Published On: Fri, May 1st, 2020

Tony Allen: Afrobeat pioneer and legendary drummer dies aged 79 | Ents & Arts News

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Tributes have been paid to pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, who has died aged 79.

Nigeria-born Allen, along with Fela Kuti, helped define the Afrobeat genre as part of the band Africa ’70.

His manager, Eric Trosset, said he died suddenly in his home city of Paris, adding it was not linked to the coronavirus.

“The exact cause of death is unknown,” Mr Trosset said.

“He was in top form, it was quite sudden. I spoke to him at 1pm and two hours later he felt bad and was transported to Pompidou hospital, where he died.”

Afrobeat combines West African musical styles with US funk and jazz influences, with Allen described by Brian Eno as one of “the great musicians of the 20th century – and the 21st”.

He also collaborated with Blur star Damon Albarn and Clash bassist Paul Simonon in supergroup The Good, the Bad & the Queen, releasing two albums.

Allen performing in Central Park, New York, in June 2000
Allen performing in Central Park, New York, in June 2000

Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea said Allen was his hero and that their time jamming together was “heavenly”.

Writing on Instagram, Flea said: “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.”

Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, said: “Another day another legend passes on. It’s really incredible the rate at which we’re losing them. Tony Allen R.I.P.”

Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich tweeted that Allen was “a pioneer who’s vibrations changed popular music forever.. and quite the character too…”

Allen was born in Nigerian capital Lagos and didn’t start drumming until he was 18.

He met collaborator Fela Kuti in 1964 and they went on to release dozens of albums together as Africa ’70, giving birth to the Afrobeat genre in the process.

When he eventually left, such was his prowess, the band reportedly had to hire several drummers to replicate his sound.

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