Tony Allen, legendary drummer known for pioneering the Afrobeat genre, passes away at 79

Tony Allen’s drumming was a key part of the rhythmic structure that underpinned the fusion of jazz, funk and West African melodies.

FP Staff May 01, 2020 17:00:47 IST
Tony Allen, legendary drummer known for pioneering the Afrobeat genre, passes away at 79

Nigerian drummer and composer Tony Allen, who worked closely with musician Fela Kuti as a pioneer of the Afrobeat genre, died in Paris aged 79, his manager said.

The Afrobeat sound, which rose to prominence in Nigeria in the 1970s, combined organ riffs with West African drum patterns and brass instruments. Allen’s drumming was a key part of the rhythmic structure that underpinned the fusion of jazz, funk and West African melodies.

Tony Allen legendary drummer known for pioneering the Afrobeat genre passes away at 79

Tony Allen. Image via Facebook

Allen died on Wednesday evening in Paris of a heart attack, National Public Radio (NPR) cited his manager Eric Trosset as saying on Thursday.

“Farewell Tony! Your eyes saw what most couldn’t see. You are the coolest person on Earth! As you used to say, “There is no end,” Trosset said in a tribute posted on Facebook.

One of Allen's young protégés, Miles Francis Arntzen wrote a poignant eulogy for his mentor which was later posted on Allen's Facebook page by Trosset. It read: "...Tony Allen was a humble giant, whose otherworldly musicality has lifted our little world to a higher place. The universe was in his drumming. His drumming possessed history, it contained spirits, it communicated messages... Tony Allen was the prime example of a drummer’s ability to harness the magic of music."

Allen recorded more than 30 albums with Kuti and his group, Africa ‘70, which fused jazz, funk and African traditional singing.

The songs were usually over 10 minutes long and Kuti’s lyrics were often angry diatribes against corruption, African dictators and Nigeria’s military regimes.

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

In later years Allen worked with a broad range of artists including musician Brian Eno who referred to Allen “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”.

— With inputs from Reuters

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