Despite a resumé that includes his role as drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s Afrika 70, Tony Allen has never been one to rest on his laurels. The septuagenarian Nigerian percussionist’s latest project is a collaboration with Haitian musicians from bands such as Racine Mapou de Azor, RAM, the Yizra’El Band and Lakou Mizik. The trans-Atlantic supergroup is called the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, and they’ve got an eponymous album coming out June 24 via Glitterbeat Records.
To give you an idea of what to expect, the band has released a video for “Bade Zile.” The song features Lakou Mizik’s Sanba Zao leading the vocals, and lending his hands to a whole battery of Haitian percussionists. With the master of Afrobeat himself on the drum kit as the linchpin, they create a roomy pocket for crisp Afrobeat-style keyboard hits and crunchy wah-wah pedal-affected guitars.
Based on a preliminary listen, the rest of the album has even more vintage keyboard sounds and chaos contained in waves of rhythm. It’s fun to hear, and sounds like it was pretty nuts to make.
“Putting it together was complete chaos,” Mark Mulholland, the orchestra’s guitarist, says. “Madness. We were all in this tiny room, playing. We had 10 percussionists from all of Haiti’s top bands. Then there was Tony, Olaf Hund on keyboards, and Jean-Philippe Dary, an old friend of Tony’s, on bass…The sound was overwhelming.”
Credit for bringing together these disparate but quite compatible musicians goes to the director of the French Institute in Haiti, Corinne Micaelli, and Erol Josué, a singer, dancer, voodoo priest, and director of the Haitian National Bureau of Ethnology, who also sings on the album. The band got together for five days and a live performance in 2014. In Bamako, Mali, of all places, Mulholland ran into Glitterbeat founder Chris Eckman, who was eager to hear and eventually release the music.
Feature image photo by Leon Neal via AFP/Getty