The deep house and Balearic producers reimagine archive material by the legendary Afrobeat drummer - to devastating effect
Sometimes, chance meetings can change your life – or at least present you with an unexpected opportunity. That’s certainly the case for Lucio Aquilina and Massimo Di Lena, AKA Nu Guinea, whose brilliant new album has its roots in a surprise encounter.
"Last year we went to visit our friend Wayne Snow, and he introduced us to Tony Allen’s manager, Eric Trosset," Di Lena explains. "Eric told us he really liked the remix we’d done for Wayne, which had come out a few months before. Just before we left, he asked us if we’d like to work with some of Tony’s drum patterns."
Trosset had form in this regard, having offered a similar opportunity to a number of French hip-hop producers and experimental beat-makers previously. Even so, his decision to hand the keys to the legendary Afrobeat drummer's archive to the Naples-based duo was still a surprise. While their second 12-inch, last year’s superb World EP, had incorporated some Afro-influenced rhythms, the Neapolitan duo were still better known for making humid, synthesizer-heavy, jazz-funk influenced deep house.
Naturally, the pair grasped the opportunity offered by Trosset with both hands. "The process of selecting the patterns was easy," Di Lena enthuses. "We selected everything we got sent! The fact of having a clear task – reshaping Tony Allen's drums – brought us immediately away from the idea of making dancefloor music in its purest sense, and we really wanted to draw influence from those great drum sounds. We decided to free ourselves, and work with no particular boundaries."
The process itself was "difficult", according to the duo, and involved running recordings of Allen’s drumming – often recorded on multiple mics to get an immersive stereo mix – through an AKAI sampler. These sampled patterns were then chopped up, rearranged and combined with the duo’s own distinctive synthesizer work, as well as additional drums from Berlin-based percussionist Adam Pawel Dziewialtowski-Gintowt.
"The results of our sessions with Adam were beyond our expectations," Di Lena says. "He did his job in a really natural way. We gave him some suggestions every now and then, but his grooves and patterns were already fitting perfectly into the tracks."
The album, entitled The Tony Allen Experiments, is undoubtedly a triumph. While those well versed in vintage Italian deep house may hear the influence of the dreamy, loved-up synth sounds of the DFC label – most famous for giving the world Sueno Latino – for the most part the set steers clear of house music altogether. Instead, Aquilina and Di Lena have delivered a full-length brimming with tropical synth-funk, Balearic-inclined grooves and steamy Afro-cosmic excursions.
"We first tried to make our music completely fit with Tony’s drums, but then we understood that finding a meeting point by adapting his recordings to our music and vice-versa was the right decision," Aquilina says. "Grooves and harmonies influenced each other throughout the whole album-making process. We would change melodies or re-write the groove on the go, on the basis of new elements that were added to the songs."
Words: Matt Anniss
Nu Guinea’s The Tony Allen Experiments is out now on Comet Records/Early Sounds Recordings