World’s greatest drummer and afrobeat pioneer, Tony Allen dies at 79.

by Duke Magazine
Tony Allen

Legendary Nigerian drummer, and the co-founder of the African beat (afrobeat) music genre, Tony Allen, died in Paris on Thursday, 30th April, at age 79, as released by his manager.

Eric Trosset told NPR radio that he died of a heart attack. AFP said his death was not in any way linked to coronavirus.

Allen was the drummer and musical director of musician Fela Kuti’s famous band Africa ’70 in the 1960 – ‘70s.

 Before Fela’s death in 1997, he once said that “without Tony Allen, there would be no afrobeat”.

Afrobeat combines elements of West Africa’s fuji music and highlife styles with American funk and jazz.

Allen, who was born in Lagos in 1940, taught himself through on how to play drums at the age of 18.

He attributed his learnt skills to listening closely to American jazz drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach. He then created the distinctive polyphonic rhythms of afrobeat, and was said to be able to play four different beats with each of his limbs.

Allen’s first meeting with Fela was in 1964, and they went on to record dozens of albums in Africa ’70, including Gentleman and Zombie.

Allen left the band in 1979, after reported rifts with the band leader over royalties. Fela then needed four separate drummers to fill the vacuum he left.

Allen moved to London in 1984, and subsequently moved to Paris.

He collaborated with a number of artists during his long music career, and was the drummer in The Good, the Bad & the Queen, with Damon Albarn, Paul Simenon and Simon Tong.

There is an interesting beat to Tony Allen’s drumming style that makes any track he jump on a hit and rock.

He was never rigid, as he always reach out to learning new musical sounds and trendy tunes.

The combination of the bass, snare and hi-hat is uniquely Tony Allen-flavoured, whether you are listening to him as the driving force behind Fela Kuti’s band in the 1970s, on his own hypnotic 1999 album Black Voices or playing live last year alongside Damon Albarn with The Good, The Bad and the Queen. 

He once said:

“ Art Blakey must have been a magician because it sounded like more than one person was sitting behind the kit”,

I recently got right up close to the stage to study the flow of Tony Allen’s hands and feet. I was mesmerised by his magic.”

His forever young look still makes him awaken to drum in years to come.

He described his exuberance saying:

“I’m looking forward to the future because it’s a long, long way to go. There’s no end. I’m very sure of that.”

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