Tony Allen, gig review: Fela Kuti's legendary drummer is still pushing boundaries aged 74

The Village Underground, London was transformed by Afrobeat at full capacity last night

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"Whatever I give you it's Afrobeat. I just can't believe you're all here," said Tony Allen to his audience, a pioneer of Afrobeat and widely considered one of the world's greatest drummers.

At 74, with a career spanning 55 years, Allen could do worse than to rest on his laurels. When he left Fela Kuti's Afrika 70 in 1978, the band was forced to replace him with two drummers to play his parts separately.

Ten albums in, Allen's energy and skill hasn't waned. On stage he and his band are a supergroup - a mix of James Brown, Prince, Art Blakey and Bob Marley. His voice is still gloriously laid-back and singing politically charged tracks, as in "Boat Journey" about the struggles of illegal immigrants. He pushed the boundaries of Afrobeat, fusing jazz, funk, dub and psychedelic pop and masterfully changing tempos and cross rhythms.

His collaboration with Damon Albarn, "Go Back", was mellow, melancholic even, while finale track "Afrodisco Beat" was sexy, rich, and all the better in its unedited lengthy form. The funk guitar gave way to the saxophone and trombone, before percussion, bongos and Allen's rhythmic drumming.

Mood-transforming and absorbing, this is how instruments sound at full capacity.