Afrobeat legend and Fela Kuti’s drummer, Tony Allen dies

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Tony Allen, Photo- Courtesy Eric Trosset

Tony Oladipo Allen, foremost drummer and Afrobeat pioneer has died in Paris on Thursday 30 April.

Eric Trosset, Tony Allen’s manager revealed to Eyes of a Lagos Boy’, “Allen, 79, passed away in Paris, April 30 at 6 pm, Not COVID-19 related”, he added “He was in great shape, it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT), then two hours later he was sick and taken to Pompidou hospital where he died.”

Born in Lagos on 20 July 1940, Allen met Fela Ransom-Kuti in 1964 and was invited to audition for a band that he was creating. The drummer became one of the founding members of Kuti’s “Koola Lobitos” highlife-jazz band the same year. He went on to feature in over 30 albums in the band on the forefront of Africa’s iconic genre, Afrobeat.

Allen was the musical director of Africa ’70 from 1968 to 1979. Fela Kuti’s hits that include Fela’s London Hits (1970), Open and Close (1971), Roforofo Fight (1973), Zombie, JJD, Shuffering and Shmiling, (1977), VIP (1979) and several others feature his signature drumming style.

Allen was the drummer behind the syncopated drumming that breathed rhythmic life into Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat blend of big band jazz, funk and traditional African music. They toured the world with their sublime sound and message of a people.

Since starting his own group, No Discrimination in 1979, Tony Allen has collaborated with King Sunny Ade, Manu Dibango, Damon Albarn, Flea, Oumou Sangare and numerous artists across cultures and continents. Allen is famous for his unique style follow a gyrating pattern with a soft and easy flow on the drums.

Rikki Stein, Fela Kuti’s manager and a longtime friend of Allen wrote on social media “Our beautiful Tony has left us. Words escape me. The only word that comes to mind is Irreplaceable! Rest in peace sweet soul.”

Grammy Award-winning, drummer, Olalekan Babalola wrote ”We lost my great baba, Tony Allen, He fathered me, he was my confidant. Baba, at least you are free”.

Allen’s manager, Trosset wrote in a glowing tribute, ”Farewell Tony! your eyes saw what most couldn’t see, you are the coolest person on earth! As you used to say “There is no end”.

Tony Allen’s last work was a special collaborative LP with the late South African trumpeter, Hugh Makesela released on 20 March 2020.

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