Tony Allen, who put the beat into Afrobeat, will be bringing his own funk-drenched, drum-driven sound to Dubai Media City this weekend alongside a batch of easygoing acts in the city's sixth annual Chill Out Festival.
Allen was the drummer for Nigeria's celebrated, if provocative, son Fela Kuti, who wrote lyrical pan-African polemics and sang against colonial cultural hegemony amid the post-Biafran War optimism of the 1970s. When Allen left Fela Kuti, it took six drummers to replace him.
The Allen sound? Think 15-minute-long freakouts with a James Brown sense for repetitive rhythm and breaks, charging horns and Fela's hypnotic off-kilter English intoned over the top.
This "Afrobeat" sound culminated in Africa 70, a supergroup of Nigerian musicians with Allen on cans. They toured Europe, they got up the nose of every high-ranking official in Nigeria and even declared themselves an independent country, the Kalakuta ("Rascal") Republic. It was, naturally, short-lived.
"This was a long time ago, and it's hard to ruminate on the past now," says Allen, when asked about the spirit that Lagos swung to back then.
When Allen left Africa 70 in 1979, amid a growing personality cult around Fela that seemed to overshadow the other members of the band, he already had two self-penned projects under his belt. He's since moved to Paris, produced more than 12 albums of his own work and collaborated with everyone from Blur's Damon Albarn to Charlotte Gainsbourg, giving tracks from her last solo album some much-needed oomph. Though his own records bear traces of the Africa 70 groove that he pioneered, Allen has struck out for new territory and will be playing pieces from the Black Series, a collaboration with the Detroit-based soul outfit Amp Fiddler, in Dubai. "I try not to reflect too much on that time with Fela," he says. "I think that I'm taking on what is in front of me and looking to the future.
"Bands and rap groups in Nigeria don't know how to play the drums these days," he continues. "Afrobeat is a discipline. The interest that has come back to this music in recent years is because there's no real, well-done music anymore."
Playing elsewhere throughout the weekend is the hip-hop trio De La Soul (tomorrow); the touching-twee indie pop outfit The Kooks (known for their She Moves in Her Own Way single, and play the festival on Saturday); and In Transit, the latest incarnation of the dance artists Transglobal Underground, which sees them collaborate with some of the Gulf's leading vocalists and horn players on Friday.
Look out as well for Rachid Taha, a French-Algerian master of mash-ups who pioneered The Rejects nightclub in Paris in the late 1970s, playing Arabic mixes of western pop tunes. Taha is best known for his Maghrebi-fused version of The Clash's Rock the Casbah and for playing the mandaloute – a mixture of the traditional oud with fretted western instruments.
The Chill Out Festival is a source of local acts, decent headliners, sizeable beanbags and the most laid-back time you'll ever have in Media City.
The Sixth Annual Chill Out Festival runs from Friday to Saturday in the Amphitheatre in Dubai Media City. Live acts from 4pm-11pm, before the event moves to Trilogy Club in Madinat Jumeirah from 10pm-3am for Electric Chill, a selection of dance artists. One-day passes are Dh200 advance, Dh250 on the door; two-day passes are Dh350 advance only. Tickets are available from Virgin Megastores, Zoom, Eppco and Enoc petrol stations and Souk Madinat Jumeirah Box Office. For a full line-up see www.chilloutfestivaldubai.com