Tony Allen: ‘World’s greatest drummer’ and afrobeat pioneer dies


Tony Allen performs on the Park stage the Glastonbury festival in the UK. Photo: June 2010Image copyright
AFP/Getty Images

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Tony Allen has been described as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”.

Pioneering Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, a co-founder of the afrobeat musical genre, died in Paris on Thursday aged 79, his manager says.

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

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

Fela, as he was widely known, died in 1997. He once said that “without Tony Allen, there would be no afrobeat”.

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Media captionAfrobeat drummer Tony Allen on learning to drum, working with Fela Kuti and Damon Albarn.

Allen has also been described by UK musician Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”.

Allen’s career and life story were documented in his 2013 autobiography Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat,

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

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Media captionHow Fela Kuti’s legacy and music lives on

Allen, who was born in Lagos in 1940, taught himself how to play drums when he was 18.

He said he learnt his technique by listening to American jazz drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach.

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Getty Images

Allen first met Fela 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 needed four separate drummers to fill the void.

Allen emigrated to London in 1984, and later 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.


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