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Legendary drummer and afrobeat co-founder Tony Allen dies aged 79

Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ’70 in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tony Allen pictured in April 2017 ahead of a concert with Cheikh Lo in Dakar, Senegal.
Tony Allen pictured in April 2017 ahead of a concert with Cheikh Lo in Dakar, Senegal.
Image: Sylvain Cherkaoui/AP/Press Association Images

LEGENDARY NIGERIAN DRUMMER Tony Allen, who created afrobeat along with his old bandmate Fela Kuti, died suddenly at the age of 79 in Paris yesterday, his manager has confirmed. 

“We don’t know the exact cause of death,” manager Eric Trosset said, adding it was not linked to Covid-19. 

“He was in great shape, it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1pm (11am Irish time yesterday), then two hours later he was sick and taken to Pompidou hospital where he died.”

Allen was the drummer and musical director of Kuti’s band Africa ’70 in the 1960s and 1970s.

During that time the pair created afrobeat, combining West African musical styles such as highlife and fuji music with American imports jazz and funk. Afrobeat went on to become one of the totemic genres of 20th century African music.

Over Allen’s thrilling beat, Fela laid out his revolutionary and pan-African message, which led him to become one of the abiding icons of the struggle for freedom across the continent.

Allen and Fela recorded around 40 albums together in Africa ’70, before parting ways after a 26-year collaboration.

Such was the hole that Allen left in his band, Fela needed four drummers to replace him.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen

Allen taught himself to play drums from the age of 18, drawing inspiration from American jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as contemporary African music.

He remained hugely influential and beloved by generations of musicians, many of whom paid tribute to him today.

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The epic Tony Allen, one of the greatest drummers to ever walk this earth has left us. What a wildman, with a massive, kind and free heart and the deepest one-of-a-kind groove. Fela Kuti did not invent afrobeat, Fela and Tony birthed it together. Without Tony Allen there is NO afrobeat. I was lucky enough to spend many an hour with him, holed up in a London studio, jamming the days away. It was fucking heavenly. He was and still is, my hero. I wanted to honor his greatness so much when we played together, and I was nervous when we started, but he made me laugh like a two year old, and we fell right into pocket. I lit up like a Christmas tree every time I knew we were about to lay down some rhythm. With Tony’s longtime musical collaborator, friend and champion, Damon Albarn, we jammed til the cows came home. We partied in Nigeria, we partied around Europe, and it was always about the music. Just grooving high, grooving deep. Tony Allen I love you, I’m so grateful to have had the chance to rock with you. God bless your beautiful soul.

A post shared by Flea (@flea333) on

British musician and producer Brian Eno has called Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who ever lived”.

Allen was the drummer in the supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, also featuring Blur singer Damon Albarn and The Clash bassist Paul Simonon, which released its second album in 2018.

He lived in the Paris suburb Courbevoie.

© AFP 2020

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