Tony Allen, the legendary Afrobeat drummer who gained prominence playing with Fela Kuti & the Africa ’70, has died at 79. No cause of death is known, though his manager confirmed to AFP that it was not linked to coronavirus.
Born in Nigeria in 1940, Allen taught himself drums at the age of 18. In 1964, he linked up with the composer Fela Kuti, and together they created over 30 albums while pioneering the new Afrobeat sound. Allen was inspired by American jazz drummers like Max Roach, but he filtered those sensibilities through Ghanian highlife music and Yoruba polyrhythms. He served as Kuti’s music director as well as percussionist, and when Allen left to pursue a solo career in 1979, Kuti famously had to use four drummers to replace him.
Allen’s influence was felt around the world, on every continent and in nearly every genre of popular music. Brian Eno proclaimed him “one of the great musicians of the 20th century — and the 21st, actually.” Flea, who performed in the band Rocket Juice & the Moon with Tony Allen and Damon Albarn, called the Nigerian legend “one of the greatest drummers to ever walk this earth.”
Later in his career, Allen teamed up with Albarn, The Clash’s Paul Simonon, and The Verve’s Simon Tong as The Good The Bad & The Queen. The foursome released two albums: 2007’s The Good The Bad & The Queen and 2018’s Merrie Land.
Allen’s final album, a collaboration with Hugh Masakela called Rejoice, came out just last month.