Tony Allen (musician)

Last updated

Tony Allen
Tony Allen med band cropped (231308).jpg
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
Associated acts
Tony Allen at the Eurockeennes of 2007 Tony Allen mg 6469.jpg
Tony Allen at the Eurockéennes of 2007

Tony Oladipo Allen (July 20, 1940 – 30 April 2020) 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 primary co-founders of the genre of Afrobeat music. Fela once stated that, "without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat." [1] He was described by Brian Eno as "perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived". [2]


Allen's career and life story were documented in his 2013 autobiography Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat, co-written with author/musician Michael E. Veal, who previously wrote a comprehensive biography of Fela Kuti. [3]

Early career

Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria. [4] 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

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, [5] 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." [6]

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

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

In 2002, Allen appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Red Hot and Riot in tribute to Fela Kuti. 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.

In 2004 Allen recorded with French electronic artist Sébastien Tellier on the album Politics including the hit song "La Ritournelle".

In 2006 Allen recorded the album trippin with the Amsterdam-based New Cool Collective Mixing his Afrobeat with jazz and did a series of concerts in the Netherlands, among then the Lowlands Festival.

In 2006, Allen joined Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, and Simon Tong as drummer for the Good, the Bad & the Queen. [7] Allen contacted Albarn after hearing the 2000 single "Music Is My Radar" by Albarn's band Blur, which references him. [7] They released their self-titled debut album in 2007, followed by Merrie Land in 2018.[ citation needed ]

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.

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. [8]

His album entitled Secret Agent was released in June 2009 by World Circuit. [9]

Allen has influenced a range of artists across a number of genres. 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." [10]

Allen collaborated with Albarn and Flea in a project called Rocket Juice and The Moon with an album released in 2012. Albarn collaborated with him again for the single "Go Back" in 2014, that is part of the album Film of Life, released in October.

Allen replaced Vladislav Delay as drummer for the Moritz Von Oswald Trio and appeared on their album Sounding Lines.

In 2017, he released A Tribute to Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, 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.

In 2018, Allen recorded E.P. Tomorrow Comes The Harvest with Techno DJ Jeff Mills.

In 2019, filmmaker Opiyo Okeyo released the documentary film Birth of Afrobeat about Allen's life in music. [11] [12] 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. [13] [14] Birth of Afrobeat was acquired by American Public Television and had its television premiere January 20, 2020 on PBS. [15] [16]

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


On April 30, 2020, Allen died of abdominal aortic aneurysm at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris. [4] Tributes came from musicians and producers including Flea, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Mills, Nigel Godrich, Sean Lennon, and Damon Albarn. [4] [17]


Tony Allen discography
1969Koola Lobitos (64–68) / The '69 Los Angeles Sessions Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1970 Fela's London Scene Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1971 Live! Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1971 Open & Close Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1972 Roforofo Fight Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1972 Shakara Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1973 Afrodisiac Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1973 Gentleman Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1974 Confusion Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1974He Miss RoadFela Ransome KutiBarclay
1975JealousyTony AllenSoundworkshop
1975Alagbon CloseFela Ransome KutiBarclay
1975Everything ScatterFela Ransome KutiBarclay
1975Excuse OFela Ransome KutiBarclay
1975 Expensive Shit Fela Ransome KutiBarclay
1975Monkey BananaFela Ransome KutiBarclay
1975Noise For Vendor MouthFela Ransome KutiBarclay
1976Ikoyi BlindnessFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1976Kalakuta ShowFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1976 Na Poi Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1976Unnecessary BeggingFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1976Upside DownFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1976Yellow FeverFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977ProgressTony AllenPhonogram
1977Fear Not For ManFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977J.J.D – Live at Kalakuta RepublikFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977 No Agreement Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977Opposite PeopleFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977 Sorrow Tears and Blood Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977 Shuffering and Shmiling Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977 Stalemate Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1977 Zombie Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1979No Accommodation for LagosTony AllenPhonogram
1979 Unknown Soldier Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1979V.I.P.Fela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1979No DiscriminationTony Allen and the Afro MessengersShanu Olu Records
1980Music of Many ColoursFela Anikulapo Kuti / Roy AyersBarclay
1985Never Expect Power Always (aka N.E.P.A.)Tony Allen with Afrobeat 2000Moving Target
1986I Go Shout PlentyFela Anikulapo KutiAfrodisia
1987Too Many PrisonersTony Allen with Zebra CrossingBarclay
1998AriyaTony AllenComet
1999Black VoicesTony AllenComet
1999Ariya (remixes)Tony AllenComet
1999The Two Sides of Fela – Jazz & DanceFela Anikulapo KutiBarclay
1999Racubah! – A Collection of Modern Afro RhythmsVarious ArtistsComet
2000Black Voices Alternate take Featuring Mike "clip" PayneTony AllenComet
2000Black Voices RemixedTony AllenComet
2000Mountains Will Never SurrenderDoctor LJive
2000The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 1Various ArtistsComet
2000The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 2Various ArtistsComet
2000The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 3Various ArtistsComet
2000Modern Answers To Old ProblemsErnest RanglinTelarc
2000Afrobeat...No Go Die!Various ArtistsShanachie
2001The Allenko Brotherhood EnsembleVarious ArtistsComet
2001The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 4Various ArtistsComet
2001The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 5Various ArtistsComet
2001The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble Part 6Various ArtistsComet
2001Psyco On Da BusTony Allen, Doctor L, Jean Phi Dary, Jeff Kellner, Cesar AnotComet
2002HomecookingTony Allen Wrasse Records
2002Every SeasonTony AllenComet
2002Eager Hands & Restless FeetTony Allen Wrasse Records
2004Awa BandBababatteurEkosound
2004LiveTony AllenComet
2006TrippinNew Cool CollectiveDox Records
2006Lagos No ShakingTony AllenAstralwerks
2007 The Good, the Bad & the Queen The Good, the Bad & the Queen EMI
20075:55Charlotte GainsbourgBecause/Vice
2009Secret AgentTony Allen World Circuit Records
2009Inspiration Information 4 Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen Strut Records
2012Rocket 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 Tony Allen Blue Note Records
2017 The Source Tony Allen Blue Note Records
2017What Goes Up Chicago Afrobeat Project Chicago Afrobeat Project
2017 Mandela Effect Gonjasufi Warp
2018 Merrie Land The Good, the Bad & the Queen Studio 13
2020 Rejoice Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela World Circuit Records
2020 How Far? Gorillaz, Tony Allen & Skepta Studio 13

Related Research Articles

Afrobeat West African music genre, distinct from Afrobeats

Afrobeat is a music genre which involves the combination of elements of West African musical styles such as fuji music and highlife with American jazz and later soul and funk influences, with a focus on chanted vocals, complex intersecting rhythms, and percussion. The term was coined in the 1960s by Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Fela Kuti, who is responsible for pioneering and popularizing the style both within and outside Nigeria.

Music of Nigeria

The music of Nigeria includes many kinds of folk and popular music, styles of folk music are related to the multitudes of ethnic groups in the country, each with their own techniques, instruments, and songs. Little is known about the country's music history prior to European contact, although bronze carvings dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries have been found depicting musicians and their instruments. The largest ethnic groups are the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. Traditional music from Nigeria and throughout Africa is almost always functional; in other words, it is performed to mark a ritual such as a wedding or funeral and not to achieve artistic goals. Although some Nigerians, especially children and the elderly, play instruments for their own amusement, solo performance is otherwise rare. Music is closely linked to agriculture, and there are restrictions on, for example, which instruments can be played during different parts of the growing season.

Fela Kuti Nigerian musician and activist

Fela Anikulapo Kuti was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, political activist, and Pan-Africanist. He is regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeat, an African music genre that combines traditional Yoruba and Afro-Cuban music with funk and jazz. At the height of his popularity, he was referred to as one of Africa's most "challenging and charismatic music performers". AllMusic described him as a "musical and sociopolitical voice" of international significance.

Femi Kuti Nigerian musician and singer-songwriter

Olufela Olufemi Anikulapo Kuti, popularly known as Femi Kuti, is a Nigerian musician born in London and raised in Lagos. He is the eldest son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti and a grandchild of political campaigner, women's rights activist and traditional aristocrat Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti.


Chopteeth is a Washington, D.C.- based afrofunk big-band. Although rooted in Fela Kuti's Nigerian afrobeat, Chopteeth's music is an amalgam of Ghanaian highlife, Senegalese rumba, Jamaican ska, Mande griot music, 1970's West African funk, Ewe dance drum rhythms, Kenyan Taita afropop, soul-funk, and jazz. Chopteeth's writing and arrangements feature unique driving syncopations, and occasional odd meters. Chopteeth vocalists sing in eight different languages including English, Nigerian Pidgin, Swahili, Wolof, Mande, Twi, Taita, and French.

Sila and the Afrofunk Experience

Sila and the Afrofunk Experience is an Afrofunk band formed in 2003.

Victor Abimbola Olaiya OON,, also known as Dr Victor Olaiya, was a Nigerian trumpeter who played in the highlife style. Though famous in Nigeria during the 1950s and early 1960s, Olaiya received little recognition outside his native country. Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times called him "The Evil Genius of Highlife."

Peter King Adeyoyin Osubu, known as Peter King, is a Nigerian musician who played several instruments, but was best known as an alto saxophonist playing a combination of Afrobeat and jazz. Peter King is perhaps better known in Europe and America than in Nigeria for his "Miliki Sound" on the record A Soulful Peter King, where he played popular classics such as "Sincerely", "We Belong Together" and "Just Because".

Kola Ogunkoya is a Nigerian afrobeat musician who uses the term "Afro Gbedu" to describe his style of music, which includes jazz, highlife, Jùjú, funk and traditional Yoruba music.

<i>Confusion</i> (album) 1975 studio album by Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa 70

Confusion is a 1975 album by Nigerian Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti and his Africa 70 band. It was arranged, composed, and produced by Kuti, who recorded the album after choosing to emphasize his African heritage and nationalism in his music. Confusion is a commentary on the confused state of post-colonial Lagos and its lack of infrastructure and proper leadership at the time. Kuti's pidgin English lyrics depict difficult conditions in the city, including a frenetic, multilingual trading market and inextricable traffic jams in Lagos' major intersections.

<i>Shakara</i> (album) 1972 studio album by Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa 70

Shakara is an album by Nigerian Afrobeat composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti recorded in Lagos in 1971 and originally released on the Nigerian EMI label.

<i>Afrodisiac</i> (Fela Kuti album) 1973 studio album by Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa 70

Afrodisiac is an album by Nigerian Afrobeat composer, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti, originally released on the Nigerian EMI label in 1973. The album's four tracks were re-recordings of Nigerian 45s redone in London in 1972. The album features Kuti's first Nigerian hit "Jeun Ko Ku," which sold over 200,000 copies.

BANTU (band)

BANTU is a 13-piece band based in Lagos, Nigeria. Their music is a fusion of Afrofunk, Afrobeat, Highlife and Yoruba music. The group features multi-instrumentalists and singers who perform as a collective.

Olalekan Babalola is a Nigerian jazz percussionist and musician. Born in Lagos State, Nigeria where he began playing the conga at a young age, he has released seven albums and jointly won two Grammy Awards.

<i>The Source</i> (Tony Allen album) 2017 studio album by Tony Allen

The Source is an album by drummer Tony Allen recorded in 2017 and released on the Blue Note label.

<i>Agberos International</i> 2017 studio album by BANTU

Agberos International is the 5th studio album by BANTU. The album was composed and written by all 13 members of the band. It was recorded live in Lagos, Nigeria, over six years. The title of the album Agberos International was inspired by Lagos public bus conductors known as agberos who attract customers to board their vehicles through their wild gesticulations and loud voices. The album was released on 7 July 2017 by Soledad Productions. The subject matter on Agberos International is centered around the Niger Delta crisis, oppressive Western policies and the blind African ruling class.

The Good, the Bad & the Queen British supergroup

The Good, the Bad & the Queen were an English art rock supergroup composed of singer Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, bassist Paul Simonon of the Clash, guitarist Simon Tong of the Verve, and Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen. They released their self-titled debut album in 2007. Their second album, Merrie Land, coproduced with Tony Visconti, was released in 2018. In 2019, Albarn announced that the group was disbanding. Allen died in 2020.

Blo was a Nigerian psychedelic funk ensemble formed in Lagos and active between 1972 and 1982. The main trio consisted of Laolu "Akins" Akintobi (drums), Berkely "Ike" Jones (guitar), and Mike "Gbenga" Odumosu (bass). The group fused the Afrobeat rhythms of Nigeria with funk and psychedelia derived from '60s Western rock music.

Orlando Julius

Orlando Julius Aremu Olusanya Ekemode, known professionally as Orlando Julius or Orlando Julius Ekemode, is a Nigerian saxophonist, singer, bandleader, and songwriter closely associated with afrobeat music.


  1. 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.
  2. Patterson, Ian (24 December 2007). "Steve Reid: Staying in the Rhythms". Retrieved 22 April 2008.
  3. "Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat". Duke University Press . Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 Daniel Kreps; Elias Leight (30 April 2020). "Tony Allen, Pioneering Afrobeat Drummer, Dead at 79". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  5. 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.
  6. Graeme Ewens, Africa O-Ye!, 1991.
  7. 1 2 Williams, Murphy (20 January 2007). "Songs of experience". The Telegraph . ISSN   0307-1235 . Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  8. ""FLAVIA COELHO - Les Musiciens du 2e Album 'Mundo Meu'"". YouTube.
  9. Tony Allen – Feature, Retrieved 15 March 2009.
  10. "Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon – Features – Music, Time Out London". Archived from the original on 20 November 2006.
  11. Eyre, Banning (17 May 2018). "25th New York African Film Festival Launches". Afropop Worldwide . Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  12. "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.
  13. "BlackStar Qualifying Award Winners". Gravitas Ventures . Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  14. 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.
  15. , Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  16. 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.
  17. "Pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen has died, aged 79". NME Music News, Reviews, Videos, Galleries, Tickets and Blogs | NME.COM. 1 May 2020. Retrieved 2 May 2020.