Tony Allen, Global Afrobeat Drummer, Dies at 79

Robyn Mowatt Robyn Mowatt is a Staff Writer at Okayplayer where she…
Tony Allen
Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

The pioneering Afrobeat drummer reportedly died in Paris, France.

Tony Allen, the global drummer known for playing an instrumental role in revolutionizing Afrobeat during his time alongside Fela Kuti died Thursday. According to a Rolling Stone report, the cause of death is not currently known. He died in Paris, France according to Sahara Reporters.

Since he was a member of Kuti’s band Africa 70, Allen contributed heavily to 1973’s Gentleman, 1975’s Expensive Shit, in addition to 1976’s Zombie. Fela was so completely taken up with Allen’s artistry that he once shared, “Without Tony there would be no Afrobeat.”

Allen joined Fela as a part of the band Koola Labitos before it was titled Africa 70, he met Kuti in 1964. “The first thing he asked was, ‘are you the one who said that you are the best drummer in this country?’” he shared. The process later consisted of Kuti sharing that Tony would be joining the group outright, but this came after the famed artist inquired if Allen could play jazz. 

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Allen began drumming in his late teens. During his humble beginnings in the industry, he struggled to make a livelihood for himself when he played in various bands in Lagos in the early ‘60s per Guardian. “Latin American, African horns, jazz, highlife … you had to be able to play it all because in the club they asked for it.” He studied countless acclaimed drummers throughout his life including Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, and Gene Krupa. 

In a feature with Wired, Allen shared, “We formed the band together, direct. He just told me, he would like me to be with him, from the beginning. To work it out, to have the edge, one needs somebody like that, like Fela.” He was also well aware of the political messages in Kuti’s music. “What [Fela] was challenging, he was right,” he said in 2016. “He also added, “But it was too direct and that’s why he got all this shit. There were too many arrests, too many bombardments.”In 1978 when government opposition became increasingly violent against Kuti, Allen left the band. 

Earlier this year, Allen released Rejoice, a collaboration with late South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Over the past few years, jazz has been a passion of Tony’s that he rediscovered. 

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