Tony Allen, the Drummer Who ‘Put the Beat in Afrobeat’ Passes On

IMAGE: BEN HOUDJIK / SHUTTERSTOCK

Pioneering Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, a co-founder of the Afrobeat musical genre, passed on in Paris on Thursday, aged 79, said his manager.

According to Eric Trosset, Allen died of a heart attack, while AFP said his death has nothing to do with coronavirus disease.

Allen was born in Lagos in 1940 and taught himself how to play the drums when he was 18, following closely in the footsteps of American jazz drummers Art Blakey and Max Roach.

Allen’s 2013 autobiography, Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat, documented and narrated his adventures in the world of music.

He first met Fela Kuti in 1964, and would later go on to become the drummer and musical director of Fela’s famous band Africa ‘70 in the 1960-70s.

Fela, who died in 1997, once said that “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.”

Afrobeat is a combination of elements from West Africa’s fuji music and highlife styles and American funk and jazz.

While paying his tributes, UK musician Brian Eno described Allen as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”.

In describing his friend, manager Eric Trosset in a Facebook post said, your eyes saw what most couldn’t see…as you used to say: ‘There is no end’”.

Beninois singer Angelique Kidjo took to Instagram to express her condolences, saying, “bye bye Tony Allen, beautiful spirit and friend who has changed the history of African music. I was lucky to work with you on my last two albums. Sending lots of love to his family and friends.”

Ghanaian rapper M.anifest said Allen “put the beat in afrobeat” and thanked him “for a lifetime of being quietly epic.”