Long live afrobeat!

Last night I took some time off from the rather intense note-taking and -organizing I’ve been doing and went out to have a look about on at the ongoing Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Specifically, I went to a Tony Allen concert. Allen is a legendary Nigerian drummer, co-originator of the entire afrobeat genre, and described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.”

Last year I had been to a great Femi Kuti concert at the Roskilde Festival, and now I had a chance to listen to Femi’s father Fela Kuti’s main collaborator live, playing a wonderfully jazzy set in Copenhagen.

Tony Allen is an old man now, at 66. But he plays so very tightly and effortlessly it is a joy to hear. The whole band plays around the drum beat to create the most organic sound I’ve heard. It is difficult to distinguish the individual instruments (apart from the horns obviously) from that swinging whole which sounds seems like one big pulsating instrument. Then, when one of the musicians play a solo, you realise how that one part of the rhythm has been supporting the rest in the same way that they are supporting its creative experimentation now.

I got a mental image of fireworks, slowly onfolding, reenveloping upon itself and swaying softly against the night sky. Or perhaps like the flowers of a coral reef opening and closing but swaying in unison.

And at the centre of it all, behind his drumkit, would be this little man, sitting there, smiling at it all. And once the song ended, he would simply say, “Yeah”. Not smugly, but knowingly. His meltingly rusty warm voice displaying an affection for the music that said it all.

Finishing up the second set, Allen looked out at the audience and said “We’ finishing now, can’t play all night.”

The crowd applauded in attempt to make him play more.

He replied “I ain’t young no mo’, y’know! What do you want me to do? Live endlessly?”

The crowd caught it and shouted “Endlessly! Endlessly”

He smiled sagely back at them. “Heh, endlessly. One more song for tonight…”

But in the end, they ended up coming back out for a two-song encore. With this kind of music, experiencing it live is so much more enriching than merely listening to the music on your home stereo, but if you’re curious you can find both Tony Allen’s music and a lot of other afrobeat music around the Intarweb.

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