Album Review: Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela – Rejoice [World Circuit Records; March 2020]

With the very recent passing of Tony Allen, this set of recordings has special significance. He and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela had been planning on making a record together for years and in 2010 this finally was about to become a reality. Producer Nick Gold got the two titans of African music into a studio to begin work on what has now seen the light of day as Rejoice. However, it was not an easy path. Masekela’s death in 2018 put a spanner in the works and it was only after the recordings were recovered and the co-operation of the late trumpeter’s family given, that the project could be fully realised.

Opening number, ‘Robbers, Thugs and Muggers’, begins with chanting before Allen’s drums kick in, followed by the blast of trumpet from Masekela. It moves and flows like two boxers sparring with each other – percussion and wind instrument each vying for the listener’s attention. 

‘Agbada Bougou’ begins in fine style with a beautiful refrain from Masekela which carries right through to the end of the track. These tunes all serve as an aperitif to the central theme of Rejoice.  For it is on ‘Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be the Same)’ where the gloves come off and the two stars of African music pay tribute to another king – Fela Kuti.

This writer has had the good fortune of seeing both Masekela and Allen live in concert separately. Masekela showed a keenness to entertain, was charming and congenial in his manner, apart from his musical virtuosity. Allen on the other hand had a serious, almost grumpy, manner about him – not speaking with the audience. The Nigerian percussionist let his drumming do the talking. 

An interesting point to note here may be the types of audiences Allen and Masekela attract. Quite different, I would suggest. On the one hand Masekela tends to gather middle aged jazz aficionados whereas Allen, it seems, has a younger, more eclectic audience stretching from jazz fans to world music enthusiasts, over to followers of hip-hop. Rejoice will no likely build on both artist’s fan base considerably.

Although never getting too close to afrobeat (the longest track being 5:49), Rejoice is a fine tribute to the genre, a nice way to remember the influence of Fela and the skills possessed by two of his ‘brothers’. From the outset, right the way through this album to the closing notes from Masekela’s trumpet, we are given a masterclass and should ‘rejoice’ at the music contained within.