African Giants Tony Allen and Legendary Hugh Masakela Collaborate on Decade-long Project ‘Rejoice’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Rejoice combines the talents of two legendary African musicians, Nigerian drummer Tony Allen (co-founder of Afrobeat and longtime member of alt-rock supergroup The Good The Bad & The Queen) with the late trumpeter, South Africa’s Hugh Masakela, who passed in 2018. This is the first posthumous release since his passing. The two had talked for decades about making an album together, when in 2010 they found time in between touring schedules to begin this project. Producer Nick Gold, acclaimed for so many world music productions including The Buena Vista Social Club, recorded the proceedings. The unfinished sessions lay dormant in the archives until Masakela’s passing. With stern resolve and the help of Masakela’s estate, Gold and Allen unearthed the original tapes and finished the recording in the summer of 2019 at the same London studio where the original took place.

Allen and Masakela are accompanied on this recording by a new generation of players including bassist Tom Herbert (Acoustic Ladyland/The Invisible), keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones (Ezra Collective), bassist Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko) and UK saxophonist Steve Williamson. In addition to playing superbly, mostly on flugelhorn, Masakela was inspired to overdub some spontaneous vocals on a trio of selections – either in colloquial Zula, as on the loosely rendered opening “Robbers, Thugs and Muggers” with the chant of “O Galanjani” (township slang for a collection of rogues) or in the appropriately jazz-meets-Afrobeat-hued tribute to Fela Kute “Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same),” in English.

”We’ve Landed” has been released as a single and finds Allen providing hushed but celebratory semi-spoken commentary. “The song is dedicated to today’s youth,” says Allen. “The lyric addresses people at seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years old, who slowly becoming more mature, finding out who they are and realizing that it’s their generation’s turn to wake up!” the beginning of the piece also depicts Masakela’s pure, beautiful tone and the album demonstrates that Masakela has a real knack for call and response dialogue as well as a gift for navigating the many changes of jazz. Some may only be familiar with him through his pop radio hit, “Grazing in the Grass” but his playing is every bit as versatile as almost any trumpeter one could name.  The South African chanting, will, of course, be familiar to almost anyone as popularized by Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Allen, whose creative drumming is brilliant throughout (especially spotlighted in “Jabulani (Rejoice, Here Comes Tony). He says this when describing the album, “as kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz-stew.” Some prime examples of this description are the parallel horn ensemble passages and loping drums in “Agbada Bougou,” the swinging brass conversations and the propulsive percussion of “Coconut Jam” or the marvelous snare drum skittering in “Obama Shuffle Strut Blues.” Another not-to-be-missed track is “Slow Bones” which spotlights Williamson’s sax work both soloing and in riveting dialogue with Masakela.

Allen reflects, “Ten years is a long time form beginning to end of {making}an album, but my own philosophy is that everything eventually appears at the right time, for a reason.” Maybe it’s just this writer’s perspective but this seems to be a year of bigger emphasis on African projects and African musicians. Just last week we brought you Shabaka & The Ancestors. Next week Bela Fleck unveils a 3-disc set of collaborations with Mali virtuoso kora player Toumani Diabaté. The opening announced lineup of the Newport Jazz Festival features Angelique Kidjo and Somi, a vocalist with parents from Uganda and Rwanda.

Undoubtedly other posthumous recordings from Masakela are forthcoming but this serves as a vital essential part of his storied legacy.

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