"Femi and Seun Kuti, the eldest and youngest sons of late Nigerian Afrobeat king Fela Kuti, are generally seen as heirs to their father’s crown. Nothing against them — they’ve both been making fine music and putting their stamps on the funky, fiery sounds. But with his new album, "Film of Life," drummer Tony Allen makes a strong case that the title is his.
Of course, given that he’s 74, it’s hard to tag him as an inheritor of anything. Having been at Fela’s side both before and during the revolution that was Afrobeat in the ‘60s and ‘70s, having been one of the key figures in that revolution, Allen today stands at the top of the form’s royal family.
It’s not because Allen’s music sounds like Fela’s. It’s because so much of it does not. That’s the truest realization of his boss/collaborator’s spirit. Fela had no interest in staying put and recreating the past — nor does Allen. Sure, there are some familiar elements — the blaring ensemble horns on some tracks, the steely delivery of his vocals, the burbling funk. And behind it all Allen’s solid-as-Gibraltar pulse that has earned him the nickname the Human Metronome, a completely inadequate moniker that overlooks the colorful complexities of his rhythms and sells short the role he played as the true backbone of Fela’s music…
"Film of Life" encompasses all of that with a vibrancy all its own. Produced by French trio the Jazzbastards, the album sparkles and crackles with unexpected combinations of styles and sounds at every turn. Opener “Moving On” starts at the core: Allen’s mix of interlocking rhythms establishes a foundation to support ultra-funky horns. Next, “Boat Journey” builds with a skittering guitar line and such cinematic touches as dramatic timpani, as Allen speak-singing a cautionary tale warning those “running away from misery” will confront themselves and find “double misery.”
“Tiger’s Skip,” co-written by Albarn and featuring him on melodica, has some of the dub atmosphere the British artist has used with Gorillaz. “Ewa” is almost a jazzy ‘70s film soundtrack, an intricate construction spiked by Vincent Taeger’s vibes. “Go Back” features Albarn on vocals in an introspective soul turn. “Ire Omo” brings in female singers Adunni and Nefretiti for a classic Afrobeat sound.
Each song reveals something new, something unexpected. Each listen shows more layers and depth. Tony Allen could easily get by on his past achievements, but with this album he reaches new peaks — his “Film of Life” still being made.”