“Rejoice,” a long-dormant collaboration between legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and the late South African horn player Hugh Masekela, is a swirling, restless album that wisely puts their instruments at the center of the action.
Recorded mostly a decade ago in London, it was completed last year at the same studio where it was started under the guidance of producer Nick Gold.
Allen is a Paris-based Nigerian native whose reputation was cemented during his long association with the late Fela Kuti but whose long resume also includes supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen with Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon and Simon Tong. He says “Rejoice” is a “kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew,” a description that is as inviting as it is accurate. The album cover, which emulates the classic style of the Blue Note label, seems to underline the jazz elements.
The 2010 sessions at Livingston Studios took place with Allen laying down his drum patterns and Masekela working out the melodic structure and playing his flugelhorn parts separately. The rest of the instruments, including bass, keyboards, percussion and vibraphone, comprise a subtle and empathetic support group. Notable among them are tenor sax player Steve Williamson on three of the eight tracks and Tom Herbert’s acoustic bass.
The sound of Allen’s drum set is wonderfully clear and detailed and his playing superb, while Masekela, who died in 2018 and was also known for his anti-apartheid advocacy, performs with his usual high-flying lyricism and technical excellence.
Masekela adds vocals to a few tracks, which include a homage to Fela Kuti titled “Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same)”; a vignette inspired by Masekela’s youth in a Johannesburg suburb, “Robbers, Thugs and Muggers (O’Galajani)”; and the scrumptious “Slow Bones,” which exudes creative and spiritual freedom.
One of the last tunes, “Obama Shuffle Strut Blues,” is a percussive tour de force and tips its cap to the former U.S. president, who hadn’t been in office too long when the album was being made.
The release of “Rejoice” (on World Circuit Records) is a welcome blessing for listeners and an exquisite example of Allen and Masekela’s magnificent talents.