Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tony Allen's Black Voices

On the heels of that Antibalas review, here's another Afrobeat album. Tony Allen was Fela Kuti's drummer in Africa 70, making the man the most important Afrobeat drummer EVER, and was to Fela what Clyde "Funky Drummer" Stubblefield was to James Brown. Allen's been releasing his own solo material since leaving Fela's fold, disappeared for about a decade in the 80s, and resurfacing in the late 90s with Black Voices.

Black Voices really isn't an album in itself. It's comprised of only four original compositions, with remixes of each by Doctor L filling out the rest of the hour. Allen explores the outer realms of Afrobeat and tries to update the sound with dub inflections and electronic elements, to varying degrees of success.

The mixture of dub and afrobeat sounds good on paper but really works out as an oil/water mixture - afrobeat's much to energetic to be able to absorb the lackadaisical dub. What results, then, is a spaced-out version of Afrobeat that can't muster enough energy, which is disappointing, seeing as how Afrobeat's manic energy is really all that gets it through its typical 8 to 9 minute song lengths (I think Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti's "2000 Black" clocked in at 20 minutes).

It's the remixes, then, that saves Allen. The standout is the Psychejuju mix of "Ariya" takes the boring original, amps up the drums, throws in your typical Afrobeat chants, and keeps it entertaining throughout. Without such touches, there's just not enough elsewhere to keep one's attention. It was a noble attempt, and still more interesting than Antibalas, but Black Voices is an average product from a former master.

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