Tony Allen—best known for his work as drummer and musical director for Fela Anikulapo Kuti, one of Africa’s most influential artists—makes his World Circuit/Nonesuch debut with Secret Agent, April 13. Following its European release earlier this year, Secret Agent has received generous critical praise. The Guardian proclaimed, “There is no question that Tony Allen is a genius, one of the greatest percussionists in the history of popular music,” while Observer Music Monthly said, “If you’re wondering why Afrobeat is hip, start here.”
Together with Fela Kuti, with whom he played for 15 years, Allen co-created Afrobeat—the hard-driving, horns-rich, funk-infused, politically insurrectionary style that became such a dominant force in African music and is now one of Africa’s most popular styles among international listeners.
Allen produced Secret Agent, which was recorded with his touring band of musicians from Nigeria, Cameroon, Martinique and France. The music is four-square in the Afrobeat tradition—rhythmic tenor guitar, funky keyboards, call and response vocals, and full-throated horns—with a few twists (including keyboard player and arranger Fixi’s accordion on some tracks). Allen’s playing meanwhile draws on four different styles—highlife, soul/funk, jazz and traditional Nigerian drumming. At Afrobeat’s heart is the beat, even more prominent now than it was in Fela Kuti’s legendary Afrika ‘70 band.
Secret Agent is Allen’s first release since he became a founding member of The Good, The Bad and The Queen (alongside Damon Albarn, Paul Simenon and Simon Tong). This association has helped encourage a recent upsurge of interest in Afrobeat. Over the years Allen has appeared on dozens of albums and his continued relevance in 2009—fans of hip-hop, funk and jazz clamor for his recordings—speaks to the staying power of the Afrobeat music that he helped create in the 1960s.