When Tony Allen performed Monday (June 14) at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, one of the members of his band wore a T-shirt that read, “Afro-Beat: Created by Tony Allen.” Some may ask: Wasn’t Fela Kuti the Nigerian musician who created this style of music? Yes, but drummer and band leader Tony Allen was present at the creation, too, working with Fela for many years. Allen has recorded some great Afro-Beat records under his own name since the 1970s, and Monday’s show was a rare opportunity to see him performing here in Chicago.
Despite Allen’s renown on the drums (Brian Eno called him “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”), he was not especially flashy during this performance. Instead of playing big drum solos, he ticked out subtle rhythms. But they were the driving force behind the funky grooves that the band played, including wah-wah guitar chords punctuated by horn blasts. Allen sang on some of the songs, delivering the words in a half-spoken spiel reminiscent of Fela’s own incantations.
This was classic Afro-Beat, played by one of the guys who invented the music, and the crowd loved the extended jams. Some fans formed lines, snaking down the Pritzker Pavilion’s aisles like a bunch of giddy folks at a wedding reception.
Tony Allen’s opening act was Great Lake Swimmers, a folk-rock band from Toronto. I love both Tony Allen and Great Lake Swimmers, so I was among the audience members who were pleased to see both. It was an odd pairing, though. Led by Tony Dekker, Great Lake Swimmers played soft-spoken, lullingly pretty songs.