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Reviews: Nigeria Afrobeat Special, Nigeria Special, Volume 2, and Tony Allen, Secret Agent

Various Artists
Nigeria Afrobeat Special: The New Explosive Sound In 1970’s Nigeria
[Soundway (2010)]

Nigeria Special, Volume 2: Modern Highlife, Afro Sounds and Nigerian Blues 1970-1976
[Soundway (2010)]

Tony Allen
Secret Agent
[Nonesuch (2009)]

If the 14th solo album by Afro-beat pioneer and former Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen (Secret Agent), and the latest entries in UK-based Soundway’s series of rare and previously-unheard-outside-of-Africa music, Nigeria Afrobeat
Special and Nigeria Special, Volume 2, don’t get you moving, don’t even bother checking your pulse, you’re already dead.

Spotlighting some of the most exciting dance music in global history, the three albums sparkle with a funky, dance-inspiring marriage of traditional Yoruba and Igbo rhythms, hypnotic guitars, hard-bopping brass sections, electronica, and revolutionary lyricism.

Kicking off with his 1971 45-rpm single, “Who’re You,” Nigeria Afro-beat Special goes on to document Kuti’s influence and domination of Nigerian music, while Nigeria Special, Volume 2 shows the diverse sounds emanating from the West African country. With obscure a-sides, b-sides, and previously unreleased tracks by such groups as Saxon Lee
& The Shadows International (“Mind You Business”), Orlando Julius & His Afro-Sounders (“Afro Blue”), Mad Man Jaga (“Hankuri”), and the Herbous Band’s original single version of “Koma Mosi,” later revived by King Sunny Ade as “Easy
Motion Tourist,” the heat is turned to a sizzling point that burns throughout both CDs.

More than 3 decades after he and Kuti ignited the Afro-beat explosion, Allen, 70, refuses to let the past hold him down. On “Secret Agent,” he takes the Afro-beat tradition a step further, injecting funk, jazz, and electronic into an irresistible mix of dance grooves. Allen and percussionist Pax Nicholas forsake grandstanding for a relentless polyrhythmic groove that propels its way from start to finish and allows Cameroonian guitarist Claude Dibongue, multi-instrumentalist and producer Fixi, and the backing brass section to shine. While his low-key singing is heard on the opening title track and CD-concluding “Elewen Po”), Allen turns to his drums in between, putting the spotlight on soul singer Orobiyi Adunni, neo-soul rapper Bola Dumoya, and Afro-beat singer King Odudu, who herald a new era for the music of his homeland.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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