A new release from Tony Allen, the drummer who arguably put the “Beat” in Afro Beat, and a 2-CD set from the unsung Bessie Jones are in my thoughts at the moment…

tony allen film of life review


It’s hard for the general public to keep more than one name in their heads when it comes to creations and discoveries. If you don’t believe me, ask your typical American citizen to name the America’s Founding Fathers—without mentioning George Washington—or ask a Techno Fan to name the genre’s godfathers

Tony Allen worked with the beloved Fela Ransome Kuti to create the kinetic, sweat-worthy West African music style that has been copied across the globe for decades, but he is still regarded by many as just another drummer, if people know him at all. I can’t confidently predict that Allen’s new release, Film of Life, is going to open the publicity doors wide enough to make up for the years of neglect, but I think a few more people will at least begin to say his name. With production help from The Jazzbastards and performance collabs with Damon Albarn (Gorillaz and Blur) and vocalist Kuku, Allen was able to create the same East-West chemistry, albeit not as radical, that helped to make Afro Beat such a widely accepted music form in the 1970s. “Ewa” typifies what you’ll hear on the album, with a strong Lagos theme that drives the Funky, Jazz-propelled rhythm, drawing in the syncopated key chords and trippy electronic effects. “Ire Omo”—with vocal help from Adunni & Nefretiti—sounds like updated Afro Beat that schools the young emulators on how the genre is supposed to be played…

bessie jones with the georgia sea island singers album review


African Americans from Georgia and South Carolina Low Country, known as the Gullah or Geechee tribe, have the longest and most unadulterated cultural ties to Africa among other Americans. This centuries-old connection has nourished the development of fascinating music that blends Blues, Gospel, pre-Folk music and African vocal patterns like call-and-response. It’s silly to have a discussion about American Roots music and ignore the contribution of the Gullah tribe.

This historical context underscores the importance of the new 51-song compilation from vocalist Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers. The songs were captured by Alan Lomax in the 1960s, and will sound stripped-down in delivery since the musical style was born from slavery—conditions which obviously did not allow for a wide use of instruments beyond flutes, hands, feet and harmonizing voices.

I’ll leave you with an embedded track below and the most obvious advice: make this release a part of your collection…

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