Film of Life
If you already know Tony Allen’s work – as master African drummer behind Fela Kuti, co-creator of Afrobeat, then you won’t be surprised to know that he’s still soldiering on and, at 74, making music as good as anything he’s offered in the past.
But if you’ve heard the name and wondered where and whether to get on board then Film of Life, Allen’s 10th solo place, is a perfectly fine jumping-on point. It rolls along like a musical autobiography, an audio documentary, those sinewy bass lines and that elasticated groove that Allen tests and teases but never stretches beyond breaking point.
His cool, calm mumble of a voice is a highlight on the opening brace and then we get some great-groove instrumentals too. Ewa is a wonderful piece of dirty funk, huge hypnotic drum sound filling the tune with congas enhancing the feel and spacey keyboards propelling the tune. It’s as good as anything Allen has ever done. But then so is the following Afo Kunfu Beat which even features a drum solo – something Allen never needs to do. But yes, of course, he nails it.
Damon Albarn, one of Allen’s championing friends from recent years, features on a couple of songs. The co-written ballad, Go Back, which Albarn sings (and plays keys on) is as good as anything the pair have done across their other musical ventures. In fact it feels like where the Rocket Juice and The Moon band (with Flea) might have got to if they’d added songs to their act rather than relying only on groovy little filler-snippets.
The funk feel increases on Ire Omo which features vocalists Adunni and Nefretiti – and we’re deep in Afrobeat territory for it and the follow-up instrumental coda, African Man.
Manu Dibango adds his slippery saxophone lines to the cool charm of Mojo but the star of the show at every turn is Tony Allen. Simply the greatest. And sounding, miraculously, like he’s never aged and never will. His playing so proud and vital and wonderful.