Film of Life
“Rhythm is the most perceptible and the least material thing in the world,” wrote John Miller Chernoff in his book, African Rhythm and African Sensibility. It has been thirty years since this observation inspired Brian Eno and David Byrne to revise their approach to music, and if African rhythms began to alter the course of Western pop music, we have to be grateful to Tony Allen.
He embodies the vitality of those rhythms, placing them at the cutting edge of modern music and over his career has made himself a benchmark for musicians worldwide. Now his tenth album, Film of Life, due in November 2014, looks back on this amazing adventure exploring other terra firma.
Born in Lagos in 1940, Tony Oladipo Allen is an autodidact, a drummer who evolved his technique by listening to Art Blakey and Max Roach. In the mid-1960s, his meeting with Fela Kuti changed his destiny, which took on epic proportions with the invention of afrobeat, where the rhythmic patterns of Yoruba meet instrumental funk and Pan-African slogans.
The collaboration of these two musical giants would last fifteen years. Tony the human metronome then made the most of his new found freedom to add to his roots with everything from dub to pop. Since his first encounter with Blur front man Damon Albarn, he has been a member of the groups The Good, The Bad and The Queen and Rocket Juice and the Moon.
At a time when afrobeat, like reggae, is becoming part of the globalised music scene, Film of Life travels back through an exemplary musical life. Along with the trio of French producers The Jazzbastards and a cast of world-class musicians, the master drummer confirms his powers of reinvention with an album that dovetails groove, jazz and psychedelic pop. For Allen, who has always thought of his drums as an orchestra and who likes to make them sing, Film of Life marks the pinnacle of his achievement.
The poignant ballad Go Back was written with Albarn, who features on vocals and keyboards. Set to a driving, hypnotic beat, the two musicians have created a homage to the African refugees washed up on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
This is a dazzling addition to add to the collective adventures of the brilliant English jack-of-all-trades and the cult Nigerian drummer, whose paths first crossed over ten years ago for the album Home Cooking, followed by albums with The Good, the Bad and the Queen, Rocket Juice and The Moon and Africa Express.
Allen and Albarn wrote and recorded Go Back in Allen’s Paris studio in a single day, sandwiched between Albarn’s hectic touring schedule: both musicians regard the track as the very essence of their musical and spiritual connection, established over a decade ago.
Since Albarn and Allen’s first collaborative effort, the single Every Season, was committed to tape, the duo have frequently sought each other out, from the nomadic Africa Express project to the ephemeral Afro-rock group Rocket Juice and The Moon, not to mention the rock supergroup The Good, the Bad and the Queen.