Legendary drummer and Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen has passed away. Allen, who was the musical director of Fela Kuti’s, died due to a heart attack at 79-years-old. Allen’s death is not linked to any COVID-19 complications. Allen taught himself how to play the drums at 18-years-old and learned his technique by listening to American jazz drummers Art Blakely and Max Roach.
Regarded as one of the greatest drummers of all time, Allen was able to play four different beats with each of his limbs, and his distinctive drum pattern is what makes his music so unique. Defined as a combination of West African musical style with American funk and jazz influences, Allen pioneered the Afrobeat genre. Known for his collaboration, Allen was also the drummer for the art-rock group The Good, The Bad and The Queen alongside Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon and Simon Tong.
Brian Eno described Allen as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived.” Additionally, Beninois singer Angelique Kidjo posted about Allen’s passing on Instagram. Kidjo stated that Allen “changed the history of African music.” Kidjo went on to say that “What I want to remember from them is our musical conversation, our laughter, our joy. They are gone, but they are not gone for me.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea stated that Allen was “one of the greatest drummers to ever walk this earth” and described him as his “hero.” “What a wildman, with a massive, kind and free heart and the deepest one-of-a-kind groove,” Flea stated on his Instagram post. Additionally, rapper M.anifest tweeted that Allen “put the beat in afrobeat” and thanked Allen “for a lifetime of being quietly epic.” Classical musician Trosset also spoke about Allen’s legacy, stating that “your eyes saw what most couldn’t see… as you used to say: ‘There is no end.'”
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The epic Tony Allen, one of the greatest drummers to ever walk this earth has left us. What a wildman, with a massive, kind and free heart and the deepest one-of-a-kind groove. Fela Kuti did not invent afrobeat, Fela and Tony birthed it together. 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. I wanted to honor his greatness so much when we played together, and I was nervous when we started, but he made me laugh like a two year old, and we fell right into pocket. I lit up like a Christmas tree every time I knew we were about to lay down some rhythm. With Tony’s longtime musical collaborator, friend and champion, Damon Albarn, we jammed til the cows came home. We partied in Nigeria, we partied around Europe, and it was always about the music. Just grooving high, grooving deep. Tony Allen I love you, I’m so grateful to have had the chance to rock with you. God bless your beautiful soul.