World Pioneers Award
Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela
Two old friends, giants of the African music scene, fuse influences from West and South Africa in this historic, compelling and virtuoso set. Tony Allen is now based in France but started off in Nigeria working as drummer with Fela Kuti and helping to define Fela's Afrobeat fusion style, while the late Hugh Masekela, who died two years ago, was one of the world's finest and most distinctive horn players, fusing jazz with South African styles. They first met in the 70s when Masekela, exiled from apartheid-era South Africa, famously travelled across West Africa, spending time with Fela and listening to Afrobeat. But they didn't actually start recording together until 2010 – and then became so busy that the album was only finished last year.
It was well worth the wait. There are no drum solos, but Allen's fluid, subtle playing drives the music throughout, providing a platform for Masekela's often exuberant horn solos and vocals, backed up by bass and occasional vibes, sax and keyboards. Masekela is in distinctive, powerful voice on songs that include the exuberant South African township-influenced ‘Robbers, Thugs and Muggers’ and ‘Never (Lagos Never Gonna be the Same)’, a classic Afrobeat tribute to Fela. The instrumentals include ‘Obama Shuffle Strut Blues’, which provides a perfect reminder of Allen's unique percussion style. This is surely one of the African albums of the year, so it's sad that we'll never hear this remarkable duo performing it live. Robin Denselow