Tony Allen, the legendary drummer who co-founded Afrobeat as the leader of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s band Africa ’70, died on Thursday night in Paris at 79. Born in Lagos, he began playing drums as a teenager. Largely influenced by jazz drummers like Art Blakey and Max Roach, Allen was indeed a self-taught drummer.
He began playing with Fela in the 1960s, recording over 30 albums with him and the Africa ’70 band. Allen was instrumental to several Afrobeat classics such as Fela’s Zombie, Expensive Shit and Gentleman. “Without Tony Allen, there would be no afrobeat,” Fela once declared. In 1979, he left Fela’s band and formed his own group that created a new polyrhythmic sound called “afrofunk.” He later moved to Paris and collaborated with a number of renowned African artists, including the late Cameroonian Afro-jazz pioneer Manu Dibango, Sunny Adé and a host of others. His work has been influencial on artists like Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, who he worked with on the 2014 track “Go Back,”Questlove, as well as Brian Eno, who once called him “perhaps the best drummer who ever lived.”
Last month, the artist released a joint album with South African jazz icon Hugh Masekela, making it Masekela’s first posthumous release. They began working together in 2010 after knowing one another for almost 40 years.
Allen visited Nigeria in December 2019 and stayed till the first week of January 2020, performing at various cultural hubs and lounges in Lagos. What would have been his final interview with THISDAY was cancelled and postponed till August 2020 when he would be celebrating his 80th birthday.