Tony Allen, best known as the drummer for Fela Kuti's Africa 70 and the rhythmic architect behind Afrobeat, died yesterday at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, of abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 79 years old. Allen's manager, Eric Trosser, told France 24 that it was “quite sudden” and that Allen was “in great shape.”
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, and starting as a drummer in his late teens, Allen took a special interest in American jazz, specifically Max Roach's use of the high hat. On the club circuit, he played highlife, Latin and Caribbean tunes and jazz, whatever the club called for. In the '60s he joined a highlife band led by a young Fela Kuti. The two would craft the sound of Afrobeat—a huge ensemble where every instrument is part of the rhythm section, anchored by Allen's fluid, polyrhythmic but roomy drumming—until the late '70s.
Simply the best. We’ll miss you https://t.co/JWmoPCFGL1 via @YouTube
— Africa Express (@africaexpress) April 30, 2020
I've written some personal memories of #TonyAllen who sadly died yesterday. Photos are with @felakuti's manager @RikkiStein and then @Damonalbarn at an @africaexpress Paris dinner during rehearsals. What a joyous life. Thanks for our adventures Tony !! #Afrobeat #RIPTonyAllen pic.twitter.com/GTYNsdaXQX
— ?ﾟﾅﾃ?ﾟﾄ?ﾟﾄﾴ? ?ﾟﾅﾄ?ﾟﾄﾳ #?ﾟﾄﾱ?ﾟﾄﾴ #FBSI (@stephenbudd) May 1, 2020
Tony Allen was making some of the best music of his career in his 70s. His 2017 album The Source was a masterclass in drumming excellence. We should all be grateful to have such a brilliant catalog of work to remember him by. R.I.P.
— I’m Gary #CABBAGES (@noyokono) May 1, 2020
We are very sad to share that the wonderful Tony Allen passed away yesterday afternoon. Our thoughts are with his family and his friends. Tony was a true legend and a beautiful, kind and funny man. It was a huge privilege to know him and to work with him. pic.twitter.com/IEoxkm6CoT
— WorldCircuitRecords (@WorldCircuit) May 1, 2020
We'll be working on a show about Allen's incredible career, because even though his work with Africa 70 had people like Brian Eno calling him “the best drummer of the 20th century and the 21st,” Allen continued to work and evolve as a vital and active artist right up to this year. As a solo artist with albums like 2017's The Source, or as a collaborator with Africa Express or even this year's release with Hugh Masekela, Allen leaves behind decades of innovative, inventive work. We are lucky to have crossed paths with him.