Tony Allen

Lagos No Shaking

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Tony Allen, drummer for Fela Kuti's band Africa 70 and one of the innovators of Afro-beat, has spent much of his solo career exploring other genres, melding them with his distinct percussion style and showing its, and therefore his, diversity. In Lagos No Shaking, however, Allen returns -- literally and musically -- to where he first started. Recorded during ten days in June 2005 in Nigeria's largest city and Allen's hometown, the album is pure Afro-beat, drawing from Kuti's sax players Baba Ani and Show Boy and local singers Fatai Rolling Dollar and Yinka Davies, among others, to complete his band. And what results is a good -- even great at moments -- album, and while it might not take you back completely to the days of Kuti's dominance, it's a lot closer to it that any other contemporary recording. The two guitars, one on rhythm and one on choppy, tinny riffs, and a bass -- probably the actual funkiest instrument on the album -- work in and out of the polyrhythms that Allen and percussionist Yinka Ogunye create as the foundation of the songs. The horns -- sharp and brassy yet slightly muted, just like they should be -- fill in when necessary, generating movement while everything else stays relatively mellow and controlled. Not that Lagos No Shaking is a relaxed record: there's still plenty of punch and swing in the arrangements, but it doesn't have the biting sarcasm and provocativeness that Kuti's music had, focusing more on feeling and continuity instead. Still, it moves, and it moves well. The band is always tight, with thoughtful, interesting grooves, and when Rolling Dollar adds his world-weary vocals, it's almost impossible not to be transported to a hot, bustling Nigerian street. "Ise Nla," the album's opener, is fun and busy, while in "Aye Le," despite its rolling horns, there's a melancholy in the scratchy vocals as he sings about the hardships of life, and the percussion and voice version of the traditional "Awa Na Re" is stunningly profound in its simplicity, the two sounds working together to bring the best out of the others without compromising their own importance. There's a genuine warmth to everything in Lagos No Shaking that comes from Allen's dexterous hands, a sincerity, and soul that can't be faked or duplicated, proving very much why he is such an important figure in Afro-beat, and why his albums should absolutely be listened to.

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