Tony Allen, Legendary Afrobeat Pioneer, Dies at 79

Tony Allen - Getty - H 2020
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He was the highly influential drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70 in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tony Allen, drummer, Fela Kuti collaborator and celebrated innovator of the Afrobeat genre, has died. He was 79.

Allen died in Paris and the cause of death is not known at the time of publication. “We don’t know the exact cause of death,” his manager Eric Trosset told France 24. “He was in great shape; it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1 p.m., then two hours later he was sick and taken to Pompidou hospital where he died.”

Born in Nigeria, the self-taught Allen served as the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70 in the 1960s and 1970s, which created and perfected the highly influential Afrobeat sound. While in the band, he participated in iconic Afrobeat albums such as 1973’s Gentleman, 1975’s Expensive Shit and 1976’s Zombie.

“There was no band like the Africa 70,” Fela’s son Femi Kuti once told Rolling Stone. “And there is no drummer like Tony Allen.”

In the 1980s, Allen moved to Europe, settling eventually in Paris after stints in London. He continued to work on Afrobeat projects but also developed the Afrofunk sound that incorporated elements of electronica and hip hop. 

In recent years, Allen played alongside Damon Albarn on multiple projects, including with The Good, The Bad & The Queen, as well as Charlotte Gainsbourg, Air, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and others.

A number of musicians who looked up to Allen took to social media to share their grief following the unfortunate news, including Major Lazer, Flea and Sean Ono Lennon. 

 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

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

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.