N. E. P. A. (Never Expect Power Always)
Home Cooking

[Wrasse Records,]

Along with Fela Kuti, Nigerian born percussionist Tony Allen was solely responsible for the pioneering musical movement known as Afrobeat. He played with Fela between mid 60's to late 70's, when he decided to leave the band and pursue other musical projects. His polyrhythmic sound is instantly recognizable, as one percussionist takes the role of as many as four. His 1985 LP "N. E. P. A. (Never Expect Power Always)" is finally seeing the light of day on CD. Envisioned as an outright critique of the Nigerian Electrical Power Authority, which supplied unreliable power to the city of Lagos, Allen saw this release as a perfect opportunity to vent his anger. Title track features a thick, electrifying percussive beat that is interspersed with vocals from Candido and Victor Addis, who relate the story of NEPA in all of its gory details. "N. E. P. A. Dance Dub" has a more tribal feel, as the percussion is mixed right up front. Remainder of the album features more of the same steady percussive madness that is interspersed with breaking horn sections that infiltrate the pieces at all the right moments. Tons of reverb and space-like effects make it into the mix and the whole is just a satisfying whirlwind of sounds. Not too clean and just messy enough, this is an essential release, no matter how badly forgotten it may have been.
Moving forward nearly two decades, we find ourselves accosted with "Home Cooking". This is where Tony Allen had to reinvent himself, while keeping his ideals and rhythm firmly in place. First thing I noticed about this record is just how little Afrobeat has progressed since Allen helped to invent it more than three decades ago. The same rock-steady rhythms are in place and his multi-rhythmic percussive beat still keeps a tight pulse on the proceedings at hand. While the choruses are rich, it's the guest vocalists that keep things interesting. Check out Eska as she screams some angelic vocals on "What's Your Fashion" or the seductive vocalization from Mary Lee and Norman on "Calling". These are the breakout tracks as we see a certain move away on Allen's part into a more pop oriented category, while retaining the same sense of urgent rhythm and a masterful percussive hand. "Crazy Afrobeat" sees Allen showing off his percussive madness. While this in itself is fine, I get a sense the master of the beat feels mightily comfortable playing the role of grandfather of a movement. Fine record all around, if only to reaffirm importance of Tony Allen on the scene.

-Tom Sekowski

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