‘Secret Agent’ is drummer Tony Allen’s first solo album since 2006’s ‘Lagos No Shaking’. In the 3 year interim he provided the beats for ‘The Good, The Bad and The Queen’ – what could be called a supergroup, featuring Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon. Whilst Allen’s beats provided a suitable underpinning for Albarn’s musings on London life for that project, it’s when playing straight-up Afrobeat that the drum maestro is at his best. On ‘Secret Agent’, his first album for the label World Circuit, he does just that.
In the 40 odd years since Allen and Fela Kuti birthed the Afrobeat sound there has been little need to change the formula and this album is not short of funky horns, recurring guitar licks and call and response vocals. It’s not just Afrobeat-by-numbers though, the inclusion of accordion on a couple of tracks works remarkably well and it’s not surprising to learn Allen’s excellent band hail from Cameroon, Martinique and France.
Perhaps most telling however is that there has been little need for change in the lyrical sentiment since Fela’s searing indictments of social and political wrongdoings in 1970’s Nigeria. ‘Pariwo’ (“shout, protest, make some noise”) criticises government oppression and ‘Elewon Po’ (“too many prisoners”) targets the (in)justice system. ‘Nina Lowo’ (“money is to be spent”) and ‘Atuwaba’ (“no matter if things are bad, they’ll get better”) are based on traditional proverbs and are written and sung by Orobiyi Adunni, one of several Nigerian vocalists on the album. Afrobeat has always been dance music though and ‘Ijo’ (“dance”) and ‘Alutere’ (“the message the drums transmit”) are straightforward party songs. That’s not to say the rest of the album won’t make you move however – this is music to dance to from start to finish.
If there’s one other thing that’s remained constant in the 40 years since he laid the blueprints with Fela, it’s that when it comes to Afrobeat, Tony Allen is the original and the best and ‘Secret Agent’ is certainly proof of this.
World Circuit are holding a competition to remix one of the tracks from ‘Secret Agent’. For more details go to: Tony Allen Remix Contest