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Afrobeat at Its Deceptively Simple Essence

Tony Allen was to Fela Kuti what "funky drummer" Clyde Stubblefield was to James Brown.
Tony Allen was to Fela Kuti what "funky drummer" Clyde Stubblefield was to James Brown.

Nothing fosters personal or professional rejuvenation quite like a trip home, a lesson drummer Tony Allen learned during the making of his vivacious new Lagos No Shaking, which brought him to Afrobeat's motherland of Lagos, Nigeria. Ever since the recent renaissance of Afrobeat — in the wake of progenitor Fela Kuti's death in 1997 — the propulsive and often politically charged music has infiltrated the worlds of hip-hop and electronica. Allen has operated at the heart of Afrobeat's cosmopolitan renewal, collaborating with A-list electronica and hip-hop producers. Now, on his own, he boils Afrobeat down to its polyrhythmic essence.

Allen is to Fela Kuti's Afrobeat what Clyde Stubblefield was to James Brown's Soul Power — the funky drummer whose deceptively simple groove became the music's defining rhythmic pulse. He powers "Moyege" with his patented pulsating beats, demonstrating just how intoxicating Afrobeat's undiluted formula can be. The song isn't entirely a throwback, though: Instead of providing yet another showcase for prolix Fela-esque saxophone solos, the comparatively succinct "Moyege" keeps current with soothing vocals and a brief rap, resulting in a song that revivifies without reinvention or nostalgic relapse.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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John Murph
John Murph writes about music and culture and works as a web producer for BETJazz.com. He also contributes regularly to The Washington Post Express, JazzTimes, Down Beat, and JazzWise magazines.