Album: Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra

Legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen fuses the sounds of west Africa with those of Haiti

Glitterbeat Records has released the result of a collaboration between Tony Allen – the legendary drummer who provided the propulsive rhythms and intricate arrangements of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat – and musicians from the island of Haiti.

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra was initiated in 2014 by Connie Marshall, director of the Institut Français in Haiti, who hoped to have Allen perform with Haitian musicians.

Allen took to the task with zeal. In collaboration with Erol Josué – a Haitian singer, vodou priest and ethnologist – he recruited musicians from the island’s most prominent bands, including 10 percussionists. He also gathered some of his own frequent collaborators, such as guitarist Mark Mulholland and keyboardist Olaf Hund, to round out the sound. Together, they spent five days composing and rehearsing a set for a festival performance in Port-au-Prince.

Unfortunately, a perfect storm of problems prevented the concert from going ahead as smoothly as planned. A tear gas grenade in front of the stage caused significant delay. And technical problems stopped the gig from being – a particular issue given that many of the musicians had to leave Haiti the next day.

Later in 2014, Mulholland ran into Chris Eckman of Glitterbeat. After Eckman was thrilled by the rehearsal tapes, he asked Mulholland and Hund to remaster it for release. The result captures a unique collaborative project over eight tracks.

Mulholland is proud of the record. “I think the album captures the spirit of all of us together in that room. It’s anarchic and energetic. And I really believe it’s good, it’s honest, it’s new. It’s different. It was an experiment that worked.”