The annual Chill Out Festival is unlike any other event in Dubai. Taking place on Friday April 20 and Saturday 21 at Media City Amphitheatre, it throws more musical curveballs than a dizzy baseball pitcher: while headlines will be grabbed by Brit indie quirksters The Kooks and US hip-hop trio De La Soul, musos will be mumbling about Arabic punk maestro Rachid Taha and Afrobeat godfather Tony Allen. There’s everything from live video art (Heinz Kähler) to RobinSukroso, a German ‘DJ’ who plays without turntables, plus after-parties at Trilogy featuring top names from the electro scene.
Most importantly, Chill Out offers one of the biggest annual showcases for local musicians, with more than a dozen acts performing across two days. But it’s also about more than music, with kids’ activities, an art studio, yoga, drumming and more. Here we speak to Afrobeat legend Tony Allen and De La Soul’s Dave Jude Jolicoeur, and preview the must-see local acts. And relax…
Tickets are Dhs350 for the weekend or Dhs200 per day in advance, Dhs250 on the door. For the full line-up, or to buy tickets, click here.
Named after David Bowie’s 1971 tune ‘Kooks’, British indie upstarts The Kooks landed on the scene six years ago with chart-smashing, quadruple-indie platinum debut Inside In/Inside Out, which spawned six hit singles, including über-hummable ‘You Don’t Love Me’, ‘Naïve’ and ‘She Moves in Her Own Way’, which helped to define the jangly summer sound of 2006. Just teenagers at the time, they famously fell out with contemporaries Arctic Monkeys and Razorlight, then nearly split when their second LP, Konk, failed to reach the giddy heights of the first. Fighting back with last year’s Junk of the Heart, we’re looking forward to hearing the band mature into their mid-20s on stage at Chill Out on Saturday 21.
He’s the drummer credited with inventing Afrobeat, but he’s still going strong at 71. He may be playing Dubai’s Chill Out festival, yet Tony Allen is anything but relaxed. In fact, when we speak to him, he comes across as something of a bitter old man – bitter about the state of music today (‘they’ll be playing with machines for ever’), bitter about frequently being labelled the best drummer in the world by musos such as Brian Eno (‘I never said it – I just have to put up with it’), but, more than anything, bitter about his old boss, Fela Kuti.
As drummer and unofficial musical director of Kuti’s Africa ’70 band for more than a decade, Allen’s percussive prowess and ingenious arrangements defined what came to be known as Afrobeat, a fusion of traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian rhythms with Western jazz and funk. Kuti – the music’s high priest, an icon notorious for founding his own country, marrying 27 women on the same day and running for president of Nigeria –
later said, ‘Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.’ But since parting company with Kuti in 1979, Allen claims to have not listened to a single note of any of the 30 LPs they made together. ‘I’ve never even touched them,’ Allen explains today.
Born in Nigeria but now living in Paris, Allen has kept Afrobeat alive, fusing elements of funk, dub and even hip-hop. His name was introduced to a new generation in 2000 when Blur played out their farewell single, ‘Music is my Radar’, with Damon Albarn repeating the line ‘Tony Allen got me dancing’. The two became friends (‘he bit my ear off’, says Allen) and in 2007 made an album together as The Good, The Bad & The Queen.
Recent years have seen an increasing demand for Allen’s Afrobeat sound sparked by Fela!, a musical based on Kuti’s life that debuted on Broadway in NYC in 2009. But while his former boss’s exploits are transformed into after-dinner entertainment, Allen continues to strive for new sounds. His next release will be the debut album from Rocketjuice and The Moon, a funk supergroup with Albarn and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea, and vocals from Erykah Badu. He will be bringing a new eight-piece Afrofunk group Black Series (‘a criss-cross of strokes from Detriot and Lagos’) to Dubai next week.
‘I am Afrobeat,’ he says, assessing his legacy without irony. ‘Drumming Afrobeatis a discipline. You have to feel the music.
It’s in the mind. It’s not in the body. It’s the way you feel.’
Tony Allen plays on Saturday 21
De La Soul
5 minutes with De La Soul’s Dave
What’s the first record you bought?
Issac Hayes, ‘Walk on By’.
And the last?
Sade, ‘Soldier of Love’.
If your house was on fire, what’s the first thing you’d grab?
My lucky jock strap. No, not really. No idea.
The last record that got you on your feet and dancing?
Gorillaz, Plastic Beach.
Your speciality in the kitchen?
Lobster ravioli. No joke.
The best rap you heard in the past 12 months?
Watch the Throne [by Jay-Z and Kanye West] was interesting.
The singer whose vocal cords you wish you had?
One more thing you’d like to accomplish in your life?
The De La Soul record you’d give to a girl you’d met in a bar who’d never heard of you?
‘All Good’ featuring Chaka Khan.
The weirdest thing on your rider?
The best way to relax after coming off stage?
Sauna, steam room, massage. Works every time.
De La Soul play on Friday 20.