Tony Allen

Tony Oladipo Allen (20 July 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 founders of the Afrobeat genre. Fela once stated that “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. He was described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”.

Later in life, Allen collaborated with Damon Albarn on several projects, including Gorillaz, the Good, the Bad & the Queen and Rocket Juice & the Moon. Allen’s career and life were documented in his 2013 autobiography Tony Allen: Master Drummer of Afrobeat, co-written with Michael E. Veal, who previously wrote a comprehensive biography of Fela Kuti.

Allen was born in Lagos, Nigeria to James Alabi Allen, a motor mechanic from British Nigeria (now present day Nigeria) and Prudentia Mettle, from the Gold Coast(now present day Ghana), 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).

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