By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
More encouraging was the performance by drummer Tony Allen, picking up from his pioneering work as the rhythmic linchpin in Nigerian Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti's '70s ensemble. Monday night at the Living Room, Allen hit the stage with a full band, playing songs from last year's Black Voicesalbum. Chicken-scratch guitar, rolling bass lines, and sprightly organ work darted in and out of a truly postmodern interplay between Dr. L on a pair of turntables (as well as a shrieking theremin) and Allen. As Dr. L cut and scratched disembodied samples of fiery horn blasts, frenetic percussion breaks, and chanting background singers (some lifted from Allen's own recordings with Fela from more than two decades ago), Allen snapped out mesmerizing circular rhythms on his drum kit. It was interplanetary funk that eschewed its earthbound cousin's insistence on playing "on the one," opting instead to lurch into furious sideways patterns of sixes and then suddenly soar skyward. Here was a fresh melding of the man with the machine, a groove of equal delight to fans of both Ginger Baker and complex drum and bass.
"I'm an African in Europe," Allen said in a postshow interview, referring to his residence in Paris since the '80s. "And Europe always wants to change Africans. It wants them to adapt to Western music." He paused and then emphatically described the inspiration for Black Voices: "I didn't want to change. I was looking for fusions; what is here today with modern computers that are so small is very powerful." The trick, Allen says, is to take Afro-beat forward without forgetting its unamplified foundation. It's a balancing game he alludes to in an earlier album he titled N.E.P.A. Uttering each word slowly and firmly, he explained the acronym applies equally to despotic governments and musicians seeking an outlet to plug in their instruments: "Never expect power always."
Another novel path was aired by Detroit's Daniel Bell, who spun a set of blissfully soulful techno on the Mission's outdoor patio Wednesday night. As displayed on his just-released mix CD The Button Down Mind of Daniel Bell, it was a slinky rush (artfully segueing between his own twelve-inch creations and those of like-minded peers) that acknowledged and paid loving tribute to the stylistic origins of today's electronic currents without spending even a moment stuck in the past. Bell's aesthetic wholeheartedly embraced the future, seeing techno simply as the latest permutation of the historical continuum of black dance music, a line that stretches back to the Philly soul of Gamble and Huff and ahead to as-yet-unconceived synthesized shuffles.
Still, Bell's viewpoint is a minority one, a fact he finds somewhat disquieting. Settling into a sofa after his set, he recalls his beginnings as a producer back in 1989: "It's almost like you had a secret club with 40 people, where everybody knew each other." With a laugh, he adds, "For a while, there were only seven or eight places in the entire worldwhere people were even making techno. Now it's just overwhelming. But it's also strange to see how it's all come together. There's a new generation that seems so indifferent to the roots of this culture,its origins in disco and soul, and how we keep trying to evolve it. They've created their own whole newculture." Bell shrugs with a mix of confusion and sadness and continues: "It's like you've had a son run away from home at age twelve. When he comes back to you at age twenty, you don't recognize him anymore."