Tony Allen, the Nigerian drummer who helped pioneer the Afrobeat genre with his former bandmate Fela Kuti, has died, his manager has confirmed. He was 79.
Allen was the drummer and musical director of Fela Kuti’s band Africa ‘70. During the 1960s and 70s, the two artists brought west African music styles like highlife together with American jazz and funk rhythms. They recorded dozens of albums together before Allen left the group after 26 years.
In 1984, Allen moved to London, before resettling in Paris in the 2000s. Over the years, he would work with many younger musicians, including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sébastien Tellier, Jarvis Cocker, and Damon Albarn.
“The epic Tony Allen, the greatest drummer on earth has left us,” wrote the musician Flea, who was once in the group Rocket Juice and the Moon with Allen, on Instagram. “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.”