. Like its older brother, 2 makes the case for the vitality and richness of the music scene in Benin, a country whose musical legacy is greatly overshadowed by its Nigerian neighbors to the east and, to a lesser degree, by Ghana to the west.

The sounds here are immediately familiar, but reveal unexpected complexities: Les Sympathics de Porto Novo kick things off with a zamrock-worthy lead guitar before segueing into a loose afrobeat pattern, l’Orchsetre El Rego spangles a stutter-stepping afro-cuban jam with tinny synths and soul-jazz organ, the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou play chanting Ghanaian disco from deep pocket grooves while the vocals shift into wispy calls-and-responses that sound more like Tuareg vocal melodies than the sounds typically associated with West Africa. It suggests that Benin’s musicians soaked up everything that came near them and then some, a kind of accidental melting pot of sound.

Not that this versatility should be all that surprising; the incredible variety of African records that have been reissued since the original Scream Contest long ago illuminated the level of interplay among the various music scenes of the region for Western listeners. But it’s a welcome reminder that that interplay wasn’t only happening in the cultural hubs of Accra and Lagos, that the contemporary sounds of Mali and Morocco were just as mobile as their West African counterparts, and, more than anything, that style isn’t the sole property of power centers; this music was being made and adored for its own sake long before anyone outside of Benin — let alone the United States — had ears for it.

All of which gives African Scream Contest 2 a sense of power all its own, one that’s made manifest on the comp’s second track. Ignace de Souza and the Melody Aces set “Asaw Fofor” rolling on a rockabilly groove. de Souza himself leads the band with all the smoothness of Cab Calloway or Nat King Cole, and the sax, rather than stab along to the song’s rhythm, sits back and waits, finally taking a long, warm solo before bowing out for the rest of the song. That sense of confidence, the willingness to luxuriate in a groove or a tone or a feeling without hurrying to an ending, animates all of the music here, and, maybe more than anything else, makes me wonder what was happening in Togo, and The Gambia, and Gabon, and everywhere else in African flyover country.

Sep 11, 2018

Dur Dur Band - Volume 1, Volume 2 & Previously Unreleased Tracks (by analog africa)


ollowing Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb's dangerous trip to Mogadishu in November of 2016, the label presents Dur Dur of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 & Previously Unreleased Tracks. Dur-Dur, a young band from the '80s, climaxed as a band in April of 1987 with the release of Volume 2, their second album. The secrets to Dur-Dur's rapid success is inextricably linked to the vision of Isse Dahir, founder and keyboard player of the band. Isse's plan was to locate some of the most forward-thinking musicians of Mogadishu's buzzing scene and lure them into Dur-Dur. Ujeeri, the band's mercurial bass player was recruited from Somali jazz and drummer extraordinaire Handal previously played in Bakaka Band. Isse also added his two younger brothers to the line-up: Abukar Dahir Qassin was brought in to play lead guitar, and Ahmed Dahir Qassin was hired as a permanent sound engineer. On their first two albums, Volume 1 and Volume 2, three different singers traded lead-vocal duties back and forth. Shimaali, formerly of Bakaka Band, handled the Dhaanto songs, a Somalian rhythm from the northern part of the country that bears a striking resemblance to reggae; Sahra Dawo, a young female singer, had been recruited from Somalia's national orchestra, the Waaberi Band. Their third singer, the legendary Baastow, who had also been a vocalist with the Waaberi Band, and had been brought into Dur-Dur due to his deep knowledge of traditional Somali music, particularly Saar, a type of music intended to summon the spirits during religious rituals. From the very beginning, Dur-Dur's doctrine was the fusion of traditional Somali music with whatever rhythms would make people dance: funk, reggae, soul, disco, and new wave were mixed effortlessly with Banaadiri beats, Dhaanto, and spiritual Saar music. The concoction was explosive. It initially seemed that Dur-Dur's music had only been preserved as a series of murky tape dubs and YouTube videos, but after Samy arrived in Mogadishu he eventually got to the heart of Mogadishu's tape-copying network and ended up finding some of the band's fabled master tapes, long thought to have disappeared. This set reissues the band's first two albums -- the first installment in a three-part series dedicated to Dur-Dur Band -- representing the first fruit of Analog Africa's long labors to bring this extraordinary music to the wider world. Remastered from the best available audio sources. Includes two previously unreleased tracks; Accompanied by extensive liner notes, featuring interviews with original band members. 

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A fantastic, hypnotic and funky compilation from the Dur-Dur Band of Somalia! This triple LP reissue of the band's first two albums -the first installment in a three-part series dedicated to Dur-Dur Band- represents the first fruit of Analog Africa's long labours to bring this extraordinary music to the wider world. Remastered from the best available audio sources, these songs have never sounded better. Some thirty years after they first made such a splash in the Mogadishu scene, they have been freed from the wobble and tape-hiss of second and third generation cassette dubs, to reveal a glorious mix of polychromatic organs, nightclub-ready rhythms and hauntingly soulful vocals. In addition to two previously unreleased tracks, the music is accompanied by extensive liner notes, featuring interviews with original band members, documenting a forgotten chapter of Somalia's cultural history. Before the upheaval in the 1990s that turned Somalia into a warzone, Mogadishu, the white pearl of the Indian Ocean, had been one of the jewels of eastern Africa, a modern paradise of culture and commerce. In the music of the Dur-Dur band -now widely available outside of Somalia- we can still catch a fleeting glimpse of that golden age.

Mar 9, 2018

Tony Allen - The Source

Tony Allen: The Source – drummer's Blue Note debut reframes jazz in his own image

Classic Blue Note releases of the 1960s are filled with tracks that exoticise Africa, with names such as Afro Blue, Afrodisia, Ghana, Niger Mambo, Mr Kenyatta, The Man from Tanganyika and so on. Five decades later, Blue Note’s latest signing Tony Allen – the Nigerian drummer who powered Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat – is turning the tables and exoticising Blue Note’s hard-bop. The Source builds on Allen’s recent mini-LP of Art Blakey covers, but this time he and musical director Yann Jankielewicz invoke other jazz legends. Ewajo recalls Miles Davis’s angular modal jazz; On Fire is based around a Dizzy Gillespie-style chromatic trumpet riff; Cruising evokes Duke Ellington’s tone poems; Push and Pull sounds like an ecstatic New Orleans marching band. Each is set to one of Allen’s herky-jerky drum patterns and a restrictive ostinato bassline, but Allen’s Parisian band explore each theme in detail, with some garrulous, impressive solos from the likes of saxophonist Rémi Sciuto and trumpeter Nicolas Giraud.

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On this hybrid album of jazz and Afrobeat, long-time Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen makes the complex sound effortless. Rarely has percussive innovation sounded this downright satisfying.

Making your way through the formidable back catalog of long-time Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen—one that spans nearly half a century—is a revelatory, sometimes head-spinning journey. Allen’s work has traversed styles that on the surface have little in common beyond his unique rhythmic presence. In the past 10 years, for example, Allen has tackled everything from Afrobeat (on solo album Film of Life), dreamy French pop (with Charlotte Gainsbourg), downbeat indie rock (with The Good, the Bad & the Queen), and techno (with the Moritz Von Oswald Trio). This range is a testament to both Allen’s redoubtable drumming skills and his ability to rein in his percussive ego in support of the job at hand. 

Curiously, though, for a drummer who absorbed so much of his percussive knowledge from the work of Max Roach and Art Blakey, there was little place in Allen’s catalog for actual jazz until 2017. In May of this year, he released a tribute to Blakey and his Jazz Messengers on legendary jazz label Blue Note. That EP, which saw Allen filter Blakey’s hard swing through his own Afrobeat elasticity, serves as a brilliant precursor to The Source, with which it shares label, musicians, and influences. More importantly, The Source shares a fascinating musical hybridity with the Blakey EP. It’s a continuation of the cultural back-and-forth between African music and jazz that, decades ago, saw Blakey absorb West African musical influences on albums such as 1962’s The African Beat, and Allen mold the influence of jazz into the Afrobeat sound.

But The Source isn’t a jazz album, per se: Allen’s drums don’t typically swing so much as jitter and jiggle, with boundless syncopated rhythms that sound like a giant squid menacing a drum kit. Nor is it an Afrobeat album, with Allen’s band comprised largely of Parisian jazz musicians plus Cameroonian guitarist Indy Dibongue; Damon Albarn makes a low-key contribution to “Cool Cats.” Rather, this is an album that straddles jazz and Afrobeat in an elegant push-and-pull that sometimes edges closer to the former, sometimes wanders closer to the latter, and often sits joyfully in the middle.

On “Wolf Eats Wolf,” for example, a scratchy Afrobeat groove—all sputtering, percussive organ and ecstatic brass riffs—gives way to a wandering trombone solo. Album opener “Moody Boy” goes in the other direction: a scattered, jazzy introduction that sounds semi-improvised, dissolving into chicken-scratch guitar rhythm and tough funk drums. The hybrid tone of the band is hugely important to this mix, with the Afrobeat licks of Dibongue’s choppy guitar style balanced by the more classically jazz texture of Mathias Allamane’s double bass.

Freed from the role of support act, Allen is the unequivocal star of The Source, wallowing in the wonderful freedom of rhythmic expression. His unique drumming style rarely resorts to repetition as it alternately responds to and drives changes in the music. The result is a percussive masterclass, from the nervous energy of “Bad Roads,” where Allen’s mongrel rhythm puts a jazz beat onto an Afrobeat motif, to his deceptively complex skills on “Tony’s Blues.” On the latter, a drum pattern that initially appears out of joint pulls into glorious rhythmic focus with the introduction of the other musicians, who play in careful staccato dabs. In this mix, Allamane proves vital, his melodic bass riffs anchoring a musical blend that at times—as on the aptly named “Push and Pull”—threaten to float off into the ether. The one time Allamane is set free, his solo on “Cruising” is a joy, a rock solid bassline loosening into elastic bent notes, like a plastic packet slowly melting on a fire.

What saves The Source from being an album uniquely for drum nerds is the songwriting. The 11 tracks here—all written by Allen with saxophonist and long-time collaborator Yann Jankielewicz—may understandably not live up to jazz standards like “Moanin’” and “A Night in Tunisia” that appear on A Tribute to Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. But there are some fine musical motifs, including a delightfully itinerant chord sequence and jump-cut riff on “Push and Pull,” the moody, merry-go-round melody on “Tony’s Blues,” and a playfully menacing riff that emerges four-and-a-half minutes into “On Fire.”

Perhaps the greatest attribute of this album, though, is how it makes the complex sound effortless. The Source may draw on Afrobeat and jazz to create something intricate and expansive, but the results are never contrived or academic. In this, The Source mirrors the musical skills of Allen himself, a man who tackles rhythmic mazes like a walk in the park, making this release both a fine addition to his catalog and a load of genre-bending fun. Rarely has percussive innovation sounded this downright satisfying.

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Jazz drummer Tony Allen, innovator of Afrobeat music with Fela Kuti’s band in the late 60s and 70s, returns to center stage with a new album. “The Source” is an energetic celebration of the history of jazz and african music, led by Allen’s unparalleled drumwork. Described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived,” Allen lays down an album that delights at every turn with polished melodies and and exciting changes. It’ll bring you out of your seat.

Now based in Paris, Nigerian-born Allen has played on a seemingly endless stream of recordings. “The Source” is his debut LP for the legendary jazz record label Blue Note Records, following a tribute EP to Art Blakey, and he packs as much power behind the kit as ever. Retracing his roots to the album’s namesake, “The Source,” Allen documents the sounds of jazz far and wide, implementing a wide range of styles into his sound. No one in the jazz world seems better suited for this than Allen, the reigning king of Afrobeat influence.

Album opener “Moody Boy” invites us on Allen’s voyage into the past. In an extended intro of rolling piano and horn flourishes, the band seems to be catapulting us into its trip through time, back to the “The Source.” A minute and half in we enter the groove and don’t look back. This is not the future. This is the past arriving with all its might.

Standout track “Wolf Eat Wolf” summons the classic sound of Fela Kuti and Africa ‘70 back to the table, with circulating guitar lines and funky organ that drive alongside Allen’s absolutely infectious drumming patterns. Allen finds hidden lines of rhythm and complements horn melodies effortlessly, practicing both restraint and forceful playing in equal measure. By the song’s end the horn section is in full force, discovering New Orleans-style arrangements that feel like pure celebration.

“The Source” was recorded old school too – purely on analog gear from the studio to cutting the record. This not only affects the album’s sound but also its feel too. The approach of Allen and his impressive roster of jazz cats hearkens back to the glory days of jazz, before synths and other digital gear made their mark on the scene. With fifty years of experience behind him, Allen makes jazz cool and bravado look easy, lounging on an album cover that looks like it could’ve been made in the 60s.

“Cool Cats” comes draped in ethereal piano and drives forward in a celebration of afrofunk vibes. Allen and his band are experts at blending together the influences of jazz and Africana into a spectacular package, the sound spiraling together into a potent brew of vintage cool jazz and Nigerian groove. 

It’s a joy to listen to, especially for those who want a little taste of the classic mid-century jazz sound seen through an African lens.

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Tony Allen’s debut release for Blue Note, released just a couple months ago, paid tribute to legendary jazz drummer Art Blakey. And while it didn’t necessarily reveal entirely unforeseen depths in the music of either artist, it provided a much-needed bridge between the sounds of Allen’s Afrobeat past and his contemporary jazz future. Allen, the former drummer for Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 and one of the greatest drummers of all time, had up to this point never been all that closely associated with the sounds of hard bop, and by paying tribute to Blakey (who put the hard in hard bop) he provided a glimpse at a side of his musical identity that, to many listeners, hadn’t been as fully explored.
The Source, Allen’s full-length debut for Blue Note, is a step back from jazz tradition, and admirably so. While Allen’s latest full-length is by all means a jazz album, it’s one that’s firmly rooted in his own background as a pioneer of Nigerian funk. These songs groove hard, built upon the syncopated yet deeply funky rhythms that Allen built his career on more than 40 years ago, and they haven’t lost any of their punch. What its preceding EP revealed in terms of influence and background, The Source is about what Allen continues to build on that, creating a more exploratory fusion than leaning in any one expected direction.

Allen’s style is recognizable on The Source, but at no point is he ever replicating the past. The title The Source is intended as a nod to the various jazz influences that have gone into shaping his own personal playing style and growth as a musician, with the opening pair of tracks, “Moody Boy” and “Bad Roads,” incorporating elements of the long-running jazz label’s 75-year past. But in a way, The Source also seems to point back toward Allen as an influential figure on his own. A lot of it feels like compositions only he could have had a hand in, like the mixture of avant garde jazz and Afrobeat pulse in “Cruising,” or the low-key grooves of “On Fire.” Yet as strong as Allen is as both backbone and bandleader of the ensemble featured here, the players are every bit as essential to the character of these recordings, from the nimble bass walk of Mathias Allamane to the dual sax chorus of Rémi Sciuto and Jean-Jacques Elangue, who offer some brief glimpses of Kuti in their bold leads.

As The Source progresses, it delves deeper into a more recognizable Afrobeat sound almost as if to create a parallel between Allen’s own discoveries as they became infused into his own creations. “Tony’s Blues” is a kind of midway point between these two poles, while “Wolf Eats Wolf” is proper Africa 70-style rhythmic vamp. And “Cool Cats” finds Allen incorporating an unexpected extra element into one of his most energetic and urgent pieces; amid the brash display of horns and low-end strut, Damon Albarn (with whom Allen collaborated on The Good, The Bad & The Queen) lends some eerie touches of piano for atmosphere. As much as The Source is about the music that shaped who Tony Allen is as a musician, its compositions are about how Allen is helping to shape the future of jazz in his own image.


Mar 8, 2018

Femi Kuti - One People One World


In the five years between Femi Kuti's Grammy-nominated No Place for My Dream and One People One World, he's been a busy man. He regularly performs at The Shrine, the performance space he built as a memorial to his late father Fela Kuti, he's a touring musician, and he also serves as a traveling ambassador for Amnesty International. (He also found time in 2017 to break the Guinness world record for the longest-held single note on a saxophone -- 51 minutes and 35 seconds.)

One People One World is Kuti's tenth album with his longstanding band Positive Force and its musical director and guitarist Opeyemi Awomolo. Unlike the righteous anger that inspired almost all of his previous recordings, One People One World is by contrast more affirmative; it's celebratory without sacrificing its activism. While Afrobeat is at the core of these 12 songs, Kuti picks up on the mosaic he began weaving on No Place for My Dream by incorporating the harmonies and rhythms of reggae, highlife, soul, R&B, hip-hop, and other global sounds into its mix, adding depth and complexity without sacrificing immediacy and accessibility. The title-track single commences with driving Afrobeat horns, but the rest of the band erupts into calypso and highlife celebration as Kuti and his backing singers deny racism, greed, and hatred the power to conquer the earth. With an infectious, swinging organ, "Africa Will Be Great Again" is a protest jam that details the corruption and greed that hold her back as a continent, but its pulsing wave of salsa, soca, and highlife makes it an irresistible anthem as Kuti posits the reclamation of the continent as the cradle of civilization and the heartbeat of the world. The D'Angelo-esque soul in "It's Best to Live on the Good Side" is carried by slinky, bubbling basslines, vamping R&B guitars, and a swirling organ. When the horns enter, thunder cracks as circular drumming and percussion thread in Afro-Cuban (Yoruban) rhythms. Second single "Na Their Way Be That" opens with cooking reggae before Femi's soulful saxophone solo and an Afrobeat chant cut in from the margin. "Evil People" is stomping, funky R&B, fueled by J.B.'s-style horns, layers of breakbeat drums, chunky wah-wah guitar, and congas. Immediately following is "Equal Opportunity," where Kuti and his backing chorus evoke the celebratory vibe of Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up," and add jazzy Rhodes piano and Afrobeat horns and rhythms. Even straight-up Afro-funk jams like "Dem Militarize Democracy" open to embrace driving son rhythms, popping R&B basslines, and souled-out vocal and guitar choruses. The dubwise soul of closer "The Way Our Lives Go" is the set's most poetic and inspiring track. Kuti and Positive Force don't let up at all during One People One World. Impeccably sequenced, it runs from strength to strength, dazzling with expansive sonic textures, killer arrangements, and a musical genre palette that exists seemingly without boundaries. As a recording artist, Kuti has been reliably consistent, but this date is his masterpiece. 

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Femi Kuti is his own man.
By now, that shouldn't be a controversial statement - One People One World is Kuti's seventh studio album since his eponymous debut in 1995 - but when you're born into a musical lineage as distinguished as the Kuti family, it's easy for audiences to try and compare family members.
Certainly, there are similarities between Kuti's newest work and those of his father, Fela. Overt social themes take precedence as Kuti takes on corruption, militarization, and all things unsavory, but he sounds less like the voice of the next revolution and more in tune with his peaceful side on largely mellow, polished tracks that are full of compassion rather than fighting spirit. Warm and rhythmic tracks like"Africa Will Be Great Again", "Best to Live on the Good Side", and "One People One World" are full of positivity and put forward a hopeful vision of worldwide unity.
Each track has brassy and bright traces of classic Afrobeat, but Kuti's softer messages are met with soul and reggae influences that better suit the peace, love, and understanding that UNICEF spokesperson, children's rights activist, and HIV/AIDS education advocate Kuti means to convey.
That isn't to say that Kuti doesn't have his more trenchant moments of social critique. In "How Many", he demands answers to relentlessly driving beats: "How many songs must we sing / Before them hear the suffering of the people? / How many innocent lives must be lost / Before them know say war na evil?" His questions are pertinent ones, blasting climate change deniers and politicians who ignore poverty even when those afflicted rise up and try to fight it. On "Evil People", Kuti is utterly impassioned, singing straight from the heart about atrocities like ritual killings, kidnapping, and the destructive consequences of greed for both power and money.
Some songs are more specific; "Dem Don Come Again" directly attacks the hypocrisy of those who kill in the name of religion. Kuti follows it directly with "Dem Militarize Democracy", which specifically namechecks past and present presidents and other high-ranking members of the Nigerian government who have come from military backgrounds and brought shows of force to their roles as heads of state.
At the very end of the album, Kuti pours his whole heart into "The Way Our Lives Go", a pensive reflection on the nature of human life in relation to cycles of society and the world as a whole. His outlook, in spite of all the suffering he laments, is an optimistic one. "It's just a matter of time," he sings, "the people will rise and shine / One day the people will rise / And say to the suffering goodbye."
To come into One People One World with preconceptions of hot, pounding Afrobeat is to set oneself up for disappointment. To listen with an open mind is the key to appreciating Femi Kuti's unique music, not confined to a genre or locked in rigid ideas of stylistic tradition. One People One World is an album made to urge forward a nationwide - perhaps ultimately worldwide - healing process, and while it shines a light outward, it also reveals more about Kuti than perhaps any of his previous albums. His heart is on his sleeve and in his music, and the attention his voice commands is well-deserved. 

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The frustrations that appear throughout Femi Kuti’s One People One World will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in international news. The stories of despair that generally reach the UK from Kuti’s Nigeria are all present here but they appear alongside a call for resistance. He argues that Nigeria has been held back from its true potential by corrupt politicians and bad governance, as he and his father Fela Kuti have argued on many previous albums, and the stories of corruption and deprivation here are balanced with a message of hope. One day, the people of Africa will rise up against their rulers and run their countries for the people.

It’s a message that could be concerning in these sensitively populist times; the album’s opening song title ‘Africa Will Be Great Again’ is likely to suggest negative connotation for many listeners. But Kuti’s rhetoric is anti-authoritarian and optimistic. In fact, this album is so breezy and energetic that you might not notice the politics in it at all.

The music is a mixture of funk, Afrobeat, and soul; influences that Kuti has soaked up over 40 years of performing. It’s a style that will be familiar to anyone who’s followed his work in the past, or the work of other Afrobeat artists in general, but he does find little pockets of variation on this album. ‘Na Their Way Be That’ plays with a loose groove, led by a twisting, menacing saxophone riff, while ‘Equal Opportunity’ amps up the tempo to create a more South American rhythm.

However, the album mostly follows a very similar style; Kuti sings verses that read like political slogans, which he then punctuates with powerful blasts of horns. It’s an entertaining formula but also one that leaves the album feeling a little conservative. It feels unfair to compare Femi Kuti’s work to the music of his father but doing so sheds light on the problems with One People One World. Femi is a talented musician and band leader but he lacks the scathing wit and original turns-of-phrase of his father’s best songs, in comparison his lyrics can feel a little one note.

Take for example the lyrics of an album highlight ‘Africa Will Be Great Again’, where Kuti reels off a list of structural and economic problems and calls for investment in infrastructure and political reforms. He makes a fair argument but comes off sounding like a politician. Compared to the more abstract lyrics of his father’s ‘Zombie’ and ‘Water Get No Enemy’, it is uninspiringly straight-faced. It’s easy to support Femi Kuti’s message on One People One World but also wish that he’d delivered it in a more creative way.

The highlights on the album mostly come from the musical arrangements. ‘Best To Live on the Good Side’ has the album’s most invigorating horn arrangement, which rises and falls like Hollywood swing, and ‘Evil People’ brings out Kuti’s best vocal performance with a near-hysterical wail. Unfortunately, too much of One People One World meanders without enough memorable hooks or musical variety. It may have been better if Kuti had included fewer songs and let some tracks stretch past the 5/6 minute marks, allowing them to move into stranger territory.

Femi Kuti is still an entertaining performer and One People One World is almost tailor-made for live shows with its sharp performances and joyful tone. But listening to it on its own is a much less satisfying experience. These songs are too similar in tone and message, and unfortunately that makes for an undynamic album. The problem can be seen on the album’s closing track ‘The Way Our Lives Go (Rise and Shine)’ when Kuti sings that the glorious revolution of the people will come, it’s just a matter of time. But if Kuti is still singing about the same problems he saw decades ago, in the same style, and with the same intensity, the message falls flat. How are we to believe that this time it will come true? 

Dec 20, 2017

Femi Kuti Announces New Album "One People One World"

Femi Kuti, the son of pioneering Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, today announces his 10th album, One People One World, will be released Feb. 23 via Knitting Factory Records. And to kick things off, he reveals the title track from the forthcoming album, the bombastic and upbeat “One People One World,” which can be heard below.

The song, with its call to set aside differences and work towards a more peaceful world, is one that closely follows his own vocation as an activist; Kuti serves as a spokesperson for UNICEF advocating for children’s rights, and is a promoter of HIV/AIDS prevention and education. He and his band, Positive Force, recorded much of the album in Lagos.

"I hope this album brings joy, love, equal opportunity, justice, peace, understanding and togetherness to the world,” he told Billboard in an email.