Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, lovingly known as the “Father of Afrobeat” died on Thursday evening at the age of 79, Rolling Stone confirms.
Allen died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris. “He was in great shape,” Allen’s manager Eric Trosser told France 24. “It was quite sudden.”
Rolling Stone further reports:
As a member of Kuti’s band Africa 70, Allen helped revolutionize the art of drumming, simultaneously anchoring and propelling classic albums like 1973’s Gentleman, 1975’s Expensive Shit, and the Afrobeat legend’s most enduring work, 1976’s Zombie. Each release depended on Allen’s slippery, ferocious, polyrhythmic grooves. “Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat,” Kuti once said. Damon Albarn and Brian Eno were also famously enamored with Allen’s playing; Eno called him “one of the great musicians of the 20th century—and the 21st.”
“There was no band like the Africa 70,” Femi Kuti, Fela’s son, told Rolling Stone in 2017. “And there is no drummer like Tony Allen.”
Born August 12, 1940 in Lagos Nigeria, Allen taught himself how to play the drums at the age of 18 and was heavily influenced by jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Gene Krupa, as well as contemporary African music. Allen met Kuti in 1964 and initially played for his band, Koola Lobitos. Allen’s tenure as drummer and musical director of Africa 70 resulted in 40 recorded albums, lasting in a 26-year collaboration before Allen parted ways with the group. It has been said that following Allen’s departure, Kuti needed four drummers to replace him.
“Some drummers don’t know what it means to play soft, it’s not in their book,” Allen told The Guardian in a 2016 interview. “I know I can make my drums bring the house down if I have to. But I know how to make it subtle. You listen to it flowing like a river.”
As a pioneer in cultivating the sounds that many artists are inspired by today, Allen certainly made an impact on artists and fans alike. Upon hearing news of his death, followers across the globe took to social media to pay tribute to the legendary musician.
“Fela Kuti did not invent afrobeat, Fela and Tony birthed it together,” Red Hot Chilli Peppers bassist Flea wrote in a stirring tribute to the iconic drummer in an Instagram post. “Without Tony Allen there is NO afrobeat. I was lucky enough to spend many an hour with him, holed up in a London studio, jamming the days away. It was fucking heavenly. He was and still is, my hero.” Allen, musician David Albarn and Flea joined together to form a band named Rocket Juice & The Moon, releasing a collaborative album in 2012.
Rest in power, Mr. Allen.