Tony Allen Black Voices

Everyone who likes groove-oriented music should own this album. All the elements of a classic are present — great songs, innovative production, cultural significance. The best part of Black Voices is undoubtedly the masterful drum sensibility expressed by a veteran musician, as vital now as ever. Tony Allen was the leader of Fela Kuti's band from 1969 until the late ’70s, and one can contend that Fela's music didn't swing as much after Allen's departure. His drumming has always been heavy on the polyrhythms and light on the accented notes. In terms of deconstructing and reshaping a groove, he is in the same league as the funky drummer himself, Clyde Stubblefield of the JBs. Take one veteran Nigerian musician who helped shape an entirely new form of West African popular music, put him in a Parisian studio with a producer and musicians a generation and a continent removed, and what emerges is Black Voices. Drum performances have been recorded, edited, looped unobtrusively and augmented by programmed, individual drum sounds from the original kit. Overall, the music is a minimal, dub-wise distillation of Afro-Beat, consistent with the ideas of his first solo release, Never Expect Power Always,15 years ago. Producer Doctor L takes Allen's distinctive voice and half-sung, half-whispered lyrics and sets them free over the beats. At times the beats dropout altogether and only gorgeous, vocoded riffs bounce from speaker to speaker. Who should then turn up but Funkadelic vocalists Gary Mudbone Cooper and Michael Clip Payne. With all the wackiness that surrounds P-Funk, sometimes one forgets that every last one of their 20 or so vocalists was a great singer. So many ingredients come together on Black Voices; youth and experience, live and electronic, abstraction and sequences, and Europe and Africa in a refreshingly equal and collaborative way. It is an important addition to the spectrum of true "urban" music, whose range should be much wider than R&B and hip-hop, especially outside of the USA. It is a great statement about modern African music made in the multicultural, urbane sophistication of Paris. (Comet)