Tony Oladipo Allen, Nigerian drummer, credited with developing and defining Afrobeat together with musician Fela Kuti, died Thursday (April 30).
Online news agency Sahara Reporters first reported the passing of Tony Allen; Rolling Stone subsequently confirmed it. The drummer died in Paris, France. No official statement regarding the cause of death has been released so far.
Pioneering The Afrobeat
Allen played drums and composed songs together with Kuti in the band Africa '70, where he created a new distinct style of playing. The self-taught musician was credited with developing the signature Fela Kuti sound of militant African lyricism, mixed with soul, funk, and jazz incorporating elements of Yoruba music.
Africa '70 pioneered the AfrobeatAfrobeat with landmark albums such as "Gentleman" in 1973, "Expensive Sh*t" in 1975, and the military-baiting "Zombie" in 1976. Allen worked with Fela and Africa '70 to release more than 30 albums across the 70s. However, disagreements over pay and royalties plagued the group. Allen started releasing solo works supported by Fela before the drummer left in 1979, taking some members with him.
"Without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat," Fela Kuti once said.
In 1980, Allen founded his band and worked on the album "No Discrimination." The group migrated to London in 1984, and later to Paris, where Tony Allen recorded with fellow African music legends Ray Lema, Manu Dibango, and King Sunny Adé.
Post-Fela and Playing with Western Music
The Afrobeat pioneer later started fusing his signature sound with the increasingly popular electronica, R&B, and hip-hop - a synthesis he referred to as "afrofunk." His foray into the avant-garde territory culminated in his 2001 album Psyco On Da Bus, which fans of his AfrobeatAfrobeat found weird. "Some said I was going crazy and wasn't respecting the rules of Afrobeat any more," Allen said in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. He explained that he was trying to show people how his signature sound can be fused with other genres.
Tony Allen would later return to his Afrobeat roots and would go on to collaborate with other artists, most notably with Blur frontman and Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn. They created the supergroup "The Good, The Bad & The Queen" together with The Clash bassist Paul Simonon and The Verve guitarist Simon Tong. Albarn and Allen's supergroup released two albums with their self-titled debut in 2007 and "Merrie Land" in 2016.
Allen and Albarn also formed another supergroup, this time with Flea, best known as bassist and co-founder for Los Angeles rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. The band, named "Rocket Juice & the Moon," released an eponymous album in 2012. The 18-track work featured American singer Erykah Badu as well as Malian musicians Fatoumata Diawara and Cheick Tidiane Seck.
In a separate 2016 interview with The Guardian, Allen talked about his mutual struggle with western musicians due to his unique way of drumming. "They can be confused. I always say: 'It's there!' It's just a question of it could be on my kick, or it could be on my snare," The Lagos-born drummer said in the interview.
Allen also expressed the belief that to play AfrobeatAfrobeat properly, a drummer needs to go through the school of afrobeat drumming. As the founder of the style, Allen is the only master of the AfrobeatAfrobeat. He tried to teach other musicians his way; however, Tony Allen notes that "What I see in many drummers is that they are riding a bicycle with one leg."