Tony Allen (musician)

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Tony Allen
Allen at Oslo Jazzfestival 2015
Allen at Oslo Jazzfestival 2015
Background information
Birth nameTony Oladipo Allen
Born(1940 -07-20)20 July 1940
Lagos, British Nigeria
Died30 April 2020(2020-04-30) (aged 79)
Paris, France
  • Drummer
  • composer
  • songwriter
  • Drums
  • percussion
Years active1968–2020
Tony Allen at the Eurockéennes of 2007

Tony Oladipo Allen (20 July 1940 – 30 April 2020)[1] was a Nigerian drummer, composer, and songwriter who lived and worked in Paris, France. Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70 from 1968 to 1979, and was one of the founders of the Afrobeat genre. Fela once stated that "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat".[2] He was described by Brian Eno as "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived".[3]

Later in life, Allen collaborated with Damon Albarn on several projects, including Gorillaz, the Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon.[4] Allen's career and life were documented in his 2013 autobiography Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat, co-written with Michael E. Veal, who previously wrote a comprehensive biography of Fela Kuti.[5]

Early career[edit]

Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria to James Alabi Allen, a motor mechanic from British Nigeria (now present day Nigeria) and Prudentia Mettle, from the Gold Coast (now present day Ghana),[6][1] He began playing drums at the age of 18, while working as an engineer for a radio station. Allen was influenced by music his father listened to: Jùjú, a popular Yoruba music from the 1940s, but also American jazz, and the growing highlife scene in Nigeria and Ghana. Allen worked hard to develop a unique voice on the drums, feverishly studying LPs and magazine articles by Max Roach and Art Blakey, but also revolutionary Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren (later known as Kofi Ghanaba – who developed a highly sought-after sound that mixed tribal Ghanaian drumming with bop – working with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and Max Roach).

Allen was hired by "Sir" Victor Olaiya to play claves with his highlife band, the Cool Cats. Allen was able to fill the drum set chair when the former Cool Cats drummer left the band. Allen later played with Agu Norris and the Heatwaves, the Nigerian Messengers, and the Melody Makers.

Fela and Africa '70[edit]

In 1964, Fela Kuti invited Allen to audition for a jazz-highlife band he was forming. Kuti and Allen had played together as sidemen in the Lagos circuit. Fela complimented Allen's unique sound: "How come you are the only guy in Nigeria who plays like this – jazz and highlife?" Thus Allen became an original member of Kuti's "Koola Lobitos" highlife-jazz band.

In 1969, following a turbulent and educational trip to the United States, Allen served as the musical director of Fela's band, Africa '70,[7] which developed a new militant African sound, mixing the heavy groove and universal appeal of soul with jazz, highlife, and the polyrhythmic template of Yoruba conventions. Allen developed a novel style to complement Fela's new African groove that blended these disparate genres.

Allen recounted how he and Fela wrote in 1970: "Fela used to write out the parts for all the musicians in the band (Africa '70). I was the only one who originated the music I played. Fela would ask what type of rhythm I wanted to play.… You can tell a good drummer because we… have four limbs… and they are… playing different things… the patterns don't just come from Yoruba… [but] other parts of Nigeria and Africa."[8]

Allen recorded more than 30 albums with Fela and Africa '70. But by the late 1970s, dissension was growing in the ranks of Africa '70. Arguments over royalties/pay and recognition grew in intensity. As inventor of the rhythms that underpinned Afrobeat and musical director, Allen felt especially slighted. Fela stood his ground, stating that he would get the royalties for his songs. Fela did support Allen's three solo recordings: Jealousy ('75), Progress ('77), No Accommodation For Lagos ('79), but by 1979, Allen chose to leave Africa '70, taking many members with him. "'What makes me decide it's time to go? It's … everything...and (his) he doesn't care, like he doesn't know ...he doesn't feel he's done anything (wrong). And with all the parasites around too.... there were 71 people on tour by now and only 30 working in the got to ask why. Those guys were sapping Fela of his Force, of his Music.' So Tony moved on, once again in search of his own sound."

Afrobeat to Afrofunk[edit]

Allen formed his own group, recording No Discrimination in 1980, and performing in Lagos until emigrating to London in 1984. Later moving to Paris, Allen recorded with King Sunny Adé, Ray Lema and Manu Dibango. Allen recorded N.E.P.A. in 1985.

Post-Fela, Allen developed a hybrid sound, deconstructing and fusing Afrobeat with electronica, dub, R&B, and rap. Allen refers to this synthesis as afrofunk.

Allen returned with a much anticipated new project for his 13th release. Recorded live in Lagos, with a full-sized Afrobeat band, Lagos No Shaking (Lagos is OK) signified Allen's return to roots Afrobeat after forays into avant-garde electronica hybrids. Lagos No Shaking was released on 13 June 2006.

Later work[edit]

In the single "Music Is My Radar" (2000) Blur pay homage to him, and the song ends with Damon Albarn repeating the phrase "Tony Allen got me dancing."[9]

Allen appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot and Riot(2002) in tribute to Fela Kuti.[10] Allen appeared alongside Res, Ray Lema, Baaba Maal, Positive Black Soul and Archie Shepp on a track entitled "No Agreement."

Allen played drums throughout the 2003 album Love Trap by Susheela Raman and also performed with her live. Allen recorded album "Live/Tony Allen"(2004) also.[11]

In 2006, Allen joined Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, and Simon Tong as drummer for the Good, the Bad & the Queen.[12] Allen contacted Albarn after hearing the 2000 single "Music Is My Radar" by Albarn's band Blur, which references him.[12] They released their self-titled debut album in 2007, followed by Merrie Land in 2018.[13] Allen and Albarn also collaborated on the 2012 album Rocket Juice & the Moon.[4]

Allen played drums on two tracks on the 2007 album 5:55 by Charlotte Gainsbourg: "5:55" and "Night-Time Intermission", backed by French duo Air and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.[14] He also made an appearance playing the drums in the video for "Once Upon a Time" by French duo Air in late 2007.

He was a featured artist on Zap Mama's albums Supermoon (2007) and ReCreation (2009), adding his voice to the tracks "1000 Ways" and "African Diamond."

Allen also contributed drums on "People Dansa", an afrobeat rhythm-fuelled track on the second album of the Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho, released in 2014.[15]

His album entitled, Secret Agent, was released in June 2009 by World Circuit.[16]

He released A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers(2017), a four-song EP on Blue Note Records featuring a reworked Afrobeat version of Art Blakey's "Moanin'". In 2017, Allen collaborated with Malian singer Oumou Sangaré for the track "Yere faga" from her album Mogoya.

Filmmaker Opiyo Okeyo released the documentary film Birth of Afrobeat(2019) about Allen's life in music.[17][18] The film screened at American Black Film Festival and won the 21st Century Fox Global Inclusion Award for Emerging Voices at the BlackStar Film Festival.[19][20] Damon Albarn and Tony Allen and band performanced on concert in the Netherlands, among then the Lowlands Festival(2019). Birth of Afrobeat was acquired by American Public Television and had its television premiere January 20, 2020 on PBS.[21][22]

Allen was featured on the Gorillaz track "How Far?"(2020) alongside Skepta, as part of the band's Song Machine project.

Allen contributed to seven tracks on the album Keleketla!,(2020) a collaborative project co-ordinated by Johannesburg's Keleketla Library and English electronic musicians Coldcut, recorded in both Soweto and London.

Two posthumous Allen albums were released. There Is No End(2021) featured Allen on production, alongside rappers and singers from around the world. They included Danny Brown, Nah Eeto and Sampa the Great.[23][24] The second release after Allen's death was The Solution Is Restless, a collaborative album featuring Joan As Police Woman and Dave Okumu.

2021 also saw the release of April March's album In Cinerama, which features Allen as a drummer; he is also credited for co-writing several tracks.[25]


On 30 April 2020, Allen died of abdominal aortic aneurysm at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris.[1] Tributes came from musicians and producers including Flea, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Mills, Nigel Godrich and Sean Lennon.[1][26] Damon Albarn noted that "I will never, ever play with anyone like him again. He is my number one musical teacher".[27]


Tony Allen discography
Year Title Artist Label
1969 Koola Lobitos (64–68) / The '69 Los Angeles Sessions Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
1970 Fela's London Scene
1971 Live!
Open & Close
1972 Roforofo Fight
1973 Afrodisiac
1974 Confusion
He Miss Road
1975 Jealousy Tony Allen Soundworkshop
Alagbon Close Fela Ransome Kuti Barclay
Everything Scatter
Excuse O
Expensive Shit
Monkey Banana
Noise For Vendor Mouth
1976 Ikoyi Blindness
Kalakuta Show
Na Poi
Unnecessary Begging
Upside Down
Yellow Fever
1977 Progress Tony Allen Phonogram
Fear Not For Man Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
J.J.D – Live at Kalakuta Republik
No Agreement
Opposite People
Sorrow Tears and Blood
Shuffering and Shmiling
1979 No Accommodation for Lagos Tony Allen Phonogram
Unknown Soldier Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
No Discrimination Tony Allen and the Afro Messengers Shanu Olu Records
1980 Music of Many Colours Fela Anikulapo Kuti / Roy Ayers Barclay
1985 Never Expect Power Always (aka N.E.P.A.) Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000 Moving Target
1986 I Go Shout Plenty Fela Anikulapo Kuti Afrodisia
1987 Too Many Prisoners Tony Allen with Zebra Crossing Barclay
1998 Ariya Tony Allen Comet
1999 Black Voices
Ariya (remixes)
The Two Sides of Fela – Jazz & Dance Fela Anikulapo Kuti Barclay
Racubah! – A Collection of Modern Afro Rhythms Various Artists Comet
2000 Black Voices Alternate take Featuring Mike "clip" Payne Tony Allen
Black Voices Remixed
Mountains Will Never Surrender Doctor L Jive
The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 1 Various Artists Comet
The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 2
The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 3
Modern Answers To Old Problems Ernest Ranglin Telarc
Afrobeat...No Go Die! Various Artists Shanachie
2001 The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Comet
The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 4
The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 5
The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 6
Psyco On Da Bus Tony Allen, Doctor L, Jean Phi Dary, Jeff Kellner, Cesar Anot
2002 Homecooking Tony Allen Wrasse Records
Every Season Comet
Eager Hands & Restless Feet Wrasse Records
2004 Awa Band Bababatteur Ekosound
Live Tony Allen Comet
2006 Trippin New Cool Collective Dox Records
Lagos No Shaking Tony Allen Astralwerks
2007 The Good, the Bad & the Queen The Good, the Bad & the Queen EMI
5:55 Charlotte Gainsbourg Because/Vice
2009 Secret Agent Tony Allen World Circuit Records
Inspiration Information 4 Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Strut Records
2012 Rocket Juice & the Moon Rocket Juice & the Moon Honest Jon's
2013 The Rough Guide to African Disco Various Artists World Music Network
2014 Film of Life Tony Allen JazzVillage
2017 A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers Blue Note Records
The Source
What Goes Up Chicago Afrobeat Project Chicago Afrobeat Project
Mandela Effect Gonjasufi Warp
2018 Merrie Land The Good, the Bad & the Queen Studio 13
2020 Rejoice Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela World Circuit Records
How Far? Gorillaz, Tony Allen & Skepta Studio 13
Keleketla! Keleketla Ahead of Our Time
2021 There Is No End Tony Allen Blue Note
The Solution Is Restless Dave Okumu, Joan As Police Woman, & Tony Allen Sweet Police

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Daniel Kreps; Elias Leight (30 April 2020). "Tony Allen, Pioneering Afrobeat Drummer, Dead at 79". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  2. ^ Williamson, Nigel (18 January 2008). "Tony Allen: The veteran Afrobeat drummer is shaking his sticks as hard and as brilliantly as ever". The Independent. Retrieved 22 April 2008.
  3. ^ Patterson, Ian (24 December 2007). "Steve Reid: Staying in the Rhythms". Retrieved 22 April 2008.
  4. ^ a b Reed, Ryan (28 March 2012). "Rocket Juice and the Moon: Rocket Juice and the Moon". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  5. ^ "Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat". Duke University Press. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  6. ^ Denslow, Robin (3 May 2020). "Tony Allen obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  7. ^ Pareles, Jon (2 May 2020). "Tony Allen, Drummer Who Created the Beat of Afrobeat, Dies at 79". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 3 May 2020.
  8. ^ Graeme Ewens, Africa O-Ye!, 1991.
  9. ^ "Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon – Features – Music, Time Out London". Archived from the original on 20 November 2006.
  10. ^ Red Hot Organization Red Hot Retrieved 20 April 2022
  11. ^ Live/Tony Allen Retrieved 19 April 2022
  12. ^ a b Williams, Murphy (20 January 2007). "Songs of experience". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  13. ^ Young, Alex. "The Good The Bad & The Queen to release new album, Merrie Land, in November". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  14. ^ Charlotte Gainsbourg "5:55" Retrieved 20 April 2022
  15. ^ ""FLAVIA COELHO - Les Musiciens du 2e Album 'Mundo Meu'"". YouTube. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021.
  16. ^ "Tony Allen". 11 March 2009. Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  17. ^ Eyre, Banning (17 May 2018). "25th New York African Film Festival Launches". Afropop Worldwide. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  18. ^ "The Nigerian Shorts Program at This Year's New York African Film Festival Challenges the Nollywood Status Quo". OkayAfrica. 21 May 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  19. ^ "BlackStar Qualifying Award Winners". Gravitas Ventures. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  20. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (6 June 2019). "American Black Film Festival To Feature 'The Black Godfather', Spike Lee, HBO Short Film Finalists And More". Deadline. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  21. ^ "AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange | My Friend Fela and Birth of Afrobeat | Season 12 | Episode 1". Retrieved 12 August 2021.
  22. ^ Kreps, Daniel (3 May 2020). "See Tony Allen Break Down Afrobeat's Major Drum Patterns in Unseen Doc Clip". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Tony Allen: There Is No End". Pitchfork. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  24. ^ Krcatovich, Dustin. "There Is No End". Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  25. ^ Sendra, Tim. "In Cinerama Review". Retrieved 15 June 2022.
  26. ^ "Pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen has died, aged 79". 1 May 2020. Retrieved 2 May 2020.
  27. ^ Sweeney, Eamon. "Damon Albarn interview: 'I think my life has been a bit too colourful to be quite ready for an autobiography'". Business Post. Retrieved 8 March 2022.

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