Tony Allen's Afro Beat 2000 | Ronnie Scott'S, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

The news that Afro-Beat is the hip sound of the moment must have passed Birmingham by, the audience for this gig being small and not particularly enthusiastic. Nothing, however, could deter the band from sounding as tight as a drum. Their impossibly elongated funky grooves just went on and on, to the point where you thought that they might never stop, and that the club would have to accommodate their presence not only for tonight, but possibly for the foreseeable future.

Certainly, the music sounded less like something to lend an occasional ear to, than a set of rhythms to live and die by; a bit like The Grateful Dead, only good. The guitar chattered incessantly like a talking drum; old-school Fender Rhodes chords drifted in and out, in between the conga player's slap of skin on skin, and the bassist's mountainous riffs, which continually tumbled down into the primordial ooze of the instrument's deepest reaches. While all this was going on, the man at the drum-kit deployed his sticks with the economy of movement that is the mark of a true master. If he whacked the kit with a rather regal air, it was understandable: he's Tony Allen, and he invented Afro-Beat in the first place, along with his ex-employer Fela Kuti.

The music that Allen plays was as revolutionary in its time as the Afro-centric funk of James Brown and Sly Stone, or the jazz of Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and it enjoyed a profitable two-way trade with each of them. Now, Allen operates out of Paris rather than Lagos, but his music hasn't really changed at all. Everything is as authentic as you could wish for, only the French guitarist with his ponytail and one-piece parachutist's jump-suit suggested a later era, and that, clearly, was the mid-Seventies. Even the young rapper comes across as endearingly retro, wearing grey flannels underneath his combat gear, and rapping in impeccable RP, like the patrician lodger in Rising Damp.

Dressed in a nifty striped top, with skull-cap and shades, Tony Allen sings as he plays; one of the very few drummers to do so with any success. A little miffed that there aren't more people here to see him, he encourages the audience to dance. This results, inevitably, in a single couple hopping desultorily across the floor, before they give it up as a bad job.

As Tony Allen seems to be in semi-permanent British residence at the moment - riding the wave of Afro-Beat's new-found popularity - you really should try to see him, but preferably not in Birmingham.

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