Pritzker Pavilion; Mon 14
A steady stream of reissues and the Broadway musical FELA! have revived Afrobeat, the groove-heavy confluence of jazz, R&B and Nigerian highlife pioneered by outspoken Nigerian firebrand Fela Kuti. His sons Femi and Seun have admirably served as unofficial ambassadors for the genre since Fela’s passing 13 years ago, regularly burning up the international circuit. Yet stateside visits aren’t nearly as common for the architect of the genre, Tony Allen.
A prolific force in the studio, the 69-year-old musician best known as Fela’s drummer has been diversifying his artistic stock for years, boasting a musically voracious appetite that’s seen him hobnob with everyone from King Sunny Adé to Damon Albarn. The 1999 LP Black Voices was a high-water mark, brilliantly capturing the intersection of Afrobeat and dub. The latest from the Lagos native and Paris transplant, Secret Agent, finds him perfecting that pan-global give-and-take.
An Afrocentric political streak courses through Allen’s solo albums just as it does those of Femi and Seun. But rather than fall into the former’s crossover fusion or the traditionalist mold honored by the latter, Allen continues to push and prod the boundaries of the genre with electronic and pop flourishes. Under it all lies the utterly funky trot back-and-forth between the snare and kick that’s Allen’s calling card. That classic backbeat is etched into his DNA. Fela may forever be the public face and patron saint of Afrobeat, but the pulse came from Allen.